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8 Conversations I Have with Teenagers

8 Conversations I Have with Teenagers

1) Go slow to go fast. Don't fast-forward this season of your life. Treat every breath, opportunity, moment, lesson, challenge and success as a gift. As you progress toward and into high school, many peers will be moving at speeds (socially, academically, relationally) that do not feel comfortable or compatible with your age and stage of life. That's okay. Let them go at their own pace, but be true to yours. Sit down in your season and learn as much as you can from it. Fearing being left out or isolated is normal, but as you stay true to your moral compass, you will find your people. If you skip seasons of life, you miss the valuable life-lessons they hold.

2) Process over product. Focus on small steps rather than big leaps. It's easy to become consumed by big-ticket items (think GPA, level of a sports team, social tier of friend group). However, focusing on the big picture only takes much-needed energy away from your daily efforts; efforts that when done with dedication and care, will ultimately take you to your final destination--earning the grades you want, the team you desire, and the friends you are seeking. Spend your mental energy working smarter not harder by creating a steady study structure, cultivating communication skills, forging positive and healthy relationships with teachers, peers, and parents. Score your victories not in the finality of the product, but by your daily commitment to giving your full effort.

3) Communication is key. Learn to communicate your needs, fears, aspirations, and gratitude. Turning to teachers, administrators, coaches and parents only in times of high stress or high need tends to foster alienation and creates a one-way relationship. Take time to learn about those in your life. Who are they beyond their title? We are all people, and connection is key to meaningful relationships. After all, the adults in your life are more likely to help you in those inevitable times of stress when they see you as a person, and not simply as the role you play (student, athlete, child etc.).

4) Be the friend you want to have. The older you get, the more you will realize that quality always trumps quantity in the friend department. Challenge yourself each day to limit the shade you throw, the flames of gossip you fan (intentional or otherwise) and focus on being the kind of person you are seeking as a friend yourself. That said, don't be afraid to walk away from routinely negative or toxic relationships that make you question your value or require you to fast-forward to the next season of life in order to be included.

5) Sacrifice optics for authenticity. Don't let social media define you. It's easy to fall into the trap of chasing the perfection you imagine is on the other side of a Snap-story or Instagram post. Similarly, think before you post. Social media is a dangerous game that can create significant mental health issues as you traverse your teenage years. Your social media transgressions, once posted, create a digital footprint that lives on for eternity in the form of screenshots, reposts, comments, and can come back to haunt you in the pursuit of future endeavors (think leadership groups, employment, internships and college admissions). Take time each night to unplug and give your brain and inner-child a chance to recalibrate with quality sleep and peace.

6) Stay coachable. Like it or not, the adults in your life have the advantage of time and life experience. While certainly we adults don't know it all and can get it wrong, remaining open to feedback and suggestion is important to your overall growth and progress. Constructive criticism and learning to agree to disagree is a life skill requisite to any successful career or adult relationship--mastering it in your teenage years will pay dividends in adulthood. If you feel unheard or marginalized by adults in your life, learning to advocate for yourself is extremely vital to the process of being heard. Learn to (re)open lines of communication with your parents and teachers. Soon, you will discover, as you become better at assertively and regularly articulating your needs, fears, aspirations, and gratitude, less coaching will occur.

7) When you get clear with life, life gets clear with you. Keeping a journal is (in my experience) one of the most powerful change agents in the game of life. Not the kind that includes a burn list, invite list or similar, but one where you write down your goals and small snapshots of your life. What is your vision? Where do you want to "be" in one week, one month, one year etc? A simple recipe: 3 successes from the day, 3 aspects of improvement from the day, and 3 elements of gratitude from the day. Write these under your goals. As you change, your goals change--and that’s okay. As you accomplish one, replace it. If a goal seems irrelevant, replace it. The funny thing about setting goals is, when you write them down and look at them every day, they have a funny way of coming true.

8) Pay attention to your whole health. Mind, body, soul. You are a whole person--so act accordingly. If you had a broken leg, you wouldn't keep it a secret, or walk around seeing if it gets better on its own. Similarly, if an element of your mind or soul is ailing, treat it with the same tenacity with which you would immediately go see a doctor for your broken leg. Speak up; seek help. Learn to embrace the resources that can and will help you heal from the inside out.

Listening Strategies for Parents

Listening Strategies for Parents

Teenagers are talked at all day long: in school, at practice, by the tutor, coach, teacher, bus driver, etc. That said, many teens develop an aversion to conversations with adults. And while I won’t advise you go radio silent on your teen, I will ask you to avoid one big trap: ill-informed questions.

Little sends teenagers into a non-listening mode more than parents who require the same, basic, foundational information prior to what should be (in the mind of the teen) be a simple conversation. This happens when you (the parent) lead with questions that have already been answered several times. However innocent, this repetition substantially decreases your teen’s willingness to engage with you. Who’s Becky again? What’s your history teacher’s name? You know, your math class, what level is it again? What day do you have X? I’m confused, what did you already email them?

To avoid this, be low-key proactive: 

  • Take notes, make a flowchart, login to the parent portal on the school website, rehash with your better-informed spouse or even another child.

  • Work smarter in your parenting. A bit of homework on your end will expedite conversations and increase their frequency and depth of communication.

  • If your teen thinks you don't know, that's where they'll keep you: on the outside. But, if they view you as informed, they will share with more frequency and detail.

And once in conversation, engage in unobstructed listening. The more you want to know teenagers, the more you need to listen.  

  • Listen as if you 100% believe everything they’re saying: reserve outward judgment or belief levels for another conversation. For now, simply listen, and note their perspective. Put yourself in their shoes—as if you have never met them and they are telling you this for the first time.

  • Don’t give advice or commentary: The hardest part about unobstructed listening is resisting the temptation to insert your own personal anecdotes or opinions. When you interject, the talk becomes a comparison between their reality, and yours. It showcases the divide between the two of you. By simply listening, you preserve ownership for them, and the more they own the conversation, the more they’ll say.

  • Articulate your active listening with expressions of sympathy, empathy, and belief: Of course, you shouldn’t just sit there in dead silence while they talk and talk. They might think you’re not interested or listening. Small statements of affirmation and understanding suggest engagement and allow you to further expand the talk. Now don’t haul off with over-the-top, inauthentic hems and haws. Be simple and succinct.

  • Ask follow-up (open-ended) questions. If you want to participate in the conversation, do so by asking questions, rather than giving feedback. Just ask away, cautiously, and with purpose.

  • Limit drawing parallels from your own life into their story. Try to leave the five miles in the snow for another time. Certain parallels are valid, and have a place (think times when you made a mistake or faced a similar challenge)...but teens are territorial about their talk, and a shift from them to you, can lead to an abrupt end to your time.

  • Avoid filling the silence with your own words and interjections. Awkward silence is okay. Silence leaves space for them to find words, clarify and feel into their thoughts. A big mistake is caving to the silence and speaking for the sake of filling the time. If you need to say something, make it an open-ended question.

Free-Range Parenting Gone Rogue

Free-Range Parenting Gone Rogue

The concept of free-range products and branding is spectacularly successful in the culinary world. I must admit I appreciate and buy into the concept of free-range in that arena. In the context of parenting the concept of free-parenting is associated with granting children with substantial amounts of autonomy and independence; through this freedom (in theory) comes a greater understanding of self, responsibility, and accountability. One crucial tenet of this parenting philosophy is that said freedoms are delivered in age-appropriate increments. In fact, when I first introduced my theory regarding a rogue branch of free-range parenting, the free-range purists from the Internet came unhinged and unleashed their chat-room fury into the comments section of my article. How dare I confuse their vintage concept with modern day reality?

So, yeah, free-range parenting in its traditional and pragmatic sense is wonderful, but there’s a glitch in the matrix. This once well-intentioned approach to parenting has experienced a split. As such, an off-shoot has morphed into its own branch of ineffective parenting: rogue free-range parenting. While I do appreciate the original stance on independence and autonomy (especially as a welcome breath of fresh air when compared to helicopter parenting), I do not support the concept of new morphed free-range parenting as a parental strategy.

Rogue free-range parenting exists when a child's needs are provided in-excess of typical freedoms and entitlements (in either scope or sequence), typically both. It exists when the freedoms and access granted to the child accelerate them ahead in life into time-and-life experiences for which they are not designed for nor prepared for. And too much too soon produces teenagers unable or unwilling to leave the nest.

For many teens, earlier-than-needed freedoms come in the form of a ride-sharing account, an inconsistent or not-at-all curfew, permission to use, have or carry a fake ID, or a wristband to a music festival or a week of partying over spring break. These examples might sound extreme (or totally crazy), but they have become increasingly normal, as high school is taking over (experientially) as the new college.

These tangibles have become status quo and symbols of status. Ride-sharing, Fake ID, all-access wristbands. They are social capital. In the same way, I was given an allowance by my parents, many of today’s teens are provided an allowance in the form of social capital and access. The college experience delivered in advance; but like a payday advance loan, the high interest paid on the back-end will overwhelmingly outweigh the initial benefits. Adult situations granted prematurely are dangerous to our teens and damage the still-developing adolescent brain.

In the past several years there has been a substantial uptick in the number of college freshmen who return early from college. Certainly, each student’s experience is unique, and I’m not judge and jury as to whether they should return--nor devalue them for returning--as in many ways, it's not their fault. For many early-returners, home is simply the more viable option. Within a few months in an unfamiliar environment, a realization is formed: they are unable to cope with their new reality. Or they simply aren’t ready. Which leads to the important question: why?  

Common landmines for a new college student from these upbringings are professors who won’t excuse missing class; peers who won’t share their homework; roommates who prioritize around academics instead of parties; and realizing there is not standard extra credit or re-dos after back-burning long-term assessment preparation. The return home from college is undeniable evidence of the unintended consequences of free-range parenting gone rogue.

Traditionally the allure of college is newfound freedom: both intellectually and more so, socially. But parents are producing products that are more advanced than the environment they are entering. When I went to college I had significantly fewer rules and restrictions. Now our college freshmen are finding the opposite. Colleges have non-negotiable consequences regarding alcohol and behavior. Non-negotiable standards regarding intellectual property and plagiarism. Professors are not interested in why they missed a class or a test.

Systemically our children are being failed by the rogue free-range parenting systems in place at home in affluent communities. Why could we expect these children to want to live in an environment with more tangible consequences and less tangible access than the home they left. Certainly, they have already had the college experience. Unfortunately, their college experience happened in high school, thereby establishing an unquenchable thirst or unattainable bar (to pun intended) to which most college experiences will not (under healthy or lasting circumstances) provide.

Build the fence and they’ll play in the yard.  Again, this is not to promote the advent of overly sheltered kids. Parenting is crazy. It is exhausting. It is hard to say no, and excruciatingly painful to hear I hate you and be emotionally beaten down a hormonal teenager.  But more painful will be parenting them at that level for the rest of their lives, devoid of coping skills as they remain ever-grasping to the concept that you, as a parent, owe them anything beyond the roof over their head, the clothes on their back and food on their plate. The rest, as they say, is gravy; just make sure it’s organic.

Second Siblings Need Full Sun (Houston Family Magazine)

Second Siblings Need Full Sun (Houston Family Magazine)

You needed some plants. There you were buying your first plant. Upon purchase, it came with a tiny white insert in the soil telling you exactly how much water and sun it required. You soon discovered it needed full sun, plenty of water...and as for the spacing...irrelevant as it was your only plant. You loved your new plant and bought another, slightly different one.  It seemed close enough, so you tossed the small white insert. You did everything the same as the first, but this one didn’t grow. What went wrong with the new plant?! Nothing. The plant’s not the problem; you are. You assumed it was just like the last plant, and it's not.

I know what you’re thinking. My children are not plants and you, sir, are not a botanist. Correct. Two times. I am, however, positioned in a job where I interface with many second siblings flailing through life, suffering from parenting strategies applied to them that yielded remarkable results with the family’s first child but are not suitable for their unique needs. As a family coach, I interface with many second-siblings who are disenfranchised, misguided, misunderstood, mildly to extremely angry, uninspired, lost, behind, down-and-out. They all have something in common: their behaviors are simply manifestations of being parented as if they are their older sibling.

A shift in thinking is required. It’s totally normal to compare your children; it has its time, place and life within the realities of parenting. I urge you to recognize comparisons for data’s sake, but strongly advise against verbalizing the contrasts directly to your children. For example, I imagine you know which of your children began to walk or talk earlier than the other; but no one remembers (besides you) who did what first; they each got there eventually. I urge you to celebrate your second child for who they are and not for who you were anticipating them to be.

Critical life and academic decisions should be driven by maturity and not age or typical hierarchical order. No sibling should be expected to embrace a particular sport, activity, or lifestyle simply because another child did it first. It is vital to determine who they are, what they like, what inspires them, and what natural limits are in play. Let them carve their own slice of the family pie; and do it with their best effort, your full support and within a well-defined family plan. Communication is key. It is the water and sunlight to your relationship and their success.

There’s a reason gardens have more than one kind of plant. Your second child is their own person, their own plant, with unique qualities, needs, likes, strengths, weaknesses, beauty, size, shape, future and so on; treat them as such. If they seem wilted, try moving them to a new window, or adjust their sunlight, or water. For the same window that gave your first such astounding growth may be unintentionally shading a plant that requires full sun.

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