Teen Talk. Family Dynamics...
Teen Talk - Live
Chris is taking “Teen Talk” on the road. If you are a member of a parent group or responsible for finding engaging speakers for student or youth groups, please contact Chris at www.chrislincoln-speaker.com
While the greatest physical changes occur in the body and brain of the teen, the resultant emotional and social changes impact everyone in their orbit. Simply put, having a teenager in the house alters the family dynamic.
How much change, depends on the family and the individuals concerned. No two families are alike (try going on vacation with another family...), and the numbers of variables are innumerable. This makes giving advice, or simply talking about family dynamics, by necessity, broad and generic. But there are some universals, some tried and tested approaches with positive outcomes, 'best practice', if you will, that are at least a good starting point.
Any group, organization, organism or machine, when placed under stress will fail at its weakest point. A family is no different. The traditional stresses, money issues, death in the family, moving house, changing jobs, illness, and infidelity, are compounded by the teen's impact.
Often, their grasp for independence puts them at odds with the need for all members to pull together, though, in extreme situtions, even the most truculent teen will recognize a crisis and pitch in.
A core issue is that the dynamic "just is". Rarely do families examine what they do. The norm is the norm. "It is simply what we do" is how most families respond to outside questions of why.
Think back to the early years; the first baby, for example. Most people feel super insecure and will constantly check with other people for affirmation that what they are doing is "normal". Every developmental milestone is compared ad-nauseum with any one who will listen. Relatives and friends would offer advice unbidden anyway, and your pediatrician goes from ‘Who?’ To the most important person you know.
Now compare that to the deafening wall of silence when it comes to teenagers… Sure there are books and therapists and websites, but where are the uber-confident friends? The ones touting their teenage wonder kid as the perfect example, secure in the knowledge that they are doing everything absolutely right. OK, ignore the occasional blowhard dad and the super hovering mom, and the field is pretty bare, right?
Parents of teens gather in surreptitious groups, usually as spectators at one of their child's activities, and try to glean information on what might pass for normal with their peers. Again, ignoring the outliers, you realize there is a sort of nebulous normal and that you fit within the parameters, pretty much, well, most of the time, you hope, you think...
Certainty is the first casualty of having a teen growing up in your midst. (Privacy is probably second.)
Not on purpose. Not malicious. Nobody's fault. It is just a fact of life.
In the natural world there are just three options available to deal with a threat or stressor. Move, adapt, or die. Death (of the family) is not an option and moving out is extreme and unhelpful. (Yes, that includes leaving to live with a new boyfriend/girlfriend). So, by logical deduction the only option is adaptation.
This means there needs to be constant change, scary as that can be, and healthy families do better with this than those under stress.
Which leads me to, what exactly defines a healthy family?
First, forget perfect. Perfect is a pipe dream. Be satisfied with doing OK. And, try getting as many family members as possible, doing the following, as often as possible…
Good communications between family members is important, so calm talking and laughter trumps shouting.
More honest is better than less.
Be willing to fix things and make them work.
Be able to forgive and move on.
Be willing to compromise (but hold fast to your core values).
Be sensitive to each other’s feelings.
Be willing to laugh at the stupid stuff.
Don’t take anything too seriously.
Show respect to one another.
Say thank you when you can.
Say, “I love you” often.
Give each other space.
You notice that none of these things are absolutes. There are good reasons for that. You need to be in full 'adaptive' mode, which means reading the situations around you as best you can. Learning from mistakes, and weaving and dancing around matters like a veteran bullfighter. You also need to model this flexibility to your teen, they are far more likely to emulate what you do, over what you say.
It is exhausting, but think about it, you have done this before.
Marriage - you combined two lives into a different entity.
Pregnancy - needed to change a few things there, didn't you?
Baby - you added in the most demanding role of your life.
Teething, sickness, first day of school…the list is long.
So, if you have an actual teenager, you must have done something right to get this far!
And the best overarching advice I can give is, be patient. This too shall pass. For the majority of us, coming out the other side, we recognize so many things we wished perhaps we had done differently, but have a sense of relief (and not a little pride) that we did OK.
Parenting is not for the weak of heart or spirit, and it is generally frowned upon to drop teenagers off at the nearest orphanage :)
Remember they can be incredibly funny, sensitive, artistic, creative and/or athletic in a way you have not seen before. Look for as many positives as you can and relish them. Those memories can more than carry you through the next ‘crisis’…
From some rather heartrending responses to earlier hubs, I know that there are those of you who have to deal with some very sad and serious teen issues, way outside the norms, and my advice comes across as unrealistic and simplistic. If you are in this place, I have only one piece of advice; don't go through this alone. There is a veritable army of professionals ready, willing, and able, to help. It is never a weakness to ask for support, it is a vital tool for the whole family's health and wellbeing. And, yes, your sanity is important...
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