I struggled with my own adolescence, felt like I didn’t fit in, did many things I knew were wrong to try to fit in and felt very disconnected from my parents- that they just wouldn’t understand my life or how I was feeling. I was also living as an expat from 12-16yrs which made the experience harder as I didn’t have friends from childhood or supportive family members like my grandparents around. When my children were on the brink of adolescence, I knew that I had to a better job – that leaving them alone on their journey wasn’t safe for them or our relationship and I wanted to have a better connection with them in adulthood, so I had to act now. Parenting with patience, compassion, empathy and boundaries isn’t easy – it takes a lot of courage and persistence and I often felt lonely as a parent when many of my friends were choosing a different path of trying to control, push, restrict and punish their teenagers (a path I knew well from my own experience). I often felt anxious, scared and fearful of the future as I parented during these years – the added academic pressures, social media that I’d never experienced and computer games that seemed to suck my children in. Many times, the fear tempted me to retaliate, to threaten and punish but I was determined to maintain a close, loving relationship with my teens so I stuck to compassion, empathy, setting boundaries and trusting that if I could stay calm and talk logically about what was ok and what wasn’t ok then perhaps, they would learn how to do this too – after all my job was to teach them! My children are now at the very end of their adolescence- 19, 22 and 24 and I’m so proud of the people they’ve become – they aren’t perfect and nor am I but we have a good relationship and I can see how all the hard work I put in has been worth it.
I was not a perfect teenager – despite achieving academically at school, I struggled socially, partly due to the fact that we moved countries when I was 12 and then again at 16 and also that I didn’t have great self-esteem so tended not to make great choices about my friends. I didn’t have a close relationship with either of my parents, so I wasn’t able to share my feelings and thoughts with them which meant I was reliant either on my friends for advice or my older brother – who was also struggling as a teen himself. As we lived away from our extended family, I was left with no real adult support at a time when I thought I didn’t need it, but in reality, I did and this left me vulnerable at an age when my brain was driven by the desire to take risks, to fit in (at any cost), and to push back against boundaries. As you can imagine it wasn’t a great combination! Despite this I managed to do well at school, so I don’t think anyone really noticed my struggles – I also became really good at hiding my mistakes and avoiding getting into trouble and because of this my parents assumed everything was ok – it wasn’t. When I became a mother myself, I always felt anxious about the teenage phase – what if my children struggled like me, what if I didn’t know and so couldn’t help them? I was determined that they wouldn’t rely solely on friends and of course now the internet for support, which meant that I had to make sure our relationship was safe and secure enough for them to continue talking and connecting to me at an age when they would be more drawn to their peers. I spent years studying as a Child and Adolescent Counsellor, then over a decade working with these age groups and also raising my own children – and what I learnt made a huge difference. Did my teenagers tell me everything? No and I wouldn’t expect them too, but having a better understanding of their needs, their development and their struggles made it a lot easier for us to have the relationship which provided them with a safe place to talk and share their mistakes.
“The amazing, tumultuous, wild, wonderful, teenage brain” – this is how neuroscientists describe the teenage brain but how does it feel to be a teenager, and even more importantly for us – what does it mean to be a parent of a teenager in 2020? Adolescence actually begins before the teen years and ends in the mid 20s so it’s no wonder we feel that our children become ’teenagers’ earlier and earlier or that we wonder if they will ever ‘grow up’! Our children are experiencing this phase of their lives in an era very different from ours, with unique challenges and opportunities – knowing what their developmental needs are and how to respond to the behaviours we see is critical in teaching them to be healthy, wholehearted adults who know how to give back to the world as well as be part of it. Neuroscience tells us a lot but putting this theory into practice in your home, with your children, in your own way is not something you can learn easily from a book that is written to provide general understanding. This workshop allows groups of parents to learn together, to give and receive support and to leave after 4 weeks with a clear idea of how they can integrate both neuroscience and mindfulness into their families’ life.
I’ve taken all this knowledge, evidence-based research and my own experiences (and mistakes!) and developed the Mindful Parenting of Adolescents Workshop – for all parents of children aged 11 years upwards. Please check my workshops page for details of when I will be running this next.