5 Reasons to Trust Your Teen
The parent-teen relationship doesn’t have to be a negative, distrustful experience. We see them all the time; jokes about parenting teenagers, warnings to parents about the teenage years, dreadful stories indicating ‘this will happen to your teen too’. Certainly, laughter is a great way to manage anxiety and frustration. Knowing ahead of time that parenting a teenager will have its particular obstacles is indeed helpful; but assuming all teenagers and parents of teenagers will have the same experience is unwise because it’s untrue.
It is your responsibility as a parent to understand how to best parent your teen/teens, then make those adjustments. It is NOT your teens responsibility to adjust their behavior in order to not act like a teen. You’re older, you have more experience and hopefully better control of your emotional and behavioral impulses.
If you’re expecting your teenager to not act like a teen, you and your teen will have a horrible experience and a difficult relationship.
By expecting your teen to not act like a teenager, you’re basically asking them to go against what biology is currently physically and mentally encouraging them to do, make dumb mistakes in order to learn. To go against that biology is IMPOSSIBLE! It’s much healthier and productive if you as the parent make the appropriate adjustments, rather than asking your teen to swim against their biological impulses.
**Mind you, this isn’t an excuse for teens to have a free for all and consistently act like shitheads, while blaming their biology to escape accountability. Nor is it an excuse for adults to act like shitheads, claiming their biological impulses are too powerful.**
Common parent-teen trust issues; ‘I can’t trust my teen because…’
- they ‘went behind my back’
- they tried to ‘get away with something’,
- they ‘don’t talk to me‘,
- they ‘made a poor decision’,
- they have to be watched constantly now because they made a ‘huge mistake’.
Let me be VERY clear; it is your teens right as a growing and developing human being, or an ‘adult in training‘, to make mistakes…more than once.
They WILL make mistakes.
They WILL make poor decisions.
They WILL give in to peer pressure.
They HAVE to! They have to be allowed to make mistakes, poor decisions and give into peer pressure in order to grow, in order to learn. To form their own desires, wants, choices and relationships.
You cannot 100% protect your teen from making mistakes, poor decisions or giving into peer pressure. You HAVE to respect that those mistakes and poor decisions are a result of their choices; not a reflection on you as a parent. You have to trust that biology knows what it’s doing; and stop making your teens biological development about you.
What you CAN and should do is make yourself available to LISTEN to them, MODEL healthy behavior, SUPPORT them, DISCUSS with them not lecture to them, PROBLEM SOLVE with them not for them, express COMPASSION and EMPATHY when they ‘mess up’, use PATIENCE when they make mistakes and provide appropriate consequences when necessary, allow natural consequences and get them professional help when and if they need it.
It’s not easy, it’s hard to watch our kids experience painful growth.
It’s our instinct to protect, to save and to fix. However, when our kids become teenagers, it’s our job as a parent to begin to let go and allow them more independence and free will with our trust and faith they will do what is best for them. Trusting they will make dumb mistakes and having faith they will learn from their mistakes; meanwhile knowing your assistance and support will be there when necessary.
That dumb mistake is their opportunity for accountability, problem solving, responsibility, compassion, empathy, insight, communication; ultimately to learn a life lesson. But they likely won’t learn that valuable life lesson if they are locked into an ego battle with a lecturing, judgmental parent who is more concerned and focused on asking and finding out ‘Why?’ they made a mistake and punishing by grounding or taking things away.
Parents of teens ought to focus on LEADING, not patrolling like a correctional officer.
If you don’t start parenting your teen by allowing guided autonomy you might as well hand them a walker, because they are going to need it when they move out.
As a parent we can establish a ‘them VS us’ relationship and watch our teens find more creative and effective ways to ‘get away’ with unhealthy choices and behavior. They learn to meet their needs by being manipulative rather than problem solving productive ways to achieve their goals. They learn SUCCESS equals manipulation, rather than working hard to accomplish their goal.
Your teen’s brain is begging you, BEGGING you to allow more autonomy while providing support and guidance. Their brain is BEGGING you to stop being a helicopter parent, a lawnmower parent, an authoritative parent, an unreasonably strict parent, and/or parenting from an anxious/fearful place.
If you can’t trust your teen, trust their brain!
5 Reasons to Trust Your Teen’s Brain
Their brain is wired for survival
- Aside from any mental or physical limitations, the brain will do everything in its power to make sure your teen survives adolescence.
- If the brain weren’t meant to develop by stumbling through adolescence the way it does, that developmental process would have been pruned out by evolution thousands of years ago. The biology of the brain has solid evidence based, experienced and effective strategies in place to survive adolescence.
The teenage brain is resilient
- The adolescent brain is young, moldable, and changeable. It is FILLED with neurons, more neurons than will EVER exist in a human being’s brain in any other developmental stage.
- Neurons are the nerves in the brain. The brain uses neurons to develop thought patterns, behavior patterns, actions, choices…everything your brain does, it rely’s upon neurons to do it. Teens have a very powerful brain because of the incredible amount of neurons eager and waiting for a job. The opportunities to learn new things and learn them quickly is quite impressive during adolescence.
- The neurons that fire together, wire together. If your teen is focused on ‘getting away’ with things in order to avoid a parents authoritative, punishing and judging style; the neural pattern that will develop is a pattern focused on manipulation. The brains amazing and limitless creativity will be used to look for short cuts, excuses, sneaky ways, how to avoid responsibility and accountability. Therefore, likely creating a habit of pursuing short cuts and ‘bucking’ authority. A habit that is unhealthy and limiting.
- If your teen is trusted, supported, encouraged and allowed to make mistakes in a safe environment not focused on judgment or criticism but rather focused on problem solving and communication; the neurons will create a habit of problem solving, communicating, expressing empathy, taking responsibility and accountability, deep insight, integrity, hard work, understanding and compassion.
It’s more powerful than you can imagine.
- Think about it, the brain controls EVERYTHING. Breath, blood circulation, nerve repair, cell repair, organ function, etc. ALL WITHOUT US HAVING TO THINK ABOUT IT.
- The brain is more powerful and smarter than we could ever imagine. It KNOWS WHAT IT’S DOING!
- Trust me, you DO NOT know better than your teen’s brain when it comes to biological development.
It’s #1 priority is your teen.
- Your teen’s brain doesn’t give a shit about anyone or anything else.
- Its primary focus is your teen’s development and survival. It will encourage survival based upon your teens medical history/issues, the unique chemical and physiological make up of your teen, the environment in which they spend most of their time, traumatic experiences, sleep, food and exercise.
It is doing exactly what it’s supposed to be doing.
- Your teen’s brain is smarter than you think. Biology demands it engage in certain functions for the development of the entire system.
- It’s basically a computer in the process of programming itself. How F-ing genius!
- You don’t control your teen’s brain development/programming, but you do have an influence on it. How you engage with your teen can significantly impact your teen’s brain development.
YOU are responsible for your relationship with your teen. You need to trust them and show them respect…those are two things they should NOT have to earn from you. Parents often fall into the trap of making their teen ‘earn’ the treatment they should already be given simply by existing.
- As adults, we hardly tolerate a consistent lack of respect from others. It hurts.
- Humans can expect to be trusted at a most basic level. Meaning, I trust that most humans aren’t going to skin me alive because I didn’t hold the door for them.
- As adults we wouldn’t tolerate others constantly judging EVERY mistake we make, or criticizing EVERY poor decision.
Why do we expect teens to tolerate constant judgment and criticism?