So much has ailed us over the past year and just in the past 5 days. Name your poison: illness, loss (of too much to list), injustices, and most recently, violence on our democracy. It has been overwhelming to our physical and emotional wellness. We have coped as best we can, living day by day, wearing masks, staying home and going out only to work, shop for essentials, speak collective voices and votes, and visit with friends and family at a distance and outdoors, even now shivering under heaters.
The strike of midnight 2021 brought virtual celebrations, good wishes through text and social media, a sense of relief, and hope that we could turn a very sharp and painful corner. Originally this newsletter was slated to be on helping teens learn to rest, because we all need one! Then this week happened.
What can we do when there is so much hurt, pain and worry to bear? How do we help our teens remain resilient, empowered, and emotionally intact in this taxing climate? The answer is no one thing we can do say or be. When things are this complicated, my inclination is to return to the roots of “What Works With Teens”, engaging them in positive, nurturing and healthy relationships that raise them and us to be our best selves.
Relationships are what Britt and I have always believed is fundamental to our existence and commitment as practitioners and parents. What is protective, healing, and allows growth to happen is feeling safely held in our relationships, defined by:
RESPECT For the developmental limits and tasks of adolescence. Remember the teen brain is evolving through all it’s emotional intensity, desire for peer connection, lack of foresight and at times thoughtful decision making. Appreciate teens for their gifts, talents, and intentions. When they look into our eyes, let them see what is valued in them.
AUTHENTICITY Be real with teens. There are sadly lots of opportunities for honest conversations, expressions of emotions and our own vulnerabilities. Allow them to see that being authentic relies on being vulnerable, which is a reflection of courage and strength.
KINDNESS There cannot be too much expressed. Fundamentally kindness is not only defined by the expression of compassion and nicety but by the implicit intent to engage in actions. Do kindness for teens and with them for others. There are more opportunities than can be listed. Remember that setting limits with teens is consistent with kindness. Help them understand the intent in boundaries and accountability; largely their safety, wellbeing, and independence building.
PREDICTABILIY Create an environment that can be counted on in the midst of uncertainty. Do what is in your control to create routines and reinforce consistent expectations. Perhaps most importantly, as we manage our own intense emotions, express and act with deliberation and self-control. Emotional reactivity by adults reinforces a sense of instability. Predictability will help settle anxieties and create a sense of security.
ACCEPTANCE We must acknowledge what is real and happening in the moment. Truth, as we are witnessing, must be a common experience for relational connection. This includes events in our communities, personal or familial struggles, and the thoughts, perceptions and emotions we experience. Particularly, when teens express themselves to us, however ineffective, we must treat them as valid. Validation expresses the acknowledgment of one’s experience as real for them. When people feel validated, it is emotionally settling. It makes us feel understood. This is not to say that unacceptable behavior is right or condoned. Rather, there is something about the underlying emotions, intent or perceptions based on previous experiences, that can first be understood before behaviors are held to account. Teens are more likely to accept what we have to offer when we extend the same to them.
The value we place in each other and in our relationships is what will hold and heal us in the midst of pain, worry and despair. Efforts to nurture our relationships offer comfort, safety, and hope for a brighter future. I for one am so grateful for the gifts and struggles shared with me by the remarkable teens I serve and the two at home I am raising (pictured here).
~ Julie Baron, LCSW-C