Forgive the pun. I couldn’t help the opportunity as we celebrate our progress with vaccinations and greater leniency to more fully engage in our lives. All teens are now eligible for vaccinations. As we reconnect with those close to us, we will shed our masks and again be able to fully “see” each other. While we have been forced to hide behind literal masks for over a year, there are many teens who have spent the better part of this formative developmental stage concealing and subverting their true selves behind an invisible one.
Authenticity is a fundamental skill in the development and cultivation of real and deep relationships. Relationships with parents, family, friends, intimate partners, and any helping adults require authenticity to flourish, allow for trust and a sense of true connection. Authenticity requires being real, honest and open. We are being authentic when the expression of our thoughts, emotions and our actions match that which we experience internally. Sometimes being authentic also means being vulnerable. When we as parents and helping adults model authenticity, and thus what it is to be vulnerable, it gives our teens permission to do the same. If teens feel safe to explore themselves and express different angles as they settle into themselves, they can become their best selves.
Consider some of the ways we can both express and encourage authenticity:
Be Transparent… With the expression of emotions, expectations and limits, as well as perspectives and reasoning for doing or not doing something your teen may want. When we are honest and open in our approaches, orienting teens to our decisions and what to expect from us, we contribute to creating a predictable and safe space to foster trust. Parents often express concerns with their teen about lack of trust in them. When we start with our own transparency, we allow them to trust us, making it more likely for them to engage in trusting behavior. Realistically, teens are likely to be evasive, avoid, deflect or even lie. It is understandable for adults to feel upset and angry when this occurs, though expressing those feelings thoughtfully rather than reactively allows teens to learn accountability and better understand us while strengthening and valuing the relationship.
Be Accepting… Of their emotions (however inarticulately expressed), their perspectives, and their expressions of self (however different that we may wish those were). Teens need room to figure themselves out. Nothing worthwhile has ever been discovered without significant trial and error. What is more worthwhile than our teens finding their authentic selves? It is a hard ask for parents and other adults to engage nonjudgmentally with teens as they experiment and find their way. Notice your own judgmental thoughts and ask yourself how effective it is to express those. Instead, try to replace judgments with statements of fact (things you can observe), preference (what you may or may not prefer for yourself), and statements of consequence (is that helpful or not, effective or not, getting you closer or further from your goal).
Be Compassionate… As our teens grow, mature and figure things out, there will be bumps along the way, difficult emotions to manage (for them and us) and conflicts. Remember, engaging authentically means allowing for vulnerability. When we feel judged, embarrassed or shamed, it is human nature to put guards up and protect ourselves, usually in the form of defensiveness or even aggression. When we are honest and call for accountability using compassion, our efforts and overall relationship have the potential to be much more meaningful.
~ Julie Baron, LCSW-C