The blog

Guiding Teens Through Change

Here we are again, upon the change of a new school year and season. Starting in a new grade, new classes, new teachers and in some cases all new schools or even a move to a college campus, can be both exciting and stressful. Seems like a good time to tackle the subject of change and how to skillfully support teens’ growth, while managing all the things changing for us as well.

As a person who works with or raises teens, have you ever thought to say to that teen, “Don’t change a thing!”? By definition adolescence is a stage of enormous change, yet teens are often doing (or not doing) or saying (or not saying) things we desperately want them to change. Teens are swirling in developmental changes (physical, emotional, social, cognitive, sexual and behavioral) while at the very same time, fiercely resisting it. It is also the role of parents and caring, helping adults to guide them toward growing and maturing by acquiring new skills and taking on more responsibility for their own lives and their greater communities. Teens’ resistance to change and adults’ desire for those teens to change present lots of opportunity for conflict. If we understand some things about the nature of change and use relationship skills to grease the wheels for change, we can more often be motivators and cheerleaders than sources of stress and conflict for the teens we parent and serve. Less conflict and stress are also a benefit for us 😊

Change is inevitable, therefore if we do nothing, TIME=CHANGE.

It is a natural instinct for humans to resist change as an evolutionary mechanism for self- protection. RESISTANCE is normal and therefore to be EXPECTED.

There are stages of change (for teens and adults alike):

o Precontemplation: Not yet thinking about change or actively denying the need for a proposed change. Teens are unlikely to respond effectively to advice, teaching about consequences, or cajoling. Here, beginning to help them think about the pros and cons of their current behavior as well as if they were to change their behavior is a more useful approach. A neutral stance is also useful in communicating with teens in this stage.

o Contemplation: Thinking about making a change in the future but not yet. Here, teens may recognize that something is not working. They may be contemplating the pros and cons and recognize both the value of the current behavior and reasons it may serve to change that behavior. They are not thinking about how or exactly when they will act toward change.

o Preparation: About to take action. Teens are seeking out information and appear seriously interested in changing, but not yet acting on any steps to make the change. Don’t get too excited here. If we over invest in their change process, they may retreat, as it may not feel their choice to change. Be available as a resource. Ask them questions and offer support.

o Action: Ready to make a change and acting on it. This is when they are most receptive to advice and guidance from adults. Reinforce all steps (even tiny) toward progress and cheerlead them through the process.

o Maintenance and Relapse: Maintaining change is hard work. Over time, it is easy for teens to let their guard down and slip backwards. This can be disheartening for them and us, though relapse or backsliding is a normal part of the change process and an opportunity to reinforce the new skills they are still working to solidify into their repertoire. Communicate that all is not lost. Now that they have the skills and experience to change, they can steer themselves back on the path to maintaining their hard-earned results.

Teens’ may want to change, but their goals may not match the goals we wish for them. These are opportunities for important conversations. Be curious and hear them out. Often times our goals are closer in line than we initially realize once we sift through additional details and cross reference perspectives.

If we take greater ownership in a teen’s outcomes than they do, their commitment to those goals may wane. Being mindful of who exhibits greater investment is a helpful measure in gaging our engagement in their change process. And once change is achieved, of course the credit must be 100% that teen’s, even if it may have been our idea initially 😉.

When we value our relationship with teens and consistently offer respect, authenticity, kindness, predictability and acceptance, it makes it easier for them to achieve the change and growth to move successfully toward independence. Wishing everyone a smooth start to the school year and a season of meaningful change!

~ Julie Baron, LCSW-C