A Bravester faith realizes that all emotions move us towards God. All of them—the good ones, the awe-inspiring ones, uncomfortable ones, the negative ones, and the ones that entrap us with repetitive and destructive behaviors. According to neuroscience, emotions are tunnels and God has a thing about meeting us in the messy middle of those tunnels. He loves to show up in the midst of chaos and repeat his loud message of “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Too many of us like to numb our emotions, to keep these emotions under control or shoved down. For teens, they are experiencing the complex feel of these emotions for the first time. This is a normal part of adolescent development. But the teens don’t know that. All they know is they are feeling a lot. Sometimes it is a lot of good feelings. Sometimes it is a lot of negative feelings—and this scares them. Too often words aren’t put to these times and then shame sets in.
Constant access to digital devices has allowed teens to escape the uncomfortable emotions like boredom, loneliness, or sadness by numbing themselves with their devices so often in hand. Now we’re seeing what happens when an entire generation has spent their childhoods avoiding discomfort. Their devices have replaced opportunities to develop mental strength, to move through those emotional tunnels and mature. They haven’t learned the words to feel through these emotions and they haven’t learned coping skills from the wise adults who surround them.
Happiness is emphasized so much in our culture that some parents think it’s their job to make their kids feel happy all of the time. Teens then grow up believing that if they don’t feel happy all of the time, something must be wrong—something must be wrong with them. That creates inner turmoil. Teens haven’t learned to understand that it’s normal and healthy to also feel sad, frustrated, guilty, disappointed, bored, and even sometimes angry. And that there are wise and tried coping skills to help all of these emotions move you towards wholeness.
Some of that unvoiced inner turmoil is that teens feel like they have failed. Our culture also doesn’t allow failure. Teens do survive failure–and grow from it.
Too many parents began believing that their role is to help kids grow up with as few emotional and physical scars as possible. Parents have become so overprotective that their kids will never learn the coping skills needed to deal. The result is too many teens are growing up believing they’re too fragile to cope with the realities of life. Again, often unvoiced. (Where’s my device so I can cope?)
You, parent, are also dealing with uncomfortable emotions like guilt and fear. Parenting teens is so intimidating and so often makes you feel like a failure. Instead of you feeling those uncomfortable emotions and moving yourself through those tunnels–which always leads to God’s faithfulness–you change your parenting style. You helicopter, you lawn mow, you bull doze. You feel so guilty saying no that you back down and give in. Inadvertently you are teaching to numb these uncomfortable emotions which is teaching your teen to do it also.
I hope you don’t feel shamed. I want you to feel inspired because you do love your teen and want them to mature.
So how do you teach your teen to develop mental strength? Here’s some things you can do because you are inspired:
- Find that 5:1 ratio for your teen. Give these people permission to answer the hard questions and to be trusted by your teen.
- Do not be jealous of these people. These people are your greatest gift to your teen, even if you feel insecure at how much your teen likes them over you.
- Listen without interruption. Allow space for your teen to ramble. I know you want to pass on your wisdom—and you will be able to, see below—but just putting words to what’s unvoiced helps so much.
- Don’t minimize the small stressors or the silly stressors.
- Intentionally minimize your negative self-talk—the out loud stuff you say as well as your inner voice. Your teen is watching and hearing.
- Learn to recognize when your teen needs to take a break from life. Breaks can include a random coffee together or an extra hour of Netflix.
- Physically move your body with your teen. So often something as simple as physical movement loosens up the crazy talk inside brains–and sometimes the crazy talk gets voiced to you while the body is moving.
- Be okay with yourself to say no so your teen does not get overscheduled.
- Use your taxi drive times to talk about some of the hard things you are seeing happening in your teen’s life. The good thing about taxi drive times is your teen knows they are going to come to an end when you get to your destination. He/she isn’t trapped in this uncomfortable conversation with you. This will help your teen put words to what’s inside his/her head quicker and to hear your wisdom.
- Be praying for God to give you the discernment to identify the triggers you see in your teen. Eyes open. Ears open to the Holy Spirit. When you see a trigger, go on a taxi drive time and talk about it.
- At your family dinner time, ask about the “highs and lows” for the day. What this little talker is doing is letting your teen know that it is okay for a low to have happened. It is so okay that it actually happens every day in some form.
- Eyes open to how isolated your teen is keeping him/herself and then creatively find ways to break those isolating habits. More prayers for Holy Spirit discernment.
- Practice a practice of gratitude. Learning to pay attention to the good parts of life can improve quality of life over time. All the science says so.
You do feel how all of these are possible, right? Wonderful.