Many parents can struggle with the transition of their child into a teenager, and especially with teens’ increased need for freedom. Parents can be terrified of giving their child more choice and freedom in the midst of this intense biological need to try and manage their teen’s schoolwork, social media use, after-school activities, friendships, and more.
That’s why I like to think of parenting a teenager as bowling with the bumpers up. Your role is not to hold your child’s hand as they roll the ball down the lane or even bowl for them—that won't help much. Additionally, you don’t want to just let them bowl like an adult, without any bumpers or support, since teens are not ready for complete control (unless they're a surprisingly capable bowler, but let's pretend they're not for this analogy). Instead, your job is to be the bumpers in the lane. You allow your teen to try, to have some freedom in rolling the ball, while ensuring that they don’t go down the gutter.
And it’s important as a parent to figure out what going down the gutter would look like. At what point should you be concerned about allowing too much freedom? What would the warning signs look like specifically? Once you are clear on that, you can set up systems and support structures in place to ensure that your child has the freedom they crave without the opportunity to completely crash and burn, potentially harming themselves or their future. While your teen won’t always bowl a strike (and they’ll learn from their experiences either way), they will have your support and help when they need it the most.
In the past, I’ve discussed the importance of failure and learning to find the gift in the struggles of teenage-dom. I think a huge reason this is so hard for many parents is because parents are biologically wired to make their child’s life better than their own—to give them more opportunity, more success, and ideally more happiness. So of course, many parents want their children to get A's, go to an amazing college, and not have to deal with the anxiety and pain that comes with being a teenager.
But when your child focuses on perfection, being the best, and outside achievements to determine their self-worth, it can derail their ability to create a strong, unwavering sense of self.
Here is an exercise for when you start getting worried about their grades, friendships, peer pressure, etc. You can do this mentally or write out your answers.
1. Ask yourself, "What is it that I am worried about this school year?" Is it that they’ll fall behind in school? That they’ll prioritize their social life over grades?
2. Now ask yourself, "What is it that you want for them?" To get or keep their good grades? To have a best friend whom they can trust?
3. Now ask, "If they had that (a great best friend, good grades, etc.), thenwhat would happen?" They’d be able to get into a good college? They would be less stressed?
4. Ask again, "If they had that, then what would happen?" They’d be successful or get a good job? They’d be more at ease?
5. Keep asking yourself, "Then what would happen?" until you feel like you are at the core of what you want for them—you might even feel a gut feeling of relief or grounding associated with it. Hint: It will probably be something like “Then they’d be happy.”
Finding the core desire of what you wish for them is important—whether that be peace, happiness, love, etc.—in order to answer crucial questions. Is striving to get A’s making them happy or stressing them out? Is being on the baseball team making them at peace or is something they dread every week?
You then get to ask yourself: How can I best support them in being happy, feeling loved, or being at peace? And it may be different from what you originally wanted for them because here’s the thing: Money, achievements, and straight A's don’t often make someone happy. We’ve all already been told countless times that this is a myth, yet many of us still believe it. Heck, I have to check myself on this all the time! Happiness most often stems from compassion, gratitude, acceptance, and connection.
In his Time magazine article "In Praise of the Ordinary Child," Jeffrey Kluger writes, “But we cheat ourselves, and, worse, we cheat our kids, if we view life as a single straight-line race in which one one-hundredth of the competitors finish in the money and everyone else loses. We will all be better off if we recognize that there are a great many races of varying lengths and outcomes. The challenge for parents is to help their children find the one that’s right for them.”
As always, if you have any questions, thoughts, or insights, I’d love to hear!
Here’s to your own happiness,
This video popped up on my Facebook newsfeed the other day and I wanted to share it with you all.
As someone who gives out support and coaching for parents, it might seem a bit odd for me to share this video—especially when it's teasing all of the parenting advice out there.
The reason I love this video is it shows the absurdity of the “do or die” mentality that plenty of parenting advice promotes. "If you say X, it will scar your child for life. If you do Y, they’ll hate you for forever. If you react with Z, they'll think the world is a cold and unforgiving place…"
Here’s the thing: With parenting, as with any other thing we do in this world, we all are going to make mistakes. We are all going to stress out over decisions and want the best for our children. No one will ever be the perfect parent, just like no one can be the perfect teacher.
What's most important is often how you bounce back from these mistakes, and rather than overanalyzing everything you do as a parent, can you enjoy ALL the moments with your teen (both the ups and the downs)? Can you model apologizing and owning your mistakes? Can you model finding humor, being in the present moment, and enjoying life?
My invitation is to be compassionate with yourself. Parenting is not “do or die.” Find the advice that works for you. If you find something helpful, try it out! If it works, then awesome—keep it! If it doesn’t, toss it out and don't pay it any mind.
And know that my goal is never to encourage scare tactics or shame you into a better relationship with your teen.
The more we can normalize asking for support, giving ourselves compassion, and enjoying our time with our kids rather than overanalyzing, the more effective we will be as parents.
As always, if you have any comments or questions, please reply and let me know!
It’s officially the beginning of another school year for most of your amazing teens. Ah, the joys of back-to-school shopping, figuring out a new schedule with new teachers, reading the syllabus to figure out the countless materials your children even need in the first place, buying loads of new pencils and pens since they always seem to get lost, and starting all over again once you finally feel like you had last year under control. That’s always a really easy, stress-free time for everyone, right?!
Most parents, teens, and teachers I know always go into the school year with a mixture of (a) excitement over what could be possible and (b) lingering anxiety or fear of what could go wrong. Parents worry, “What if my kid hates their teachers? What if they struggle in class? What if they are bullied? What if they can't keep up with the workload?" This is completely normal, and it’s natural for the transition into a new school year to be a tough and stressful process.
Now, most parents' inclination is to helicopter when these worries pop up. You don’t want your teen to start off the year behind or on the wrong foot, so you begin to hover, either managing or stressing out over all the little details. “Is this the right elective for my child? Should I try and change their schedule? Are they dressing in time for PE? Do they really need these new clothes that they want? And I need to make sure they have four 3-ring binders, two red pens, and three spiral notebooks. Oh, and I’ll buy 100 pencils since they can only use pencils in math class and I swear my child always loses pencils…”
But what if you could start off the school year with peace and ease? What if you could start the year trusting your child and trusting their ability to make decisions? What if you had practical and simple tools in your pocket as well as the confidence that you could support your child no matter what struggle or awful thing comes their way?
If that appeals to you, I want to help. Over the next two weeks, I am offering a free hour-long “Back-to-School Session” for those of you who are on my mailing list. What is a “Back-to-School Session?” I’ll listen to your worries and concerns about the upcoming school year, your current struggles with your teen, and your hopes for this school year. From there, I’ll provide powerful, tried-and-true tools to address your specific concerns and struggles. At the end, if you are seeking more support or it seems we could be a good fit, I’ll explain some of my services in coaching families and teens with navigating tough transitions.
If you are stressed out, "catastrophizing," or worrying even the slightest bit, please do take advantage of this special! After the next two weeks, I’ll no longer offer sessions catered specifically to this back-to-school time since my time will be spent leading workshops at schools and speaking with PTAs/PTOs.
Here’s what one parent had to say about our work together:
“I called Shandra for help because I was feeling frustrated and, frankly, sad about how my normally great relationship with my son was changing into one filled with tension, stress and arguments. He was maturing, no longer a 'kid' and neither one of us really knew how to navigate this transformation. I was worried and angry (he was too) but both of us did know that we wanted things to improve!
So if you are interested in signing up for a “Back-to-School Session," sign up here.
Also, if you have any questions at all—whether about these sessions or the transition into a new school year—please email me. As always, I’m glad to help however I can.
Here’s to an amazing school year, and best of luck!
Would you consider Michael Phelps to be any less of a champion because he had a coach? Would you think that in some way he was a failure, or that he wasn’t a good enough swimmer since he couldn’t do it on his own without relying on a coach? Most of us would probably answer "no—of course not." Professional athletes and business CEOs have coaches and someone guiding them because they strive to go from good to great. They want to make themselves even better, and they look for help to do so.
So when a parent is looking to get support for themselves or their child, why is it that they often feel shame over "needing" help and consider themselves to be a failure?
Instead of that mindset, I invite you to think of this a different way. Just like an Olympic athlete wouldn’t expect to get gold medals all on his or her own, a parent shouldn’t be expected to handle all of the difficulties and stressors that come with raising a teenager on their own. What if we saw seeking help, support, and coaching as things that will make someone a better parent rather than as a sign of their failure? What if we saw it as gold medal parenting?
So this week, I invite you to reach out for support or help. This can befrom a friend, a mentor, a teacher, a colleague, or myself. Like Phelps said in the foreword of his coach’s book, “Without Bob, I have no shot at achieving the records I’ve achieved or winning the medals that I’ve won.” I invite you to find someone who will lift you toward those parenting medals!
Here's to your gold medal parenting,
As the next school year is about to begin and summer is coming to an end, many parents begin to dread this transition time for their teen. The worries begin to race through their head, "Is my child going to do well this year? What if they fail? What if they hate their teachers? What if they are bullied? What if they can't keep up with the workload?"
This is natural since most parents want their child to do well and have a better life. However, in the midst of the swirling anxieties and worries, it's essential to remember the importance of failure and that it's not the end of the world, especially for teen girls.
In her article "Why Failure Hits Girls So Hard," Rachel Simmons writes, "Rescuing girls from failure makes them lose motivation — even more than boys... So what does work for girls? One study found that using informational praise to describe a good performance ("You did very well on that test"), instead of making an interpretation of it ("You’re so smart"),increased girls’ intrinsic motivation. Praising effort ("You worked really hard on that") over ability has consistently been proven to motivate all kids, and especially girls.
Failing well is a skill. Letting girls do so gives them critical practice coping with a negative experience. It also gives them the opportunity to develop a kind of confidence and resilience that can only be forged in times of challenge. Besides this, girls need educators and parents to challenge stereotype threat, reminding them that ability can always be improved with effort, and that who they are will not determine where they end up.
Lahey says that saving kids from failure sends the message that we think they’re 'incompetent, incapable and unworthy of our trust.' That’s why giving kids the space to screw up, as Lahey advises, is so important — and will be particularly so for girls."
So as the school year is about to begin, I invite you as parents and educators to see what gifts could arise out of your teen struggling and what lessons they could learn. Most likely, your teen will struggle. Most likely, they will fail at something, either big or small. Being a teenager is tough— from broken friendships to exploring romantic relationships, to navigating peer pressure, to learning how to deal with difficult teachers. So how can you as their parent begin to see the gift in their struggle and support them in finding their own solutions both in school and outside of school?
Like I mentioned before, many parents can struggle with this whole "allowing your teen to fail" thing. In fact, it may feel like that is going against every fiber of your being as a parent. If this resonates with you, I invite you every time you see your child struggling and you start catastrophizing or wanting to fix the problem, to take note of your worries with compassion (you are just wanting to protect your child). And then, I encourage you to think of what amazing lesson they might learn from figuring this out on their own, which will then shape them into a more capable and successful adult.
Are you nervous about the beginning of the school year? Unsure how to see failures and struggles as a gift rather than a curse? Or are you looking for tools in how to set up your teen for a successful school year? If so, let me know! As always, I'd love to support however I can.
This Friday, I’m asking for something different. I want to know about the issues you are having with your teen—the dilemmas, the struggles, and the questions you have. Share a struggle with me and I’ll make sure to include a tool/resource in one of my upcoming emails to help you tackle it.
We all know that raising a teen is unbelievably hard. As a parent, you’re constantly having to adjust to deal with:
In our society, there is this perception and underlying belief that as parents you are expected to have all the answers and to do it all on your own. And many parents feel a sense of failure when they open up about their struggles. However, there is no manual and often the happiest families are those with a supportive community whom they can reach out to.
I often felt that same pressure as a teacher. But it was so helpful to brainstorm, observe, and ask for help from master teachers, to pick up their tools/techniques on how to best support teenagers. Many of the things I learned were not necessarily from my mistakes, but from asking for help.
So I invite you to take a couple of minutes to reply to this email and share a dilemma you’re going through, a question you have, or a breakthrough you’ve recently had in regards to your teen. Again, I’ll make sure to include a tool/resource in one of my upcoming emails to help you tackle it. Help me help you!
You’re not alone,
If you saw my email on Friday, you know I talked about the importance of giving your teen a choice to de-escalate situations. Rather than making a demand(i.e. “Get off the computer” or “Stop bothering your brother”), you can give your teen a choice between two options (i.e. “You can get off the computer within the next 5 minutes or you can get shorter computer time tomorrow by 10 minutes. It’s your choice").
Now, giving your teen choice will automatically begin to reduce the number of power struggles you have with them since, rather than demanding their compliance, you are giving them a chance to choose the route they want to take (following your request or dealing with a consequence).
However, if you read my two examples of choice last Friday, you’ll notice I always put a specific time limit on their choices. Look at the ways in which I made the options time-bound:
Putting a time limit on their choices helps teens get clarity on what their choices specifically are. If you say, “You can get off the computer,” that could mean they have the option of shutting it down immediately, within one minute, or within 10. This ultimately leaves you pulling your hair out when they say, “But I got off the computer!” which is technically correct— they did. Moreover, giving teens time-bound choices encourages them to make a decision immediately rather than having an opportunity to argue back and forth.
So when you give your teen a choice between two options, be specific! Let them know how much time they have to make the choice. When teens are given a choice, when that choice is clear and when it is time-bound, your interactions will go more smoothly.
I’d love to hear how giving your teens choice has been going so far. Any successes or struggles? Let me know!
We've all been there—the dreaded power struggle with your teen.Unfortunately, these power struggles seem to grow exponentially as teens enter middle school and push boundaries, especially when it comes to social media and technology use. And a lot of the tools that seemed to work in elementary school when they were kids no longer do.
So how can you avoid these power struggles that leave you both with a pounding headache and you fearing the next blow-up?
When I was in my first year of teaching middle school, I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and did just about everything I could to avoid a power struggle. I never wanted kids to be mad at me—I tried to be their friend, to elaborate on rules with them, and I often bent those rules for my students.
But one time, I caught one of my 7th graders trying to ditch my Leadership class and go hang out with her 8th-grade friends. I immediately instructed her to get back in the classroom. She, of course, did not. I then told her I would call her mother, to which she responded, "I don't care, go ahead." So the power struggle ensued. Eventually, the administration got involved, but let me tell you: It was ugly, exhausting, and made me feel like a failure as a teacher.
One of the senior staff heard what happened and said "Oh honey...well, that's your mistake! You didn't give her a choice, which escalated the situation. Here is what I would have said the moment I caught her trying to ditch my class: 'You can come back in class within the next 10 seconds or I can call your mother. It's your choice.'"
What makes this so effective? Giving your teen a choice between two options will:
They may not be happy, but they'll make a choice, and you both can move on without a power struggle.
Are you currently struggling to navigate power struggles between you and your teen? Share with me a question or recent power struggle, and I'll respond with tools catered to your specific needs.
Wishing you a weekend free of power struggles!
Happy Friday! Hopefully you are enjoying your week so far and continuing to have a wonderful summer. This week I decided to change things up again and send another resource rather than "Inspiring Instagram" account because of the huge positive response from parents.
So this Friday, I wanted to share one of the best-kept secrets in supporting teenagers--validation. As I've been supporting more and more teens, I've realized that many parents and educators are missing this one really simple tool when connecting with and supporting teens who are upset or emotionally charged.
Most adults have a tendency to immediately try and fix the situation for their teenager. And in many ways this makes sense. As adults, we have more experience to draw from and often can see the bigger picture whereas teens can't. We also don't want our children or students to be upset about a situation and we want to help. Moreover, it's how most people react to each other anyways. If you are upset about something at work and share it with your partner or friend, most of the time people will first respond with advice or how it relates to something they have gone through.
However, when you immediately begin to try and fix an emotionally charged situation for your child or student, this will often result in your teenager shutting down, not wanting to talk to you, feeling more disempowered, or blowing up even more.
Many adults miss the number one step in talking with teens who are upset about a teacher, a peer, a rule, or some other situation. This step is tovalidate their emotions first and foremost. Before giving them advice, trying to fix it, or telling them what you think and how you would handle the situation, validate their experience. This can look and sound a few different ways, such as:
"I hear that you are really frustrated/angry/upset"
"I can see that you seem to be really frustrated/angry/upset"
"I can understand that you are frustrated/angry/upset"
"Yeah it sucks and I don't blame you for being frustrated/angry/upset" etc
Watch the video below to find out more and I invite you to practice validatingthe teens in your life this week!
One of the most difficult things in life is being the parent or teacher of a teenager so know that you are amazing and I honor all that you are already doing. I hope this helps and would love to hear your thoughts, if this was helpful, and how it goes.
I am a teen-empowerment coach. I work with teen girls, ages 14-17, who struggle with self-acceptance, perfectionism, seeking attention from others, and deep sadness or anger.