Do you really understand what your kid is going through?
By Scott Schimmel
Our oldest started middle school last year and quickly we realized how little we knew about what he went through all day. Going to back-to-school night was helpful to get a glimpse into his world: who his teachers are, what the boys' locker room looks like, where he eats lunch, and what it’s like to move between classes. We still see him a lot, but more and more we’re discovering how little we actually understand what his life is like. Who are his friends? What does he do between passing periods? What jokes does he laugh at? What does he actually eat for lunch? What is he looking at on his friends’ phones?
Like most parents who have teenagers, we’ve been learning that this is an extraordinary shift we’re making, almost like we’re having kids for the first time again. And just like when we first had a baby, not only were we unprepared for what was coming but the difficulty of the transition and so much of the stress has been about our own reactions to these changes.
It’s really, really hard to have a teenager.
We feel like he’s pulling away.
We worry about the choices he’s making.
We’re not sure who his friends are who are influencing him.
We wonder if we should restrict his freedom, or give him more.
We’re worried if his natural kindness, patience, and sweetness will ever return.
He’s carving his own path now and it’s different than the choices we made when we were his age- he has different interests, different values, different friends, different technology distractions, and different degrees of motivation.
But there are two things in a parent’s control.
My Reactions. As parents, we can only control our own reactions, which includes paying more attention to feeling sad, rejected, angry, anxious or afraid about these drastic changes. For me, this looks like processing my feelings through journaling, venting productively with my wife, meditation and prayer.
My Perspective. We can also work to see our kids in a neutral light. We can reserve judgment about them and get to know who our kids are- on their own terms. We can stop superimposing our viewpoints, our values, our interests, our fears, our motivations onto them.
We can work harder to get to know them as they really are, independent, unique, and still developing. You might find your kids change their interests faster than some people change their socks- don’t be shocked by their sudden change in focus, step back and wonder why. Make a lot of observations instead of accusations. Park your anxiety or fear to the side and instead explore what sparks they feel and what each of their ever-changing interests might say about who they’re becoming.
The more you look at your kids with curiosity and neutrality, the more you will be able to see them as they are:
Ask curious questions
Make a lot of observations to yourself, to your spouse, and to your close friends
Notice what they pay attention to
When you look at them you will start to see who they really are, which will then help you realize their unique attributes, qualities, personality, and path. Only then will you be better equipped to respond to their needs, to come alongside their interests, and to encourage them into their unique story.
Here’s a helpful model you can use to better understand who your kids are and what they’re going through:
If you don’t look at them neutrally to see who they really are, you’ll likely get stuck in a pattern of having strong reactions to their choices. That means you’ll probably create more distance in your relationship, and your kid will lose out on the value of your wisdom and affirmation.
Is that what you want?
But if you do work hard to look at each of your kids in order to see them and realize what they’re going through, not only will you better understand who they are but you’ll have many more opportunities to redefine closeness throughout the stages of their journey.