Have I done enough?
01 May 2019
Have I done enough?
A reflection on parenting teens
By Mathea Viles
Recently, I spent an hour with an incredibly treasured friend who also happens to be a family therapist.
What I love about every time I meet with him is the opportunity it provides me to think about the way I think. To view life from the helicopter rather than in amongst the trees. To make sense of life and purpose and to really appreciate the value of what it means to be human.
At this point in my life, my focus is strongly attached to parenting, in particular both the day to day issues and the bigger conundrums of parenting teens. As a result, I find myself faced with questions like ‘What can I do to help with this situation?’, ‘Have I done enough?’ and ‘How will the struggles of this generation shape and impact them?’
I have never made any attempt to hide the fact that I am confused about the direction I should head in. As parents, we are pulled in so many different directions parenting either the way we were parented or parenting in exactly the opposite direction, parenting in accordance with the latest and best research or free wheeling and taking a casual approach.
Image by Jarosław Igras from Pixabay
It doesn’t matter which way you go or even whether you chop and change, you will still potentially find yourself asking ‘Have I done enough?’
As my dear therapist friend tells me, now the parent himself of fully grown adults, he too found himself wandering for a number of years in the parenting wilderness associated with this age. I take heart in this because as he is someone who has spent many years guiding families and the teens within them, I am left feeling less desperate with this knowlege. ‘After all’, he says ‘I was no dumbass in this area’.
But in having this discussion with him, he reveals some key take-aways.
His first observation is that he is incredibly optimistic about the adults that will be produced by our teens. ‘How can that be?’ I ask incredulously, ‘the significant rise in mental health issues surely has to take its toll’. His response is that the impact of the society we live in on our youth via technology, social media, etc has probably served to advance our teens at least 10+ years. But not in the way I was thinking.
His anecdotal view is that access to information, support and mental health services (online or in person) means that our youth are now open to seeking therapy and treatment at ages 15 and 35 rather than at 35 and 55, as they historically were. This has the potential to far better equip them to lead a longer fulfilling life by making use of the skill set they are developing at a younger age. Historically, the age of the mid-life crisis happened around our mid 40’s-50’s, perhaps this is shifting downwards? The struggle is still necessary, but the earlier it is addressed, the longer we have to enjoy the fruits of this process.
He then poses another point associated with this, ‘If the learning and growth of our teens is happening earlier and could even potentially be before their parents have ‘found their own light’, what is the result?’ Well he believes it seems that we could face a generation of youth who have emotionally outgrown their parents. Of course the challenge with this is where the guidance for these emerging adults will come from if not from their parents?
So for me, this is probably the key point I need to digest and work on. In order to best serve my teens, (and as a community, to best serve 'our' teens), we need to continually work on ourselves. The continued growth in our emotional maturity is the ultimate safeguard of our teens and our relationship with them. To that extent, our growth and learning is just as important and necessary as theirs and in some ways, maybe even more so as we must lead.
We cannot stop the impact of society, but we can equip our youth with skills to manage the positions they find themselves in. And if we are simultaneously working on our own personal growth, we will understand the necessity of their struggle and be better able to support and not smother this process.
It is not our job as parents to solve their struggles, but rather to help them understand the opportunity these struggles present and ensure they have the skills needed to assist them to emerge safely on the other side.
So in response to the question ‘Have I done enough?’, it is probably better re-phrased, ‘Am I active in improving who I am and how I interact with the world around me?’ If you are capable of even asking yourself that question, I’d suggest you’re staying ahead of your teen, and that’s the best position to be in to help them navigate this most interesting time.