I recently had a conversation with my 23 yr. old son. He’s been back home for the past year since graduation working on some personal projects and searching for a job. As we discussed his high school journey and all the prep work expected of him for college, I asked him if the pressure to fill his “resume” as a teenager helped or hindered him.
“I felt like it was all about performance and not so much about who I was as a person. I spent a lot of time worrying about how I was “perceived” based on end results; like I often had to do more to keep up or fit the mold for success.”
His response shook me, although a part of me wasn’t surprised at all.
This has become the norm for our kids, hasn’t it?
Teenagers are loaded down with overwhelming expectations. Not only to strive for perfection in academics, but also to serve, lead, participate, and be involved in a million activities before they turn 18 if they want a reasonable chance to get into a decent college.
When are teens allowed to be the kids they still are who just experience life as it comes rather than a life that is force-fed, scripted, and decided for them?
How are teens supposed to form an identity, grow in confidence, and believe they are worthy and enough, as is?
All the pressure to perform and race through the natural maturation process into adulthood robs our teens of the one universal longing of all humankind: to love and be loved—just as we are, not as who others think, hope, or wish we would be.
In her book, The Awakened Family: A Revolution in Parenting, Dr. Shefali Tsabary says this, “Every child wants to know three things: Am I seen? Am I worthy? Do I matter? When kids feel seen, believe they are worthy, and discern they matter for who they are as a person not just their accomplishments, their natural love of themselves manifests in a love of life.”
Gah. This quote. Don’t all of us as moms want this for our kids? Don’t all of us need these things for ourselves?
Love is what makes the world go ‘round. Love is what we’re made of and why we’re here. But for teens to live life from this healthy space, they need to find their way into their authentic self—the true version brimming with gifts and talents just waiting to bloom when the moment is right. The journey to finding out who they are takes time and gobs of experience. Rushing them through the process sets our teens up for unnecessary struggle.
So, how can we counteract the current culture and recipe for “success” when it comes to our teens walk into adulthood? How can we ensure we do enough to meet our teenager’s longing to love and be loved just as they are?
After years of trial and error with my kids and a decade of involvement in teen ministry, these are the five insights that I think truly made a difference for my teens and the ones I ministered to:
Be In the Now
Because the teenage brain functions in the now, it is imperative to express our gratitude, love, and admiration for the things they are getting right today—even if it has to be alongside our concerns or exasperation about all the things they did wrong. The frontal lobe of a human brain, that thing capable of discerning, “If I do this, then that will happen,” isn’t fully developed until well into our twenties. This means our teens will screw-up. On repeat. Just like we did. Multiple times over. Teens get an overload of negative feedback from the world around them, so our affirmations and positivity go a forever way even if they don’t acknowledge our encouragement.
Meet Them Where They Are
We need to meet our teen right where they’re at, not where we hope they will be or wish they were already. Who they are at any given moment is probably the best they can be…just like us. They are on a journey too, and goodness knows that for me as a mom, I always tried my best and some days my best stunk to the third heaven. If our teens feel their worthiness is linked to achievement or performance, when they fail, their self-esteem takes a hit every time…just like us.
They Are Their Own People
Teenagers desire to be known and acknowledged for who they are, what they stand for, and what they believe whether we agree or not. Although their journey of self-awareness is still ongoing, accepting them at each step along the way breeds hope. We have to remember we were trying to find our way back then as well when the world was far less complicated. And most of us are still trying to figure ourselves out.
Don’t Be A Hypocrite
Becoming wise to the nuances of the current teen streetscape helped me recognize my parent pride and ignorance. My husband and I chose to build a bridge between our personal teen experience and our kids’ harrowing reality. Because teens can sniff out a hypocrite a magnificent mile away, we were transparent about our mistakes, poor choices, and misguided pursuits. Walking across the plank toward independence “together” built trust between us.
Be A Role Model
The best way to teach our teens how to love and be loved is to model it, both in and out of our family dynamic—especially to those who are different from us. But maybe even more important is showing them the importance of loving ourselves. We set the bar on self-love.
At the end of the day, the more we can do to let our teens know they are seen, they are worthy, and they matter, the easier it will be for them to believe they are capable of giving and receiving love. This sense of inherent value sets them up for success far more significant than a test score, a loaded resume, or a childhood full of relentless programmed activity.
Teens who enter adulthood with a healthy sense of self, full of confidence, and the freedom to pursue the unique calling inside them may have the highest chance of making the world a better place for all of us—a world in dire need of more love and compassion.
In my eyes, teens are a special breed who, ironically, might do more to help meet our longing as adults to love and be loved if given the space to unfold at their own pace and become who they were destined to be. My teenagers for sure made me a better human. The footprint I leave on the world will include, in large part, the influence of my beautiful kids in their most challenging years.
What a gift.
This was a contributed post from Shelby Spear. Shelby is a sappy soul whisperer, sarcasm aficionado, pro-LOVE Jesus adoring mom of 3 Millennials writing stuff & doing life w/ hubs of 25 yrs. She is the co-author of the book, How Are You Feeling, Momma? (You don’t need to say, “I’m fine.”) You can read her open heart about the revelations, screw-ups, gaffes, and joys of motherhood on her blog shelbyspear.com, around the web, and in print at Guideposts.