Life is hard for Teenagers these days. They are surrounded by an unstable and unsafe political, environmental, economic, and social landscape. The inner turmoil of adolescence makes external stability an anchor which aids in navigating this tumultuous stage of life. The path to successful adulthood is no longer clear. Getting a college degree won't necessarily provide a secure future but will often lead kids into a mountain of college debt. Parents, too, are overwhelmed, anxious, and fearful.
Parental anxiety about their children's future can cause them to choose how to act towards their children out of a fear-based scarcity mindset. Unfortunately, when fear is the motivator, the wrong choices are made, and the wrong lessons are learned. Fear is the enemy of kindness and compassion. Fear is a hardwired evolutionary response designed to help us survive when our lives are threatened. It's hard to focus on kindness when you are worried about survival. I know I often worry about all of the terrible things that can happen to my kids, which translates into lecturing them about all the bad things that will happen if they don't get their ducks in a row. Lecturing doesn't help our relationship or nurture their ability to grow into kind, compassionate human beings in the future.
It's dreadful for kids to have these conversations with parents who talk about only negative things. It increases their anxiety, fear of making mistakes, and promotes a pessimistic and cynical view of what their life will consist of. Knowing all this, I continue to make these mistakes myself as a parent. Parenting is just one of the hardest things to do!
It's important to remember that part of our lack of self-compassion comes from how we were raised. Fear and anxiety can cause parents to act in a critical and controlling manner, which will later become a child's inner voice. Fear is always the enemy of kindness and compassion. How you talk to your kids and what you focus on becomes what they will focus on and their inner voice.
Almost everyone I have worked with within my 25 years as a therapist agrees that what is essential in life is whether you are happy. Often, part of why they are in therapy is because they learned the wrong ways to be happy. Also, almost everyone I see in treatment at their core feels that they are not good enough.
Parents who get caught up in fear and scarcity risk conveying the message to their kids that they are not worthy enough. We don't want our entire focus as parents to have our kids question whether they are good enough or worthy enough. They will then become adults that struggle with this core issue. Additionally, we want to teach our kids the right ways to be happy. These are not generally the things we focus on teaching our kids these days. We get sidetracked by fear, and what we focus on and model for our kids is often not about what is essential.
The right ways to be happy have to do with discovering who you are as a person rather than meeting goals. How can you be kind? Are you a good friend? Do you contribute to your community? How can you be a good family member? What do you care about, and how can you connect with that? What are your values?
When we become focused on fear and survival, we stray away from the things that give life meaning. We don't focus on nurturing these qualities in our children or in ourselves.
When parents, I work with become reactive and caught in fear work, we use some strategies to help them remember to be compassionate and self-compassionate.
At the moment when you start to feel fear and anxiety about your teen:
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