It’s hard enough trying to navigate the inner world of a teenager, considering the massive changes that occur in their brain, but when you add the complexities of relationships, social media, cultural pressures…. things can get overwhelming!
My mentor in the psychology field once told me: “We learn to BE by being WITH”. This has stuck with me. We can try to live in a cottage in the woods with our cats and really hermit-out…but we NEED to be with people. Connecting with others is neurologically necessary: it settles our brains, calms our nervous systems and activates feel-good hormones.
That is, if the relationships are healthy, appropriate and emotionally attuned, of course.
But as we know, teen relationships aren’t always healthy. And even though we as adults can often see this, the worst thing to say to your child is something like: “well, who needs them anyway,” or “you’ll find the right people once you’re in university,” or “ just be nice.” We need to teach our kids how to lean into conflict, ask for what they need, speak up for themselves, and not always be NICE. This last one really gets me. Being too nice or avoiding conflict at all costs only creates brain patterns that teach kids two things: their needs don’t matter, and how to be walked all over.
We certainly don’t want aggressive, instigating, conflict seekers. We also don’t want our kids to passively avoid people, or give the cold shoulder, or quietly stew. It is our job as adults to model healthy conflict; to speak up for themselves in a healthy and respectful manner. In short, we need to teach kids how to navigate all their relationships in the most effective way possible.
In order to find that good balance, we sometimes have to provide our kids with SCRIPTS when it comes to relationships. Yes, this may require some role-playing. Practice with them! What are they going to say to that person tomorrow… what do they wish they had said instead… how do they want to say that differently next time? This practice and rehearsal create healthy brain patterns so that when conflict arises again (and it will!) their brain feels like it knows what to do, or what to say.
I always try to think about students will cope when they get out into the real world. Are we providing them with tools to use when that colleague keeps overstepping boundaries? Or, when that boyfriend/girlfriend begins to be overbearing? Will they find themselves in a situation when they should be saying NO but they say YES instead? Helping kids find their voices, knowing what they feel, knowing what they need … and then DOING something with these personal insights, are the best life skills we can give them.