School has been out for a while and many of us with teenagers in the house feel a mix of emotions regarding living with our teens. It is even hard to notice, day after day, how our teenagers live without a school schedule. So much Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook posting.
My three teens are ages 19, 17 and 13. I have worked hard to enjoy this stage of life, whether I am being a mom, photographing a family with teens or teaching teen yoga. Below are my favorite 7 guidelines for appreciating teenagers. Many thanks to the authors, therapists, wise older women and enchanting strangers who have helped me curate this advice.
#1 Do No Harm…..the world will harm our teens anyway. Be the safe spot of unconditional love. Allow your teenager to thrive on his or her unique terms. Countless parents on photo shoots illicit arguments about hair and wardrobe. Does a hair style truly matter? Your teen takes pride in expressing independence and individuality in his/her wardrobe selection. Didn’t you once wear unfortunate styles? It is a right of passage to have photos that will one day will be remembered with a smile. Remember those two year old temper tantrums? Don’t they they make you smile now?
#2 Do not initiate (and teach) negative self-talk. For example, please do not say “ that is an ugly smile.” This breaks my heart as a photographer. I agree that some smiles are fake and not everyone smiles like a supermodel. Do you? Sure you know how beautiful your teenager is, but do you have to critique the smile they have chosen now? We don’t want your teen creating a mental tape of negative self-talk that a therapist has to help unwind and erase later in life. Rule #2 extends far beyond a photo shoot into areas such as body image and test scores. Back to #1, do no harm.
#3 Remember you were once a teen. You were equally vulnerable and curious about your individuality. It often takes until our 40’s to truly know who we are. We yogis come to the mat to remind ourselves to breathe and listen to our inner voices. I understand that your teen might wear all black or become a vegan. Most of these costumes are transitional and will fade. If we deep yoga breathe and allow our teens to experiment with individualism then they will feel respected. Importantly, they will be on the road to discovering their inner voices and most importantly they will respect us. On a personal note, I am not fond of my daughter’s multiple ear piercings.
#4 Practice empathy training. Narcissism is Darwinism, so accept teen self-centeredness. Teens are desperately trying to find a place in this chaotic world and they believe they have to put themselves first. Your parenting antidote? Empathy training. Remind them that you can have your feelings hurt. Ask your teen how the “other” person might feel about a situation. In fact, empathy instilled in your teen creates cooperation when it matters. For example, a teen who sees you with feelings is more likely to wear the shirt you want on a photo shoot.
#5 Serve yourself First! As a yoga teacher I remind my students of all ages to serve themselves first by planning quiet time for meditation, prayer and journaling, ideally at the beginning of the day. Busy moms especially need to rise before the family and commit to quiet time with mind, body and soul. If you serve yourself first you can then unload that dishwasher for the one thousandth time and start yet another load of laundry, hopefully without resentment.
#6 Remember, your teen is a unique soul here to teach you. Please don’t crush your teens desire to be seen, heard and respected as an individual. This age is no different than the four year old wearing a batman costume with fire fighter boots for three days straight. Observe and listen to your teen’s interesting commentary with curiosity, and importantly a sense of humor.
#7 Smile at teenage arrogance. I remember my friend’s father, a psychiatrist, had a sign in his office that said “hire a teenager now while they still know everything.” I completely agreed with that statement when I was a teenager visiting his home. Now I fully understand the humor in the comment. Its just a stage of life.