How to Make the Teenage Years a Time of Joy
By Dr. Sandy Gluckman | Contributor
Aaahhh Teenagers! Bless their hearts! It is such a joy to look at your teenage son or daughter and to think about how wonderful it is to see them so grown up. It seems like just yesterday that they were little. And then, just as your heart is bursting with pride and love, your teen begins to complain about something not being to his liking, or she rolls her eyes when you say something she considers stupid, or he behaves as though he is entitled to all you do for him, or she is so nice when she wants something but won’t willingly help you in the house. Need I go on? Your friends who have teenage sons and daughters all report that their kids display the same challenging behaviors. And the conversation then goes (with a huge sigh) to “they are teenagers”, “their hormones are out of whack”, and “I guess it’s a stage that we all have to go through”.
First, let’s dispel one myth: the ”raging hormones” story is simply not true. Hormone production does increase during this period, but it is not the hormones that create these challenges; rather it is developmentally appropriate changes happening to the brain.
Second, I would highly recommend that parents do not think of this as a stage in the child’s life that they need to endure. Instead of focusing on the downsides and frustrations of the teenage years, it is important that parents see this as an exciting phase in which both generations – the teenagers as well as the parents – can explore and strengthen their own identity and purpose, come to know and love who they each are and what they stand for, and respect each other’s different perspectives and ideas.
So, here’s the real deal: Your teen’s brain is going through an intense and healthy process of remodeling itself. That’s something to be very grateful for. You have some choices while this is happening. You can fight and argue and threaten. You can feel infuriated, irritated, exasperated or disappointed. Or you can learn how to respond in ways that will make it okay for your teenage child to do what he is supposed to be doing, which is courageously exploring and discovering his unique identity and purpose, having creative experiences, pushing the boundaries and questioning everything. In his book, Brainstorm, Dr. Daniel Siegel (who is renowned for his excellent work on the teenage brain) characterizes the teen years as ”the most powerful life phase for activating courage, purpose, and creativity.”
The way you handle these years is vitally important
You need to be aware that how you respond to your kids in these teenage years will impact how your child navigates this challenging teenage journey, which in turn will determine the kind of adults they will become. In a nutshell, your job is to help set the stage for strengthening character traits that will enable your teens to become adults capable of leading successful lives filled with adventure and purpose. Phew! That is some responsibility, isn’t it?
Understandably, frustrated parents can easily fall into the trap of seeing only the teenager’s faults and negative behaviors. But if you constantly speak about their negative behaviors to them, this shapes how they see themselves, which then makes them feel bad about themselves, which makes them behave badly, which makes them feel bad.
This negative cycle goes nowhere good. It puts you into an emotional frenzy, but worse than that, it can hold your teen back from realizing his or her true potential. One of the gifts you can give your teenager is to help them develop positive beliefs about themselves, about life and about others.
How to thrive instead of survive the teenage years
So instead of surviving these teenage years, there are many things that parents can do to help their teens navigate this complex journey and make this a more exciting, purposeful and positive time in everyone’s life. This is not to say that what I suggest will be easy to do. Not at all! It will be extremely challenging because not only do teenagers push their parents away, but their behaviors can also be confusing, annoying and often hurtful. But this is such an important period of their lives, and your lives, that it is worth the effort to learn how to make this a good time.
Essentially what parents need to learn is how to respond in practical ways that will support and strengthen the teen’s brain during its incredible spurt of growth and maturation.
There are many techniques parents can learn; you might be surprised to know what I consider to be the most important one! It is the power of feeling and speaking about gratitude.
The neuroscience of gratitude
Much research is being done which shows that feeling true gratitude increases happiness, optimism, compassion, self-esteem and improves health and sleep. It also reduces envy, sense of entitlement, self-centeredness and materialism.
Think about it. Most of us go through the day taking the positives for granted and hardly storing them in our memory bank, but we instantly register and feel, then speak about negative experiences and events. Research shows our brains (all of us, not only teenagers) automatically look for the negatives far more than the positives. This is how our brains are wired. The good news is that we can literally rewire our brains and change our nervous systems, for the better, by consistently practicing gratitude.
The practice of gratitude is one of the most powerful tools you can give your teens to take into the world with them.
Show them how to make gratitude a way of life:
- Teach your kids to consciously look for the good things that are happening every moment of every day.
- Help them really feel the emotion of gratitude for these good things.
- Encourage them to speak out loud about how grateful they are feeling.
- Start a tradition that at dinner time or before going to bed each member of the family shares at least 3 things they are grateful for that happened that day.
Here’s the kicker
You cannot teach your children to make gratitude a way of life unless they see you doing it. Warning: It’s habit forming!
For more information about Dr. Sandy Gluckman and her live and online workshops,