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Do You Care And Do You Want Me To Continue?

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From Our Mailbag:

Hi Ben,

Love love your newsletters and writing because I feel terribly helpless right now. I feel like I’m losing my daughter and she just turned 14. I’ve been encouraged by some of your posts and have read Dr. Shefali’s books on your recommendation but I can’t figure out how to fix our relationship.

My husband thinks it’s just a phase but I worry it’s more than a temporary flash because the truth is that I have never been close to my own mother and I’m afraid history is repeating itself.

Yesterday we got into a screaming argument over her phone time that left me in tears. I feel like I’ve lost my daughter to her phone and she despises me. I used to be angry about her mouthiness and lack of gratitude for everything we do for her but now I’m just defeated and don’t know what to do.

I know you don’t have a daughter but hoping you have a word of advice for a fellow parent?

Thank you so much Ben.

Cindy in Somerville

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Hi Cindy - thank you for thinking to write to me.

The first thought I’d like to share is that you are definitely not alone in feeling like there is a large emotional gulf between you and your teenage child. A good friend of mine has been struggling with a similar circumstance, and conversations with clients and colleagues also lead me to believe that it’s relatively common to experience such conflict and emotional distance with family members of all ages.

It’s wonderful that you are familiar with Dr. Shefali’s work on conscious parenting. I would encourage you to treat her books as you would a daily devotional where you consider a passage or two each morning or evening. I’m not aware of better resources than her books to help us parents keep our focus on becoming more whole ourselves, which ultimately gives us the best chance we can have of being the parents that our children need us to be.

These days, whenever one of our boys begins to share a thought with me, I aim to tell myself that above all else, what he is really saying is: do you care and do you want me to continue? I actually try to visualize this as a caption that sits in an imaginary bubble over his head.

My answers are yes, I care very much, and yes, I want nothing more than for you to want to share all the ups and downs of your life with me for as long as we are on this planet.

I’m pretty sure that most parents feel the same. The vast majority of us care deeply for the well-being of our children and we want to be as close to them as possible, to share a bond of unbreakable mutual love and trust.

The challenge as I see it is that we can unknowingly weaken and eventually destroy any such bond with our children and other family members despite having the best of intentions and exerting tremendous effort to show how much we care for them.

This past summer, one of our boys shared with me a thought on a specific aspect of his appearance and a goal he had for it. In that moment as I took in his thoughts, I remember immediate concern setting in - my stream of consciousness went something like: but you are so strong and healthy and wonderful as you are and what if you develop an eating disorder or an unhealthy obsession with your appearance and how will this affect your whole life from this point on?

Thankfully, I was able to keep these thoughts to myself. I even remember thinking that I had to restrain myself in that moment because if I were to offer all of my well intentioned advice and reasoning, this would teach my son that sharing his concerns with me is likely to bring on unnecessary strife and unsolicited counsel.

By the grace of a power greater than me, in that moment, I was able to remember that my son felt safe enough to share a real concern with me. I recall feeling deeply thankful that he was sharing this with me, and also thinking that I really hope he’ll always share with me in this way because if he can’t, then maybe he won’t be able to share such things with anyone else, which would be heartbreaking.

So I remained silent, and after a solid pause, I believe I took a deeper than normal breath and said something like “Ah, yes, son, I understand.” We left it at that and eventually moved on to a lighter topic. A few days later, I was able to find an opportunity to nonchalantly show our son some photos of a few of his favourite athletes in positions that I thought would help alleviate his concern about his own appearance - I tried to do it in a subtle way where it wasn’t obvious that I was referencing his concern from a few days back. He immediately started cracking up, and through his amusement, asked me how much time I took to find those specific photos. He then said “don’t worry, Appa, I love eating.” And just like that, my initial concern disappeared in a poof and our father-son bond was no less.

I share this example not to praise my restraint but rather to highlight what I am understanding to be essential to developing and maintaining a bond of mutual care and trust with our loved ones: above all else, we must put our perspectives and values to the side and solely aim to understand what the other is feeling. Ironically, it’s only after we have offered this level of empathy to our loved ones when we actually have any potential opportunity to provide useful feedback or counsel. Any unsolicited feedback or counsel that is given before we have offered heartfelt empathy may be registered intellectually, but likely won’t be well absorbed by the heart. My experience has been that often, once we strive to understand without our own views cluttering the landscape, if our loved ones feel truly understood, they will actually ask for our thoughts on the matter at hand.

This is what the late Stephen Covey called seeking first to understand, then to be understood. But it isn’t very effective if it’s done mechanically as a technique, as a means of getting the other person to feel that we understand despite our hearts being partially truncated from the matter. It must be done from the heart with full intention to really try to understand - this is by definition what deeply caring is, right? Head-based techniques like mirroring what our loved ones say can actually leave them feeling like they are being manipulated, a feeling that will rapidly erode any bit of trust that is left in the relationship.

Take a moment to think about people in your life who really care enough and have the maturity needed to give you this level of empathy. If you have even one such person in your life, what a blessing this is, as to offer such empathy almost goes against our nature - as Anais Nin once said: we don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.

When it comes to parenting specifically, Dr. Shefali has said that whenever we reprimand and discipline, we inevitably diminish honest communication - my life experiences have led me to believe that this is a timeless principle that holds true across all cultures. Personally, I shy away from sharing any real concerns or even significant upcoming decisions with my parents because experience tells me that doing so will only bring on heaps of unsolicited advice and warnings based on their own worries and fears. It’s not that my parents have bad intentions; rather, they just don’t understand the value of offering heartfelt empathy.

So Cindy, beyond all that Dr. Shefali Tsabary has to offer on how to parent and live consciously, those are my thoughts in this moment. I am hopeful that some of our readers will share other thoughts and experiences that may be helpful to you and your family.

With best wishes,

Ben

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If you have experience getting through the years of parenting teenage children and can share any thoughts with Cindy,  please consider doing so in the comments section below. Thoughts on how to help growing children manage their screen time in a healthy manner are highly welcome. Many thanks.

 
 

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Comments

Hi Cindy,

I am gong through some very similar stuff with my 15 year old daughter. I read your words carefully and I would say:

1) Yes, you are losing your daughter. And gaining a young woman daughter. You are experiencing the metamorphosis.

2) Yes, she (thinks) she loves the phone more than you in that exact moment of anger. It is her lifeline to the world. It is her communication mechanism. In her mind, when you threaten the phone, you threaten her being, her friends, her social life.

3) This comment you may not like. When you say "I used to be angry... defeater", I would say you are making it about yourself. I am constantly falling into this trap, and climbing my way out. Her behaviour is NOT about you. In that sense, you need not take it personally.

Here are some of the conclusions I have come to, and I am still a work in progress.

My daughter is undergoing a huge change in everything in her life, and trying to determine what kind of adult she will be. In her confusion, she is narcissistic, because she may only have the energy to think about herself, especially when she "feels" attacked. Because she is not yet confident in who she is, and because she is a bundle of emotions, any questioning of her beliefs is met with rage and anger and defensiveness.

If I insert my "anger" or my "defeatedness" (which is a form of gullt), I add to the already heavy burden she is feeling. I am not a safe place for her. Therefore, her places of refuge and safety are diminished. In effect, the only places where she feels "safe" is with her phone (her friends bring her insecurities as well), and that is a lonely place.

I asked my daughter in a moment of anger. Why do you treat me this way, and not your teachers or friends? And she said: "Because You Have To Love Me!" I now know that this mix of entitlement and wish for safety is a double edged sword that she has to live with. And I know that under her crusty exterior is a soft young girl who just wants love and acceptance.

So I've changed.
1. Shefali's book tell me to be in awe of my child
2. I listen to her rants. Sometimes she needs to get it off her chest.
3. I do not preach
4. I empathize.
5. I do not make it about me.
- If she calls me a "f**king dick", I ask her if this is how we should start talking to each other. She backs off.
- When I feel the anger boiling up, I look at the anger and ask myself why.
- When I observe entitlement, I ask myself what I did to make her feel that way.
6. I rarely use my position of power, and if I do, it is very calmly.
7. I back off and come back to a conversation later.
8. I see myself as a co-traveller in her life, and we are both trying to figure it out.
9. I try not to hold the things I do over her head.
10. I tell her I will always love her and I admire her, and I support her.

Most importantly:
11. I fail at all of the above and try to do better next time. I go easy on myself. I am only human.

So, Cindy in Somerville, go easy on yourself. Decide what type of person you want to be, and when you fail, get up and try again.

Your daughter will see you do that, and become that. You will be the guide for the woman she will be.

I believe in you!
Marc

I love this advice. Living this and struggling not to take my 16 year old son's rudeness personally daily.

Marc, Your words are well-spoken and I appreciate your transparency. I have young adult daughters and definitely can benefit from what you've shared for Cindy. Thank you.

It has been about 8 weeks since I changed my attitude.
The change in my daughter is not immediately apparent and not predictable.
However, her constant dark moods are subsiding and I see more of the "happy girl" that wants to come out.
I see this as a journey.

(This morning she was "offended" by being judged, and judging right back at the judging which did not seem consistent. That was interesting to witness...)

Always an adventure.

Hi, Cindy. I had much the same concerns when I was raising my daughter in her teenage years. I, too, had a difficult relationship with my mom and didn't want to repeat that history, so I did the best I could to stay clear of the ways that I perceived were my mom's contributing behaviors. But I think that one really important thing I did was being able to recognize that my daughter needed to be able to separate herself from me (we were very close when she was younger) in order to realize herself as an independent young woman. As such, I supported her choices, as long as they weren't ones that would place her in jeopardy, of course. For example, when she wanted to color her hair differently, I decided that was far more acceptable than her choosing to use drugs. But with regards to the yelling and her mouthing off, I would only let it go so far and then I would quietly but firmly shut it down. If I allowed myself to get caught up in it and ended up yelling, too, it was always a failed time. It wasn't easy, but providing a calm presence (as much as was possible) gave her a solid line that she learned she was not allowed to trespass against. The punishments for doing so, or even attempting it, were getting grounded, no TV, having certain privileges taken away, etc. And it was important that her dad backed me up, too. It wasn't fun for either of us but I knew that I had to teach her how far she could and couldn't go to help keep her from going too far in other circumstances and with other people. She's now a grown woman with her own family and has told me that she recognizes just how "horrible" she was during those years. But she has grown to be a fully independent person who respects me very much and is holding the line with her own girls. I know it isn't easy, but I personally believe that sometimes the greatest love we can give our children is in showing and enforcing the line of authority gently, firmly, and consistently.

Cindy, from a distance, I agree with your husband. But having said that, it is a miserable situation.
When my only daughter was 13, she went berserk. She had always been a sweet responsible child. And she changed over night. She hated everyone because she thought everyone hated her. She argued with everyone within sight. She and her mother actually got into knock-down, drag out, physical fights. She skipped school, the school called me, and I tracked her down and found her at another girls house with two boys.
It got to the point to where the entire family would figuratively keep our fists covering her face when she entered the room.
This went on for almost exactly one year.
Then she returned to being the sweet, responsible girl she once was.
She is now a grandmother, but still occasionally threatens to whip her four brothers butts. All of whom are a foot taller and thirty pounds heavier.
Believe me, I KNOW how difficult your situation is. My opinion is that my daughters hormones kicked in at 13, and it took a year for her to learn how to deal with her new feelings.
Stay in contact with her, don't sweat the small stuff, and pray for you both, it really helps

I have 1 daughter, and 2 sons, all now adults. Just know that in the end, you and she WILL get through this, how long it will take varies. I ALWAYS made sure my daughter knew I had her back, even when she didn't want that. I was ALWAYS there for her, no matter what she said or did. Many times it was not what I wanted to hear or see. My philosophy was always "you can always talk to me about anything; I may not like what I hear, but I will always listen." (My mom never listened to me, just judged & lectured.) And then practice your poker face! NO MATTER WHAT, you have to stay stronger, available and flexible. My daughter & I have been through so much, things I wouldn't wish on anyone, and we've had to learn to depend on each other. Stay as close as you can, even if it means picking her up at 3 in the morning and only asking if she needs medical attention, food/drink, or a place to sleep. She'll talk when she's ready. Do not let her put too much space between the 2 of you. Nobody said it would easy to have kids, but you raised her this far, don't give up now.

The "rift" between my daughter and I started very early, at age 11, and went through her teenage years, I tried councelling and therapy but mostly I went to the sessions because she refused to go. She is now 22 and only this past year have I seen a change for the better - and I know it is because of one thing only - early on one of the therapists told me that the only thing I can do is tell my daughter that no matter what - I will always be there for her. And so even after fights, angry words, I always saught to mend things and never reprimanded her, just gave her love, because they are past "educating" at this age. It may sound like a cliche, but Love really conquers all. I know that this message of "whatever happens I'm your mother, I love you and I'll always be here for you" sunk in and eventually prevailed. I wish you much strength and never give up!

I can not be more proud of my two grown sons, now age 39 and 40. They have very different, full and impressive lifestyles and I am so impressed with how clever and capable they both are. My job as their Mum was to keep them warm, fed, loved and happy. They went to school and enjoyed it. I never cared about reading, math or grades at all. Never ever pushed them to do better. I was devorced and as a single Mum had servere financial difficulties. The boys got very little for Christmas and no holidays. When they did recieve a gift they understood it's value and appreciated it. As they grew into teenage years they earned some spending money and provided their own PC games etc...
From very early on I allowed my boys to be themselves. Not my possessions. Never trying to mould them to become anything in the name of success. Never putting any pressure on them to achieve.
The result has been two boys with their own interest which they have naturally pursued and become successful doing.
Letting children grow up to be themselves is the best a parent can do.

Cindy, I will just say that I went through much of the same with my daughter when she was a teenager. I knew that this was a normal part of being a teenager, and she needed to go through this so she could become her own person. It didn't make it any easier going through it, but I did know it would get better eventually. And it did!! It was not a fun time from about age 14-19, but now at nearly 23, she and I are closer than ever! She frequently sends me texts thanking me, and saying that she would not be who she is today, if it hadn't been for me. She is kind, smart, and generous, and I couldn't ask for a better daughter! The best advice I can give is when you want to scream and yell, be silent. And then just hug her! Even when you don't want to. She needs to know that you always love her, even when she is not acting very loveable.

How children AND their parents behave when they are troubled or don't get their way or feel abused and misunderstood is largely hereditary or maybe unknowable, IMO. No one is born a blank slate: there's material there in that child from conception. That parents overreact when the kids behave horribly is not everything. It matters, it affects the situation, but it's not the whole picture. There's no parallel universe where we can take our baby child and first raise her one way and then go back in time and raise her (him) another way, thereby proving our ideas on child rearing.

We have less free will in these matters than we think. God has a different plan for everyone and it is not always easy to see what He is up to. It's okay to fight with your kids, yes it is. No one is born a blank slate: it's possible that some young people (and adults) are incapable of learning their lessons any other way. The ugly struggles can be necessary. At some point one party or the other will tire - and understand the other. But there are no guarantees, beautiful attitudes to children notwithstanding. Maybe when your child calls you a filthy name it is good that he should see you breaking down and crying - if that happens spontaneously.

As they say, "All paths lead to God."

Young people and parents have always struggled with growing up. But digital technology and especially cell phones have added a whole new dimension. They are a new window on the world for your teen - both for good and for bad - and as parents we are more attuned to see the dangers they pose for our children. And they are real, the dangers; pornography, cyber bullying, predatory warped individuals, gaming addictions, and the list goes on.

But, like it or not, they seem to be here for a while, so the best we can do is manage those dangers these as best we can. It is important to let our children know about these dangers lurking in the little device they hold in their hand. This may be best done in non-conflict times, calmly talking about some article you read on the matter, or some incident you heard of, in order to impart some wisdom and caution into our teens without them having to learn it the hard way. (or emailing or messaging articles to them!) In my day, my mother warned me about strangers offering sweets to get in their car. Now we must warn our children, not only of that, but also of random strangers messaging them on facebook (and how and why to increase their fb privacy), the dangers of chat groups, the addictive and perverting nature of porn and the dangers it can hold for their future relationships, that not all you read on the internet is true, about the dopamine hit that cell phones can provide and its relation to addiction, the effect of screentime on brain developement, and on sleep... and the list goes on. But even if you were to be successful in preventing your child access to a cell phone for now, they will get one eventually, so better to learn to handing this dangerous weapon now while under your wing than later on their own.

But fighting about it will do no good - only further the distance between you. Any discussion, or comments about it must be in a non-conflict way in a non-conflict time. I suggest you learn about facebook, instagram etc yourself. Ask your daughter to help you. Then set an example to your daughter of how you want technology to be used. Talk about your struggles with it ("facebook just sucks me in and wastes my time. I'm going to have a break for a week, or two") We had a rule in our family - no cell phones at the table - but you know, it's so easy to quickly reply to a text you think might be urgent ... and then apologise to those at the table and put the phone away ... maybe that's a good thing - that they see us struggle a little to enforce our own rules, but that we do see them as important and we explain why (so that we can fully engage and be present with those we are eating/ talking with, because we value them and what they have to say). It's important our children see we don't have cell phones in our rooms at night, and explain why, if we want them to do the same - that was another of our rules.... which we held for our teenagers, but those in their 20s, of course, can do what they like, and they do (although, they have learned the value of putting their phones on night mode, or silent, for the sake of uninterrupted sleep).

My observation has been that daughters have more issues with social media, whereas son's are more likely to struggle with porn or gaming - this may be a male/female thing perhaps. But they are real issues today that aren't about to go away. (And they're not just for teens. I know of a marriage that broke up due to the husband's addiction to his phone ... leading to dating websites etc - which was probably just a symptom of his own issues more than anything.) But the greater availability of all these unhealthy things certainly poses greater temptations these days, and we need to learn how to manage them, and somehow help our children learn to manage them too.

May I add that confiscating her phone would only be a temporary solution, and probably escalate the conflict. But you certainly don't need to be paying for her phone plan (not that you are). Best of luck with this new challenge facing modern parents - like we needed another one!

Cindy, Hi, I am not a parent but have been a daughter. Todays kids have so much more on their plate than we did. To me they grow up way too fast. They are exposed to the mass shootings, dumbing down in the school system (making them into test taking robots), and will receive about 72 vaccine injections by the time they are 18.
If I were a teenager today I would want someone to listen to me and not judge me, so I can be trusting to come to you again. Talk to me about your teenage years and how you were. Lets talk about boys and sex. I would make sure I got the whole foods to consume (veggies, fruits, nuts, grains, beans, seeds), and avoid junk foods of all kinds (and I am vegan). I would want to bring out my creative and athletic abilities (which I believe the school system stifles. Take up a sport like running, bicycling, tennis, hiking to get the excess energy and anger out. Try arts and crafts of all kinds like pottery, jewelry, drawing, stained glass, creative writing, poetry, and maybe learning a musical instrument). If there is time I would like to volunteer somewhere like a nursing home or animal shelter once a week to be helpful. I would also detoxify by using natural foods, fasting, purified water, and a far infrared sauna (to get heavy metal toxins out of my body). Also lets take an adventure trip together in the wilderness, or try me in outward bound. Try meditation, yoga, biofeedback. Watch the documentary--2019 game changers, and, forks over knives. best wishes, rachel

Cindy,

My 5 kids range in age from 6 to 18 years. There have been others here that have offered some good advice and insights. I'll put in my 2¢. First, make some time for her when there is no tension - mother/daughter dates. Remind her how much you love her and are doing your best, however imperfect you may be. Three hundred times may not be quite enough to remind your daughter of this in words. We should make every effort to be a safe place for our kids to talk, but that doesn't have to look like a peer. In the end, we don't think like teens anymore and we didn't grow up in the same world. My kids find relief when I admit that I don't understand. I tell them not to worry, that one day they wo t understand teens either. They are wise enough to laugh. Also, her outside influences are powerful right now. I have noticed improvements after changing my daughter's school. She is 12 and has no phone, but that is because of what I've learned with my son, now 18. Girls typically have different issues with electronics, but they can both lead to rage and fighting with parents. Just last week, my son (18) told me that he never understood the importance of being responsible until recently, and that it may have helped for me to have more of those conversations with him. Also, to the best of your ability, make sure that your you and your daughter are getting good sleep, nutrition, and exercise. It gives you the best chance of maintaining your composure and thinking clearly "on the spot". Trust your inclinations after some deep time of honest reflection. Last, but not least, I think that one of the most powerful ways I have influences my children is by praying for them each night in their presence. They hear my heart before God, a heart that is bent on their good.

To Cindy: Just a few short suggestions to help you gain insight into parenting a difficult teen. One, an article in Psychotherapy Networker (which, btw I recommend as one of the best insight magazines in psychology svailable - https://www.psychotherapynetworker.org/blog/details/1537/a-nightmare-no-... and two, watch episodes of Madam Secretary for a pretty good reflection of how to wrangle teens on a daily basis by two well-meaning, very busy parents under a fair amount of personal and professional strain. It's fiction but it's educational as well. And then there's the sage advice from the song, The Gambler -- 'You got to know how to hold 'em, you got to know when to fold 'em and you got to know when to walk away' Take care, Jane

Cindy,
My daughter is about to turn 51 and we have a wonderful relationship but the teen years were not pleasant. She was a strong-willed child and an only child. I say she was spoiled just because she was an only. I was raised by a very strict mom who did not spare the rod. I was determined not to be as harsh. Being an elementary school teacher I did recognize the need for discipline though. One of the challenges was that her dad spoiled her. He was the good guy and I was the meanie. My mother also yelled at us a lot. Again, I was determined not to yell; I wasn't always successful. I learned much from Dr. Dobson of Focus on the Family on how to deal with a strong willed child. May i mention that she is also gifted intellectually and a talented musician. She was also ADHD. She was quite a challenge. I found I had to make very clear rules for her and let her know that I would not engage with her as long as she was being disrespectful. There were no cell phones when she was growing up but there was the TV. I had no problem monitoring her viewing time especially if homework wasn't completed. I found that it was better to wait until she simmered down before trying to talk to her. I made it very clear that I would not be disrespected. Once she cooled down I found that if I asked her questions rather than "going at her", she responded better. I would ask what it was that she thought so unfair about my request. She really had nothing to say. She was still expected to do what was required. I have observed that some parents just give in and send the child out of the room. Nothing is ever solved. I hated to do it but a couple of times I did have to remind my daughter who the parent was, who provided shelter and food, and who paid the bills. One time, with fear and trembling I did tell her that she was free to go live wherever she wanted. (Her father and I were divorced.) She never left home, graduated, went on to college, married, and had 4 sons. She had to mature and motherhood helped. We are friends and enjoy each other's company. She learned much from raising her boys. (I think boys are easier to raise than girls. They don't go through all the hormonal changes and dramatics. They do get mouthy though.) It was tough and exhausting but putting my faith in God kept me going. The one advice I would give is don't let her disrespect your authority. Teens test the waters and your limits. They're actually testing how secure they can be in you. This, too, shall pass and you both will survive.

Such wonderful advice Dr Kim! Parenting teens in this day I think is different than perhaps we were raised. My children are now 22 and 24, and I believe we have a close relationship. Even after some of our ups and downs through the years. My husband and I love them dearly and I believe they feel the same way. With that said, I understand how as parents we might not always feel loved during some of the difficult years that our children have to live through. I turned to an author and speaker, Mark Gregston, https://www.heartlightministries.org/parenting-todays-teens/, who is the founder of Parenting today’s teens. He is an advocate for our children, so his advise is only to relate with our kids in this day in age. He houses lost teens when parents have no where to turn. He has daily blogs to read, books, and even Saturday talk shows with teens who have struggled. I have held onto this phrase and said to my children many times “There is nothing you can that will make me love you more, and nothing you can do to make me love you less”. God bless you Cindy. ❤️