“You just don’t get it, Mom!” I definitely said that hundreds of times during my own adolescence in a variety of moods, facial expressions, and tones of voice. I often felt misunderstood and sometimes sought out arguments with my parents to prove it to myself. My friends and I would vent about how our parents could never know what we were going through, considering how much ‘older’ they were! I laugh at that now after having my own children and realizing how much more complicated parenthood is than I ever thought when I was a teen.
Feeling misunderstood and isolated, being overwhelmed with thoughts obsessed with ‘self,’ and creating an entire storyline to justify those feelings and thoughts are all very common experiences for teens. Just as common is the exasperation that parents of teens feel! If you have a teenager, you probably know very well what I am talking about. How do we manage ourselves then when we’ve got a ‘not kid anymore’ but ‘not grown up person’ who both wants our help and loathes us for being able to help?!
Daniel Siegel, M.D. has some fantastic information and suggestions in his book Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain (2013) for both the struggling parents and their teenager. A text for the entire family?! That’s my kind of book!
Key components of Siegel’s text are the Mindsight Tools that he suggests families use:
Learning how to attend to and regulate the inner experience of the mind will support a teenager with learning about themselves - noticing what they think, how they feel, and what urges they might have. The ability to regulate their inner self will lead to feeling a little more understood because they will, in turn, understand themselves better.
Another tool for families is learning how to truly empathize with our teens. We may struggle with empathizing if we are engaged in a power struggle, so it’s important to practice when we are not in an argument. When we demonstrate empathy, we are communicating, “I see you, you are safe with me, and I can hold this pain you have without having to change it.” This feels good and is healing in a parent-child relationship.
Siegel offers another strategy called The Healthy Mind Platter. I love this idea because the visual, on page 282 of his book, literally looks like a platter with seven different aspects of what teens need to achieve a healthy mind - sleep time, physical time, focus time, time-in (i.e. self-reflection), downtime, playtime, and connecting time. Each of these activities are essential and occur in balance with each other to help the teenage mind and brain manage life.
As a parent, you are also an essential tool for your teen, a model of how to function in this very busy and stressful world. Take an honest look at the Healthy Mind Platter, and ask yourself if you are able to balance all those skills. If you are, that’s great! You are off to an awesome start with modeling healthy mind and body living to your teen.
If you aren’t, that’s great too! You can start to take inventory of what areas you can improve in, call yourself out for it in front of your teen, and take accountability for your own life. This modeling of humility and self-compassion can be a game changer for your teen. And remember, we all need help sometimes, so check out Siegel’s book or shoot us an email if you need any extra support!
Seija Zimmerman, LMFT #106164
Thrive Therapy & Counseling
1614 X St., Suite A
Sacramento, CA 95818
Siegel, D. J. (2013). Brainstorm: The power and purpose of the teenage brain. Penguin Publishing Group.