Next week I will begin facilitating a six-session class, “Preparing for the Teen Years”. I have taught this class more than two dozen times and each time I do it, I learn something about the topic of parenting teens…and about myself.
One truth I have learned over the years as both a parent of teens and as a facilitator of this series is that fear is an enemy to growth. When we get afraid, we get more rigid…more set in our ways. The last thing we need to be as parents of emerging adults is inflexible.
Recently, I read a blog about managing our own terror in the wake of the San Bernardino shooting. I read a quote by terrorism expert, Jessica Stern, who described a concept called “terror management theory” developed by experimental psychologists Tom Pyszczynski, Sheldon Solomon, and Jeff Greenberg:
The theory says that when people are reminded of their mortality — especially if the reminder doesn’t register consciously, as happens after a brutal act of terror — they will more readily enforce their cultural worldviews. If our cultural worldview is xenophobic, nationalistic or moralistic, we are prone to become more so. Hundreds of experiments, all over the world, have confirmed these findings.
This theory parallels and confirms my notion of anxiety in parenting. When we get scared, we tend to hold fast to what we have known and firm up our resolve to press ahead.
But what if your “go-to” position in parenting has shown itself to be ineffective at best and relationally damaging at worst? Do you really want to do more of the same?
First, know that you are not alone. Just the fact that you recognize yourself as a parent who could improve is a step in the right direction! Here are a few suggestions about how to move ahead in 2016:
- Allow some room for growth by reading a book about parenting or bookmarking a solid parenting blog.
- Reach out to a couple of parents who are a step ahead of you (in terms of the age/stage of their children) and whom you admire and “learn on them”. This requires some vulnerability on your part, but, in my experience, vulnerability has been part & parcel to my personal growth journey.
- Contact a helping professional in your community. If you feel stuck, they will help you discover a new path.
Parents, the good news is that we can grow and change. We all want our children to grow up to be healthy, caring, and productive people who are fully engaged in life. Our challenge is to not only model the life we want them to live, but ask ourselves each day, "What am I doing today to provide my children with opportunities for healthy risk-taking?" As Madeline Levine says, "It is in the small daily risks...that growth takes place. In this gray area of just beyond the comfortable is where resilience is born.”