Teens, Families and Feelings
This required us to drive over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, a dramatic and -for me- SCARY bridge. The kids, about 6 and 8 years old, were thrilled that as we were about to cross the bridge a large cruise ship was about to go underneath it at the same time.
They didn't notice my white knuckles as I gripped the steering wheel or the terror on my face; they were busy calculating the timing of the ship vs our clearing the top of the bridge. As their excitement grew so did their exclamations - and my terror. You see I was remembering the 1980 disaster when that bridge was hit by a tanker and 35 people died. I didn't want to tell them of my terror or of the disaster. I was trying to hold myself together and just drive. I'm not happy to report that ultimately I lost control of my emotions. I exploded and shouted at them to settle down. My kids were shocked. They hadn't even been aware that I was afraid.
Feelings drive our behavior. They drive our responses and reactions. Feelings are neither good nor bad; however we do need to learn appropriate ways to manage them and express them.
How does your family express emotions? Are they expressed? Are they valued? Talked about? Are there some feelings that are not allowed? This is an important topic because your teen's emotional world deserves validation, respect and nurturing. His emotional health depends on it. And so does yours.
Too often, in the name of teaching appropriate behavior and guiding our kids they hear a message we may not really mean - that certain feelings are not okay. We may say "Don't feel that way!" or communicate that certain feelings won't be tolerated by us. Actually, it's important to let your teen know that all feelings are legitimate and okay. The feelings aren't the problem, it's the behavior they drive that may need your guidance.
What does feeling our emotions do for us? For starters we must know how we feel in order to be able to fill our emotional needs. We must communicate how we feel in order to get the emotional support and understanding we need from others. Your teenagers need your support in developing their emotional literacy.Let's discuss why this is important.
Name that feeling: When you let your teen know that all feelings are okay, they are more likely to develop an emotional vocabulary that will help them gain an insight into their inner world. This is vitally important. Ask your teen to name the feeling; identify it, and sit with it. Ask yourself honestly if your teen gets the message that feelings are okay or if there are some you will not tolerate.
No instant gratification here: One important life lesson that all teens must learn is that their desire for instant gratification won't always be met. In fact, life comes with difficulties, challenges and situations that cause uncomfortable feelings. Not everything gets settled nicely. Sometimes we need to learn to live with ambiguity and discomfort. Teach your kids that they can feel these feelings, and live with them. That is part of life. I'm reminded of this daily in my meditation practice, and happy to report that we have the capability to develop remarkable coping skills when we have the intention and desire to do so.
Validate your child's feeling If you let your child know that certain feelings are not allowed, you are telling your child in some way that s/he is not very important. Sometimes all a person needs is to be seen as they are; recognizing that your teen is feeling a certain way may provide all she needs to move on. Additionally, by legitimizing these emotions you have the opportunity to talk about them, and guide your kids to appropriate expressions and behavior. Teach your kids to explore their feelings, and to tune into them as a form of self-guidance. Certainly our emotions teach us a lot about the world around us.
Unexpressed feelings undermine relationships and emotional health
Feelings that remain underground can eat away at us - I daresay most adults have had this experience. With depression amongst our teenagers at virtually epidemic levels, teaching them to tap into and respect their feelings is a fundamental lesson.
Use feelings to open and enhance communication As you traverse and manage the inevitable challenges with your teenagers, bring the emotions out on the table. Ask your teen how she is feeling; allow him the chance to express himself. Share how you are feeling in simple "I" sentences. Let your teens know that all feelings are allowed. When feelings are expressed you'll have the opportunity to see where mis-communication has occurred; you'll benefit by clearing the air and getting past erroneous assumptions. Help your teen build her emotional vocabulary and not be afraid of intense feelings.
Sue Blaney is a communications expert, speaker, author and publisher who is dedicated to enhancing communication and dialogue between parents and teens. She is the author of the nationally acclaimed book and discussion group program titled Please Stop the Rollercoaster! How Parents of Teenagers Can Smooth Out the Ride. http://www.PleaseStoptheRollercoaster.com