Remember the Best in Your Child: Protect With Unconditional Love
The most protective force in our adolescents’ lives is their parents’ unconditional and unwavering love. The knowledge that we are a positive, stable, reliable, influence gives teens the security to withstand life’s pushes and pulls. This understanding also helps parents. It allows us to feel stronger in the face of feeling challenged.
Loving without condition does not mean unconditionally accepting any and all behaviors. Nor does it suggest that we always like the way our teens are acting.
You can love fully while still being furious. In fact, your love – the depth of your caring – is probably what fuels your fury. On some level your anger is a safer way to display your real emotion — fear. When we are most angry it is often when we are most worried. We worry because we love.
Love for our children is wired so deeply within us that it defies explanation. It is both the essence of what you can offer to propel young people to become their best selves and the strongest thing in our toolbox to bring them back from the brink of disaster.
Love is seeing someone as they deserve to be seen, rather than seeing them based upon behaviors they might be displaying.
Draw from Memories
During those moments when you feel the most challenged, draw from the memories of who your children really are. When you remember, and feel the essential goodness of your children, why you are fully on their sides – they’ll come back to you. Your memories will ground them in their true selves. They’ll remember who they really are and who they want to be. They’ll recall how much they want to please you.
You don’t have to find the perfect words. Even when we say little, as long as we hold memories close and remain present, we show how much we care.
The words we say can be kept relatively simple: “I know you can __________, because you have always ___________.” For example, “I know you can be kinder to your brother. You are the same young man who kept us from killing any bugs when we went camping. You’ve always been compassionate and protective. Your brother needs that side of you now.”
Believe those words and your teens will rise to be their better selves. Your expectations will set the tone for behavior, rooted in an understanding of all that’s right about your children.
Remembering the innate strengths of your child is particularly strategic in times of turmoil. But it also remains critical when the journey through adolescence is smooth. The fundamental question of adolescence is, “Who am I?”. At its very core, you want your tween or teen to believe part of that answer is, “I am somebody who is worthy of being loved.” We must also appreciate these innate strengths during different stages of growth. Adolescence is chock full of development and it’s crucial we support and show our understanding towards the changes our teens experience. We must be sure our teens aren’t worried that we feel any less for them as they grow.
Protect Teens from Negative Messaging
Offering our teens a positive sense of self has an added benefit. It also largely shields them from undermining messages they may directly and indirectly hear from others. Adolescents are too often met with an eye roll or worse, fear. They are seen as self-centered, impulsive, reckless, thoughtless…and sometimes dangerous. The subtle and blatant negative messages they receive are a terrible foundation from which to seek a sense of self. See young people as they deserve to be seen. Think of them in a positive light, so they do not see themselves as others sometimes paint adolescents. Give them a positive and different view of self from which to launch into adulthood.
Even better if we act as communities to shift any unfair or unrealistic portrayals of adolescents from a negative to positive lens. When you advocate for the well-being of all adolescents your child will benefit as his or her peers become their better selves.
Celebrate Your Child
Now for the real work. Let’s begin by celebrating who our tweens and teens are. Think back to how you described them when they were two, three, or six. Remember the times you marveled at the intensity of their thoughts. Their humor. Their bravery. Their commitment to fairness. Their love of animals. The way they would protect their siblings. The excitement felt when they welcomed you home and the sheer joy experienced when you shared one-on-one moments.
You know your child better than anyone. Take time to come up with a description of who your child really is. Sit with the other adults who have known your child from the early years, or send this article to them and ask them to share their memories. Together, remember who your child always was — it is the strongest clue as to who your teen is.
She may have grown. He may have become embarrassed by your presence. She may sometimes worry you. He may question who he is. Even when we experience these challenging moments, we must never belittle our children.
They are the little boys and girls you have always loved, now growing into young men and women. The path may occasionally be bumpy, but they remain as you have known them to be. Your clarity will get them through the tough times and serve as the foundation from which they will build a positive future.
Image by: Samantha Lee/Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia