Last November, two San Francisco parents and mindfulness practitioners offered a packed audience practices and tools for more effective parenting of teenagers. The session was led by executive coach and author Wynn Burkett and therapist Ann Arora, at the Bay School. Both Burkett and Arora are trained and believe deeply in the transformative power of mindfulness to help people deal with stress. By learning to be more calm and present when interacting with their teens, parents will find they have less conflict and more moments of connection.
Conflict becomes a greater part of family life as kids reach the ages between 12 and 22. Psychologically, children and young adults are developing their autonomy. This takes places in two phases, differentiation and individuation, which may manifest as conflict, combative or withdrawn behaviors, obsession with the peer group, and an increased need for privacy. It is crucial to remember that kids can’t become autonomous without separating from their parents. It is also important for parents to find ways to remain connected to their teens and an influence in their lives during these years.
This is where mindfulness comes into play. Burkett and Arora explained that mindfulness practice brings one’s focus inward to better observe one’s thoughts in an open, curious and fully present way. Practicing mindfulness reduces stress and boosts the immune system, increases peace and joy. By focusing on the present, mindfulness practice can help a parent understand his or her own triggers and reactive behavior, in order to make more effective choices.
The speakers led the audience on a brief guided meditation, asking each adult to imagine a conflict with a teen and how it felt in her body. They asked parents to name their emotions during the conflict, describe how they reacted, and how they felt about their behaviors.
Parents need to try to identify conflict triggers so that families aren’t always in reactive mode. When parents respond to their teens in anger, they will make a bad situation worse, even explosive. Burkett and Arora offer these tips for parents faced with a “trigger” situation:
* Pause and breathe. This gives parents time to think more clearly, and gets oxygen to brain. Use it to figure out what you to say next.
* Say less. Repeat what it is you want to convey or what it is you want your teen to do; do not be derailed by their side arguments. Prioritize.
* Stop talking and let your teen have the last word. Deliver your message, enforce your rule, than step back and let your teen save a little face. This can be powerful.
* If necessary, walk away (not in a huff). Take care of yourself. Make self-care a priority; eat well, exercise, see friends, pursue hobbies, spend time with your partner. This builds your emotional reserves, and sets an example for kids.