Opinion: Revitalizing the voices of teenagers amid changing roles of parents
The rivers are born in the cradles of mountains lakes and springs, gathering momentum and power as they wander and tumble toward the greater body of the sea.
As parents, we are charged with witnessing our teenagers’ journeys to becoming part of the consciousness of the world; participants in shaping the cultures they will inherit.
When we let go and send them on their journeys to the sea, we cannot predict the course. On some level, we know they must carve the path for themselves, using their resourcefulness, their imaginations, and their own voices, not ours.
Yet how will they learn to listen to and honor their own voices if their elders do not teach them to speak in whatever creative language expresses them best?
Witnessing is different than protecting, advising, teaching, or telling in that it is more an act of refraining, trusting, and being silent as opposed to speaking and asserting our viewpoint.
To refrain from speaking, warning, teaching, advising or telling, is to open space for the voices of our teenagers. To refrain from filling the empty space with our opinions and admonishments while they search for the right words, is to trust that they will find the way themselves.
Too often, despite our best intentions, we extinguish and silence voices that need a quiet host, and we fail to act as curious guests in the imaginations of young minds and hearts.
As M. Scott Peck wrote in his 1988 book “The Road Less Traveled, “Our job is not to prepare the path of life for our children, but to prepare our children for the path.”
Teenagers are weighted with cultural expectations around maturity juxtaposed against the realities of their emotional capacity, as they try to match what the culture expects often at the cost of their self-esteem and inner peace.
Many teens struggle with the enormous pressure inherent in living in a competitive culture, relentless in its messages to be more, do more, and do it all faster and better.
The felt experience of pressure can manifest in substance use, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, physical problems … and suicide.
A teenagers developmental task is to discern their values and expectations separately those of the culture, schools and parents, to create the paths they will take as adults.
Many teens experience fear and apprehension as they try to manage the pressure and loss of motivation from being over-pressured, over-stimulated and under-slept.
There is little time to dream, imagine and to retreat, perhaps cocooning into a chrysalis just to let it all settle. And, as the research by Vicki Abeles, author of “Beyond Measure- Rescuing an Overscheduled, Over-tested, Underestimated Generation,” suggests, American teenagers are a silenced population.
They are given no clear role or voice during their most critical developmental years in shaping the world they will inherit, and are rarely offered a voice in decisions that will impact them as adults, therefore, the pressure and overwhelm many teens experience, is without any sense of purpose or meaning.
As parents and teachers, I wonder if our most valuable role is to offer them a voice, and to encourage rest and play as an antidote.
The river is allowed to make its way to the sea meandering over the land, carving its way around obstacles, bumping over stones and crashing in great waterfalls to the valleys below.
To watch it and witness its journey is a miracle, a marvel for all the senses to experience. Allowing it to find its own path in becoming part of the greater body (the sea) serves the greater consciousness.
As parents, the challenge is to trust in a similar process. Learning to let go of being the knower, to hold space for the most frightening conversations, requires relentless faith that listening with an open heart is medicine for the desperation and depression that feels so devouring.
An undefended and open heart is always an invitation even for the most reluctant visitor. The changing role of parenting as our children open their wings is an opportunity to show our humanity and fallibility and to choose humility rather than hubris.
Kimball C. Pier, Ph.D., LMFT, is a depth psychologist and a practicing therapist in Truckee. Visit sierraagape.org to learn more.