Three Transformative Strategies to Empower You And Your Teen

Tried and true strategies to repair broken ties between parents and teens.

Posted Mar 17, 2019

Source: ihsanulhakim/DeviantArt

  As the Dalai Lama once said, “Those who drive us the craziest are our best teachers.” While research and your grandmother agree that human happiness depends on the quality of our closest relationships, maintaining that connection with our teen can be challenging. What I have found is that our teens are mirrors for our deepest selves. The following strategies, gleaned from thirty years working to repair broken ties between parents and teens, suggest that what you fear becomes what you face; your greatest weakness becomes your saving strength.

Your teen’s conflict and the particular pain it causes you can lead to either explosive outbursts and stagnation or genuine change. And, as Anton Wildgans said “What is to give light must endure burning.” 

Relationship As Crucible for Change

Alexander Mils/Unsplash
Source: Alexander Mils/Unsplash

The parent-teen relationship is a crucible in which heated activity has the capacity to produce great transformation. The heat that produces the change lies in the emotional exchanges – sometimes the harmonious ones, but most often the challenging ones. Developing the reflective capacity, as Daniel Siegel calls it– the ability to be responsive – to make conscious choices about our reactions is essential in intimate relationships. This capacity includes behaviors such as examining one’s own thoughts and feelings, remaining open and curious and stepping back from the immediate intense emotions we are having to wonder what the experience means to the other. In this case, remaining curious about our teen even in the midst of a tangle of emotions that might include anger, sadness, frustration and even exasperation!

Personal Trigger Map
Spend time developing a “Personal Trigger Map” – the things your teen says or does that ignite strong emotions. Then ask yourself if he or she is the only person who elicits this response in you. Look at whether your teen is, in fact, making you feel that way or whether the reaction is coming from a place deep inside from long ago. A place that only you can heal. 

The writer Annie Lamott poetically describes being a parent as having a “heart that runs around outside our body.” Sometimes the situation with your teen feels out of control because it is. Out of your control. The art of taking charge while surrendering becomes essential when raising a teen. The emotional engagements our teens initiate have parallels to those of a toddler: one moment they’re packing their bags for the solo cross country trip and the next their holding our hand in the mall.  

Tolerating Paradox

Christa Santangelo
Source: Christa Santangelo

Our ability to grasp and tolerate paradox – two things happening at once – is essential to maintaining our connection with them. “I see the cranky child in the angry teen; I see the budding adult in the wailing baby” will serve your ability to have empathy and communicate effectively with your teen. Entertaining paradox is important when it comes to trust issues as well. Your teen wants your trust, but their irresponsible actions—landing in the ER, vaping in school -- can result in an inability to let them out of your sight. Managing the frustration of their inevitable transgressions, which sometimes feel like betrayals, is important so you can come to conversations from a place of understanding.  Finally, know your “Letting Go Trigger Map”. Ask yourself: “How am I at letting go in general?”, “Has anyone ever called me a control freak?”, “Has there been trauma around loss or relinquishing control in my past? “  The ability to experience the feeling of letting go, paradoxically, is essential in continuing to draw firm boundaries and communicate your values clearly.


How you engage with your teens’ troubles can be medicine for your own soul.  When you exhaust the external search for solutions to your teen’s problems – change schools, more sports, less discipline, no phone, more time together, no more tattoos, don’t yell, do yell! – you are left with turning inward as a map through your teen’s challenging terrain. Parents who are willing to go within find new aspects of themselves: a new career, hobby, attitude, relationship, spiritual belief system and more, in tandem with their teens’ growth. Bringing forth what is within requires the most complete examination of self, unconscious and conscious, known and unknown, and requires a particular type of surrender that is only for the bold and brave. That’s you! Our teens bring up pain. But only then can the bliss emerge. All emotions, good and bad, are stored in the same little box inside. The truth is that your own unresolved emotions will make any pain your teen causes worse and all attempts at connection less successful. When you turn inward to give birth to something new in yourself, even in the midst of your teen’s seemingly unendurable challenges, you find aspects of yourself that have been lost along the way.  And through a sometimes circuitous path, both you and your teen find a place that could not have been discovered if not for this particular type of travel together.