Back to Spring 2022 Newsletter
by Geetha Narayanan, LMFTGeetha Narayanan is a first generation immigrant and parent working with teens, adults, and families to renegotiate and rediscover meaningful connections. Geetha has experience treating anxiety, depression, and life transition issues. Apart from English, Geetha is fluent in Hindi and Tamil. She has a private practice in San Jose, and can be reached at https://therapistsinsanjose.com/geetha-narayanan-mft/
Back to Spring 2022 Newsletter
Raise your words
Not your voice
It is rain that grows flowers,
Not thunder - Rumi
In his book Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, neuropsychiatrist and UCLA clinical professor Daniel Siegel describes the changes in the structure and functioning of the brain during adolescence. In one of his interviews for a teen magazine, Dr. Siegel talks about an architectural restructuring of the teenage brain and an emergence of the adolescent mind that is wonderfully creative, adaptive, and vibrant. According to Siegel, "the adolescent brain is a construction zone: creativity, innovation, the capacity for abstract thinking, and the need to experiment are traits that drive this period. Unfortunately, as adults, we sometimes see the adolescent drive towards experimentation only as a negative, a sign that the teen is being ‘crazy’ or ‘immature’”.
Raising kids is tough and parents are not born with a manual for raising their children. Teens go through social, emotional, and psychological changes between 12 and 18. No two teens are alike, and the values, culture, beliefs, and the environment they grow up in all play a vital role in their wellness and health. The reality is a teen's brain is in the process of remodeling.
Indeed, adolescence can be a challenging time, to say the least, while seeking a secure emotional base or a container where they feel loved and accepted as each teen is going through changes so rapidly. Family can assist in building and supporting a teen's confidence, help shape their identity and be available during their trying times.
In India, summer meant playing outside for hours with occasional breaks for food or snacks. We never had many toys, including digital games or social media. Today's generation of teens, on the other hand, do not have any time for free play. Their days are packed with structured activities, even in summer, to build up a portfolio for the so-called top schools. When my daughters were in high school, they would share how their peers were planning to take many AP courses, online classes, internships over the summer, and more: schedules were packed. Many parents want their teens to go to their chosen top schools only. They have an unrelenting focus on academics at the expense of everything else, including mental health. These expectations and wishes put so much stress on teens, resulting in a growing epidemic of anxiety disorders, migraines, panic attacks, to name a few, and even auto-immune conditions, in some cases.
How can parents help
Create a stress-free zone: Parents and teens can develop a zone out time together. It could be watching their favorite buzz feed videos/TV, cooking/baking: a time of leisure without judgment or life lessons.
Efforts versus grades: We can counsel them without an obsessive focus on scores. It can be a life lesson that will help them focus on what they need to do and not stress about outcomes beyond their control. Constantly setting stretch expectations, leading to a relentless pressure to meet them, is toxic for teens’ health.
Sharing your past: Share your college experiences more as an understanding and awareness for your teen, not necessarily to communicate only how your (parent) generation's methods are correct. Such communication would make any teen feel that they never measure up and can damage their long-term self-esteem.
One-on-one: Celebrating your teen's accomplishments, sharing their disappointments, and supporting their hobbies helps your teen know you are interested in them. You do not have to make a big deal of this. Sometimes it is just a matter of showing up to watch your child play a sport or music, reading together, or cooking or baking, and arts and crafts activity or giving them a ride to extracurricular activities.
Treats: Treats worked in elementary school, and they still do, such as a Starbucks drink or a Jamba Juice. Some parents feel that appreciating their teen's effort or journey would defocus them and stop putting in their efforts. However, research has shown that positive encouragement is vital for teens to succeed in any environment. It is not a bribe but an acknowledgment of their effort. In addition, an encouraging comment along with the reward will help make the message clear to your child how much you appreciated their efforts.
Be empathetic: Using active listening when you are conversing with your teen without interrupting with your own opinions or judgments, being curious and open-minded about their point of view, and having patience as they solve their problems can be the best thing you offer your teen. You need to increase your capacity to listen actively, be open, and provide a non-judgmental stance. For example, when a teen comes home heartbroken as they did not get their desired result in their quiz, a parent could respond, "I saw how much you worked on that; I am so sorry to hear that." This kind of empathy is powerful to hear someone say and soothes them.
Only STEM mindset: There are some misconceptions that only a few majors guarantee a job. Other than STEM majors, there are other majors in public health, global health, economics, nursing, etc., leading to great jobs and careers. Parents should encourage their children to create a career path that brings them joy as well as a paycheck.
Chores/jobs: As parents, we would like to rescue and complete our kids' activities and chores. However, it is an excellent time for teens to develop and mature with independent living skills. Managing simple tasks like laundry, cooking, or running errands for the house once they start driving, teaches them accountability/responsibility and time management.
Limit setting/boundaries: By setting up rules, boundaries and standards of behavior, you give a teen a sense of stability and predictability. Regular family meetings and explaining the benefits and consequences of following rules/boundaries would help. It also helps them internalize the concept of delayed gratification. Of course, there will be pushbacks, yet this practice is integral in a time of chaos.
Trust and respect are earned not by doing only heroic, victorious deeds, making significant changes, saving lives around you, but also by paying close attention to your teen's emotions and feelings. Dr. Siegel reemphasizes the importance of how young adults need to be seen and soothed by their parents. Relationships with our teens provide a template for relating with people when they step outside our homes. Developmental relationships are connections that help young people become their best selves.
Goleman, D. (2010). Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. New York, NY: Random House Publishing.
Siegel, D., & Payne Bryson, T. (2011). The whole-brain child: 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind. New York, NY: Random House Publishing.
Siegel, D. (2013). Brainstorm: The power and purpose of the teenage brain. New York, NY: Penguin.