You are surrounded by people, and yet you feel alone. Your kids are connected to others through their devices, but don’t really ‘feel’ connected. Their relationships can change in the blink of an eye or in a keystroke. Everyone goes their own way, busy, busy, busy. In spite of texting, email and social networks, we’re all, parents and kids, feeling more disconnected and less supported than ever before.
It’s understandable, and it’s reversible. It’s also important that your teen take an active role in creating this connection, this village. They need to know that they have the power to change this, and need your understanding and encouragement to be the change-makers. It isn’t always easy, but it is definitely doable.
Let’s first take a look back to see how that network of support has changed over time. You’ve heard the expression “It takes a village to raise a child.” I believe that’s true. When I was a child the network of people who were involved in my life, and my parents’ lives, was larger. We depended more on people in our community to look out for us. That included lots of neighbors. Growing up in a six-story walk-up apartment building, we kids were in and out of multiple apartments every day, and had, in effect, multiple moms and families. Parents called upon each other to fill in, when necessary. They disciplined all the kids, as needed. Neighborhood store owners recognized us, too. The neighborhood was our extended family, and it nourished us and enriched our lives.
That entity of community, of neighborhood as family, has been disappearing for decades. I, for one, miss that personal touch and connection, and know many others who yearn for it. We all want to feel that we belong, that we’re not isolated. We have it in our power to revive at least parts of ‘the village’ and your children can be empowered creators, instead of passive bystanders.
How can teens become the creators and masters of their universe, and of a caring and supportive community? They have more influence than they know in building this network. Here are six steps, filled with insights for your kids, written as if you’re speaking directly to them.
1. Family Network - We will love you no matter what. But being part of a family means you have to do your part. Do your best to avoid sarcasm and put-downs. We really appreciate it when you show interest and concern for us. We have feelings, too, so be a willing listener when one of us needs to talk. Offer to help when you see something that needs to be done. These will all go a long way in earning trust and gratitude… and our generosity, too!
2. Parent-Teen Communication – Parents and kids will disagree. Period. It doesn’t have to end in a battle, though. There’s something you need to understand: parents worry about their kids. It can come out sounding like criticism, a lecture, advice and a battle for control. Please be patient with us. Let us know when you just need us to listen and when you actually want some help.
3. Other Adults in Your Life – While we so much want to be the person you turn to, we’re okay with you having another adult in your life that you trust. We’re more than okay with it, we’re grateful and relieved, as long as it means you are getting what you need. There are so many people in your world to whom you can turn for guidance, mentoring and support: teachers, a favorite aunt or uncle, a friend’s parent, a coach, neighbor, grandparent, someone in your house of worship. All you have to do is ask.
4. Your Neighborhood – You probably know more people in the neighborhood than we do, but it can still be an impersonal kind of place. You can build connections (and a good reputation for all kids). Get to know your neighbors. Smile and greet them when you see them outside. Learn their names. Your elderly neighbors will be especially appreciative of a polite and caring young person.
They may be grateful for help with carrying groceries in and shoveling the steps. They also love to share their lives and experience, so ask them about themselves, or to teach you how to do something. If they are missing their own grandchildren, they will enjoy time with you. I know, they are old and don’t understand everything about your world… but nobody loves you (and listens to you) quite the way they do. You are an amazing force for positive attitudes and cooperation in your neighborhood, and for bringing people and generations together.
5. School - You may not like being there, but you can make it a place where you and others feel supported, and feel that you fit in. When you just ‘put in your time’ you won’t feel that you belong to a community. Join a club, try out for a team, volunteer in the media center. Just as you do in your family, show respect and concern for others. Be the one who reaches out to those who are left out. Don’t be a bystander: take a stand against bullying. Encourage others to follow your lead. In other words, become a leader and make your school a safe and welcoming place for everyone.
6. Parent-School Connection – Talk to us about school. And please remind us that you’ll share your day, only not the minute you walk in the door. We forget that you need to shift out of ‘school mode’ after spending your whole day there. (We’re still having trouble adjusting to the fact that you’re not seven years old any more, needing help with everything and sharing your whole world with us.) Be sure to give us papers from school that we need to see. Oh, and ask us for help once in a while. We still like to feel needed.
Do you see the potential they have to shape their world? To learn to advocate for themselves? To be people of strength and integrity? To build bridges with compassion and concern? To become leaders? It’s not your job to do all this for them.
Your job is to nudge them into the community, so they can be part of it and shape it into a place in which they will thrive.
Fern Weis is a Parent Coach and Family Recovery Coach, specializing in supporting parents of teens and young adults who are going through difficult situations (including underachieving, disrespectful behavior, addiction recovery and more). With a parent-centered approach, Fern helps parents release guilt, end enabling, and confidently prepare their children to thrive through life’s challenges. Learn more about coaching and workshops at www.fernweis.com and www.familyrecoverypartners.com