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Back to Jr High...Anything But That!

I'm teaching a workshop on the secret to connecting with your preTeen and Teen this Thursday. Thinking back to my own painful experiences at this age helped. When I was 13 I spent so much time and energy trying to fit in. It was critical to get my hair fanned just right, my bell bottom jeans and blazers with shoulder pads, my mannerisms. It was crucial to be seen as acceptable and appropriate, cool. I anticipated what other's needed and did it without being asked. Or I'd censor myself, what I said, X-ing out parts I feared would be judged. I did, and still do almost anything to avoid being judged and found lacking. This would be hard evidence that I wasn't enough. Both then and now I'm vigilante and work hard to be good at all things I do so I stay beyond criticism.

I've come to learn almost everything I do is to be emotionally safe. I learned this in my childhood and cemented it during my teen years.

The teen times are excruciating as Dan Siegel writes about in Brainstorm, the Power and Purpose of the Teenaged Brain. He wrote this for his own teenaged children as a way for them and their friends to understand themselves. It is very helpful for me as a parent to understand my own kids. When I heard Dan speak in Nov. 2016 it was after he'd written this book to address a series of teen suicides in Palo Alto. The focus was how challenging this time in their lives is. They push parents away, developmentally to learn independence and move towards peers, yet they yearn for reassurance and love, so are conflicted.

In the class I teach I emphasize the extreme changes they are experiencing, and that our teens need our attention, our acceptance and our support most when their behavior pushes us to least want to give it to them. The key question is, "What is underneath this 'bad' behavior of defiance, eye rolling, lack of communication and extreme risk taking?"

Dan mentioned the teen years being a time of huge brain development, highlighting the following areas:

  • Time of transition

  • Parents/Family to Friends as main source of safety and belonging

  • Body, becoming sexually aware and able, hormones, physical changes

  • New expectation, life transitions, moving away from home

  • Extreme, intense emotions, large mood swings, big reactions

  • Heightened Comparing/Hyper Critical/Evaluative

  • ​Insecure

  • Fear of missing out, exasperated by social media stories and photos, and location sharing

  • Sense that others are having better lives than they are due to social media stories and photos

  • Hyper sensitive due to development, appearing and acting 'Cool' is crucial, yet inside they yearn for parents reassurance, acceptance and love.

  • Vitally alive, energized, passionate

  • Extremely socially focused

  • membership and belonging to the group crucial, like life and death

  • willing to give up morality to fit in

  • Drive for novelty

  • wanting to experience new things, explore

  • driven to take risks, do something unfamiliar

  • time to test and explore boundaries

So the secret to stay connected to your teen and keep them safe is: make time to listen and seek to accept and understand them.

  1. Support them by modeling how to tune into our body and the wisdom constriction and changes of breath can tell us.

  2. Ask open ended questions, try to resist telling them what to do.

  3. Notice their good ideas and don't judge them*.

  4. Be curious about their wants and dreams.

  5. Set limits with them and enforce the consequences.

We will learn a few of the 5 connection tools as knowing how to connect with the different personas they are exploring, keeping our relationship strong is the most important action we can take to keep them safe.

Body Scan

5 Points to Clarity

Empty Container Listening

Build a CAVE

Setting Limits Together

*I've learned if I become reactive after listening to them or their behavior, it is my work to use the 5 Points to Clarity myself and get some self care before re-engaging with them. If I'm upset, it is my stuff to work with.

For local parents in Santa Cruz County, come to the workshop 6:45pm for community time, 7-8:30pm

Mar Vista Elementary Library, Aptos. RSVP as limit of 30 for the space: (831) 761-6177 or

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