We start in the beginning with the What & How skills involved in Mindfulness skills. In order for this to take effect in your teens daily lives I need parents practicing and supporting them. I need you to be their skills coaches at home!
Snapshot of where teens are stuck ... They are stuck in fearing judgments of peers, family, teachers, themselves, strangers=everyone everywhere! Sounds like a lot to carry right?!? It is! Self criticism, not good enough, undeserving of love, lonely, socially anxious, peer pressured and a general lack of skills how to handle these big emotions are where they are stuck. The inner self criticism loop is playing in their heads 24/7 for the most part. So how on earth is mindfulness going to help?
This is where I come in and how I need your help.
Practicing mindfulness as a family is going to bring everyone closer, increase the communication you want, not the door slamming and yelling kind, but the genuine caring kind. Most of all mindfulness will increase their self esteem. Don't worry I am not asking you to all sit in a circle on the floor in the lotus position (criss cross applesauce) with eyes closed chanting "um" for 20 minutes.
What I am asking for you to do is slow life down by being more present in the now with each other. Turning screens off, being with each other, sharing meals and experiencing activities together. Listening to what they are saying and feeling and trying hard NOT to silver-line it or fix it right away (that is the hard part). I am asking for you to allow your teen to feel what they are feeling and to validate (not agree, that is different) with what they are feeling. More about validation in another post.
So, How do I do that?
We can start with leaving the past in the past and the future where it is, deal with what is happening when it is happening. No need to remind of past failures and to keep breathing life into them, or inform them how they aren't going to get into college if they don't do their work. Teens are ruminating on all of that as it is and have all the negative self talk you can imagine playing on a loop in their heads. Letting go of judgments is the key here.
Next, we direct them to the What & How skills of mindfulness, which are to Observe, Describe and Participate; Non-judgmentally, One-mindfully and Effectively. If we can't observe it and describe with sticking to only the facts (non-judgmentally), then it isn't happening. So that takes mind-reading and assumptions right off the table. It pumps the brakes on the story they (and you) are hearing in their heads. It takes the judgment out of that side glance they just got from their latest frenemy, it stops you the parent from jumping to conclusion when they come home late or didn't turn in their homework ... again!
We all need to put this into practice daily! It takes practice!
Simply telling them to "use their skills" isn't enough, we need to be more precise with our directions. WE need to be practicing what we are asking from them. When you see your teen spiraling down the anxiety & depression ridden, assumption, mind-reading, isolating, avoiding with excuses, feeling not good enough road try pulling them out with taking a moment to hear them out (just listen), take a few deep breaths together and say lets "Stick to the facts" and they need to Participate in going over the observable and nonjudgmental description of what is happening. Help them by going over what that story in their head is telling them and poke holes in it with the truth of the situation where it fits. Then guide them to what might work, generate a list of effective options for conquering what is going on right now. Teens need to feel they are heard ... again you may not see what the big upset is and I get that ... but that is not what they need at the moment. Minimizing what is happening with them will increase the negative thoughts and behaviors plus widen that gap between the two of you. Steering them towards their skills with ideas on how to put them into place will increase their success. Utilize a DBT skills for teens workbook with them and I am open to assist with skills coaching too.
I have tons more to say, but this post is ever growing so I will mindfully pace myself for your sake. Keep on keeping on and trying ... thank you for your care and support for your teen and trusting this process.
Audrey Roach-Slivinski LCSW