A Well-Lit Path: A Blog from Westtown School

Creating Adaptable Adults Means Allowing Disruptions for Teens

Posted by Linda Rosenberg McGuire on December 3, 2014

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AdaptIn our swiftly moving and shifting world, adaptability is a skill our children will need in order to find gratification and success. As the job market becomes increasingly competitive and the speed of life feels as if it is aligning with the speed of light, most of us need to work longer hours, juggle multiple responsibilities, and master new technologies. How can we help our children learn to adapt to the continuous changes they will encounter as well as weather the disappointments and unpredictability that modern life inevitably delivers?

Here are some ways to help your teenager attain the survival skills they will need:

1.  Although it can be challenging, try to model adaptability in your own life. Different accounting system at work?  New boss? Company merger?  Rather than lament and complain, try to have an open learning attitude about new processes and programs you have to master. If they can see you attempt an adventurous spirit and a positive outlook around new challenges, they are learning a valuable tool for how to handle a difficult math class as well as a different math teacher.
2. Have a let’s-go, can-do attitude. Children, even teenagers, are looking for us to lead. Be the leader in your own family by generating an energy that says “let’s get after it and on with it.” They will take their cues from you.  If we over think the events and intricacies of our daily lives, or those of our teenagers, we drain the energy needed to dive on in. It is better to get your teenager caught up in the positive energy of the fast moving train that life can mimic, than have both of you standing at the station analyzing the schedules and routes.  
3. We spend a lot of time being our child’s cheerleader, saying, “I know you can do it” or “You will be great at this.” This is extremely important, of course, but there are times when your child really just needs to talk through their fears, and the cheerleading can sound like you are not listening. Remember, they have to learn to convince themselves that they can do it. We will not always be there on the sidelines. Next time your child expresses a fear about something new or processes why a particular class is hard, refrain from convincing them they can do it. Instead, try the open-ended question approach and let them do the majority of the talking. Often, their own personal processing leads them to believe they are up to the challenge.
4.  If your child does not seem to be upset or anxious about something that you would be upset or anxious about, stick with their energy rather than suggest they should feel differently with comments like “aren’t you nervous?”  Sometimes as parents we are so shocked by our child’s reactions that we conflate them with our own. No matter how well we think we know them, they always have the potential to surprise us.
5.  Many parents protect their children from potential changes out of fear that it will cause discomfort. I have seen parents stay in dead-end jobs and difficult, if not abusive marriages, in an effort to not create circumstances their children need to adjust to. I am not advocating moving every two years or divorce, but I am saying that your children are almost always stronger than you think. They will adapt, and, at the same time, they will learn they can adapt to much of what life dishes out. Rather than assume they can’t handle it, try making the assumption that they can handle the change and the potentially difficult adjustment they may need to make.  Always keep in mind that we want our children to be resilient. They can only learn to adjust to change and to survive difficult times through direct experience.
6.  Give your teenager some opportunities to practice adapting by not always being available to meet their every need. Allow and encourage independence even if it is hard to let go of your role as perpetual provider. Cooking for themselves, doing laundry, traveling on public transportation, and having a job are all ways that teenagers can practice adapting to adult responsibilities as well as the vagaries presented by a world that is not controlled by mom or dad.

Change, even some rapid change, is inevitable as society does its own adaptation to new technologies, natural and artificial trends, and economic downturns and upswings. Furthermore, innovation, which requires change, is prized both in business and education.  Although, we often work tirelessly to ensure our children emotional and physical stasis, a little disruption, maybe even quite a bit of disruption, is inevitable. Have faith that your teenager can and will adapt and that they will only become stronger, and more prepared for adulthood in the process.

Topics: Raising Resilient, Healthy Teens

Linda Rosenberg McGuire

Written by Linda Rosenberg McGuire

Linda Rosenberg McGuire was the Dean of Students at Westtown School from 2011 until 2018. She is a parenting coach, consultant, speaker, and avid writer, providing insight, support, and education for parents and teachers who live and work with teenagers. She works with schools to inspire and reinvigorate their faculty to work successfully with even the most challenging students. Linda is passionate about helping parents develop more effective relationships with their teenagers, stressing the importance of listening, limit-setting, and building competence, character, and independence. Linda has 30 years of experience working with children, most of that time focused on parent-teen relationships. Linda began her career as a caseworker and trip leader for teens-at-risk, leading to work as a community mental health therapist and a school-based counselor. For the past 12 years Linda has been employed in independent school administration, working with teenagers, parents, and faculty as a program director and a dean.Linda received her BA from Bowdoin College, her MSW from the University of New England, and her Master of Organizational Leadership from Nichols College.