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Teen Health 411

How to Improv - Parent a Teen!

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Parenting a teen has to be one of the toughest things in the world, in part because you never know what is coming! You leave them at school on time, prepared, clothed, fed, and when you pick them up, their lives have disintegrated for no apparent reason, you are annoying and cannot do anything right! That is normal, and you cannot fix it, and what really matters is what you do with that reality! One option is to improvise!

I just read and loved the book "improv wisdom: Don't Prepare, Just Show Up," by Patricia Ryan Madson, who puts forward 13 maxims for improvising, which apply extremely well to parenting teenagers:
  1. Say yes - to everything you can, along with "you are right," "of course," "sure," "good idea," ... and try never to say "but" before any response to their ideas! Ask them for their opinions and follow up - get the food they will eat that is healthy, ask them to help plan activities and vacations, include them in everything possible, including making the rules.
  2. Don't prepare - pay attention to right now! Fear makes us worry about tomorrow, resulting in us missing the right now! Sit with your teens, breathe the same air, read next to them, ask what makes them laugh, know how they spent their day, and jump on any idea that involves "together time."
  3. Just show up - be on time, feel your body, use rituals, set a rhythm, ask your teens about their day, classes, friends, dreams, anything! Be completely present, and if your mind wanders to work, chores, etc... bring it back!
  4. Start anywhere - it does not matter where you and your teen have been - or even how bad things have gotten - just trust yourself and talk to your teen - completely present, saying what you think, and enjoying any moment you can with them. No lecturing and no judging, just loving!
  5. Be average - help your teens embrace their strengths and weaknesses. Teach them and model "close enough is perfect." Let them decide what really matters and what they want to focus on - we are only guides, and chances are goo that we are wrong.
  6. Pay attention - to your teens! We only get to experience each moment once - if you miss it, it is gone forever! Listen to every word your teens say, ask questions, do not multitask!
  7. Face the facts - life is full of insecurity and reality bites the big one, but we get who we get in our lives and have to choose whether they are a zit or a touch of color on our cheek! We decide!
  8. Stay on course - parenting has a point and it is not picking up dirty socks or yelling! Remember there is meaning in every interaction we have with our teens - even the eye rolling and teeth sucking tell them what we think, and whether they admit it or not, they care what we think. So, realize that the salad, dishes, dinner, ride to school, little hug, or cup of tea after two hours of homework all say "I love you," unless of course you burn the dinner, growl at them in the car, scream about having to turn the dishwasher on - those interactions say something much different!
  9. Wake up to the gifts - the glass is always half full, thank everybody who does anything well or that helps your day run smoothly, and wake up every morning to count your blessings! Saying "thank you" is contagious!
  10. Make mistakes, please - admitting mistakes and then apologizing shows character - model it, embrace it, laugh at yourself , and take a bow! Perfection breeds anger, eating disorders, emotional disorders, and many other nasty experiences.
  11. Act now - just do something, and enjoy it, invite others to do "it" with you, and ask your teen if they can think of a way to do it differently.
  12. Take care of each other - help your teens feel good about themselves and look good to their peers, do not be a control queen, be positive and kind, worry about what is convenient for someone else, and listen, listen, listen to your teens.
  13. Enjoy the ride - find joy in the ordinary things you do for your teens every day or week (like picking their towels up off the bathroom floor), play whenever you can, laugh with (not at) your teens every day, smile at people, and do something for the fun of it. We all want our teens to develop happy and be successful, but that outcome requires some fun, too, not just all the hard stuff.
Parenting is tough, especially when you work and worry about things like being a good parent. Just remember, good parenting is never convenient and parenting is about them, not us! When you hear yourself complaining about something, turn it around and tell yourself what a great job you must be doing! Be well and hug a teenager today!
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About the Author

Dr. Brown is a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent health.

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