My oldest daughter just began her journey in that melting pot of hormonal, emotional and intellectual discovery that we collectively call “highschool”.
She is making new friends, engaging in new activities and finding out more about who she is and who she wants to be. And in the process I am finding myself observing my role as her father more closely than ever.
What role do I really want to play in her development from a girl to a woman? How much “control” do I really have in this development? How strict or lenient should I be as the inevitable questioning of rules and testing of boundaries begins?
I decided to read Mary Pipher Ph.D’s book Reviving Ophelia, Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, (Alright, I’ll be perfectly honest – I didn’t “decide” to read this 1994 classic, my wife actually handed me the book and said “read these sections”).
In Reviving Ophelia, Pipher notes an interesting and relevant observation by psychologists who study what kinds of families produce what kinds of children. These psychologists have focused on two broad dimensions:
At one end of the spectrum are parents who are accepting, responsive and child-centered, and at the other end of the spectrum are parents who are rejecting, unresponsive and parent-centered.
At one end of the spectrum are parents who are undemanding and low in control, and at the other end of the spectrum are parents who are demanding and high in control.
These two dimensions of Affection and Control interact to produce very different outcomes for teenagers:
1. Low-Control and Low-Acceptance
Parents with low-control and low-acceptance produce teenagers with a variety of problems, including delinquency and chemical dependency.
2. High-Control and Low-Acceptance
Parents with high-control and low-acceptance (authoritarian parents) produce teenagers who are socially inadequate and lacking in confidence.
3. Low-Control and High-Acceptance
Parents with low-control and high-acceptance (indulgent parents) produce teenagers with high impulsivity, low responsibility and low independence.
4. High-Control and High-Acceptance
Parents with high-control and high-acceptance (strict but loving parents) produce teenagers who are independent, confident and socially responsible.
According to this research, the ideal family is “one in which the message children receive from parents is: We love you, but you must do as we say.” This passage in the book not only answered my questions, it backed them up with data. High-control and high-acceptance is the way.
But it’s not only parental control and acceptance that makes the difference in a teenage girl’s life. Of course, they’ve got learn to accept themselves. Pipher encourages teen girls to find a quiet place and ask themselves the following questions:
- How do I feel right now?
- What do I think?
- What are my values?
- How would I describe myself to myself?
- How do I see myself in the future?
- What kind of work do I like?
- When do I feel most myself?
- How have I changed since I entered puberty?
- What kinds of people do I respect?
- How am I similar to and different from my mother?
- How am I similar and different to my father?
- What goals do I have for myself as a person?
- What are my strengths and weaknesses?
- What would I be proud of on my deathbed?
If you have a teenager, you can drop any of these questions into a conversation to stimulate her/him to to start thinking differently. Come to think of it, whether you’re a boy, girl, man or a woman why not ask yourself these questions right now?
Personal development guru Anthony Robbins has long proclaimed that The quality of your life is directly proportional to the quality of the questions you ask. Do you know what kind of questions your teenagers are asking themselves on a regular basis?
If you don’t, then it is your job to find out. It’s also your job to introduce new sets of questions to them, which require them to access different pathways of thought and feeling.
New ways of thinking and feeling lead to new patterns of behavior. New patterns of behavior and new ways of thinking and feeling also emerge not just from asking and answering questions, but through learning to connect to the physical body and becoming congruent with the breath, energy and movement patterns that essentially make up the “subconscious” mind.
Over the past fifteen years in practice I’ve worked with hundreds of teenagers – both boys and girls – and found that often some of the biggest changes come not from talking, but from increasing their level of body or “somatic awareness”.
When teens are aware of and connected to their bodies, breath, and energy patterns, their biology becomes a louder and more influential guide than the cultural paradigm around them. Teens who have the ability to tune into themselves and be present with what their body is really wanting or needing, possess a valuable and transformational “counter-peer- pressure” life-strategy.
To learn more about the tools we use at the Well Being Center to increase somatic awareness and cultivate depth, presence and connection to oneself and increased passion and purpose in life, visit wellbeingcenter.com.