Full Show Notes
When we love someone we tend to want to pull them closer or hold them tighter. It’s human nature. But often, especially with teenagers, this can push them away or cause them to withdraw. If you aren’t giving your teenager space, this avoidant behavior can carry on in their later lives. Although we come from a place of love, teenagers can be a bit hesitant or even outright hostile to the idea of having open and vulnerable conversation with their parents.
Teens might find you prying, hawkish, or overbearing if you overstep any kind of boundaries. Plus, it can be uncomfortable for teens to talk about their new and sometimes confusing feelings, so you don’t want to make the situation worse by not giving your teenager space to process these feelings. Being able to have important conversations without conflict is a delicate and crucial stage of development for everyone involved. If teens don’t learn about conflict management early, this can cause problems in their relationships professionally, socially or romantically.
Giving your teenager space to explore and interact with their own thoughts and feelings is something that may be nerve-racking for you but absolutely essential for your teen. Their teenage years will shape them into the person they will grow into, so giving your teenager space will allow them to grow in the most healthy way possible. You want to give them ample room to grow, yet, you don’t want to make your teen feel like you don’t care or that you’re not present in their lives.
This week’s episode is about parenting a teen who needs to be heard yet has a difficult time opening up. Sometimes your teen might not know exactly how to open up so you can’t force it out of them. But what you can do is be a more present parent.
You may be thinking, how exactly do I do that? How can I be present and available as a parent, yet still respect boundaries between myself and my teen? How do I get my teen to open up to me without appearing overbearing? We spoke to Rachel Scott, an author and yoga instructor who was gracious enough to share her expertise on this issue. When it comes to figuring out how to be a present parent while also giving your teenager space, Rachel has all the answers. In this week’s episode, she explains how you can do all this by taking an ancient approach to mindfulness and compassion.
The Art of Giving Space
Rachel is an author who grounds her philosophy in Buddhist principles. She explains the concept of Aparigraha, meaning non-grasping or non-clinging, and the concept of Ahimsa, meaning non-violence. Aparigraha and Ahimsa in particular are concepts that encourage giving your teenager space so they can best express themselves.
Ahimsa is the practice of non-violence, and when you use that mindset in conversations with your teen, you create a dialogue in which they will not feel confronted or challenged. Rather, you’re giving your teenager space that welcomes them to communicate in an active way. Try asking them more questions rather than making statements. By putting the ball in their court, it will be up to your teen to interact and communicate their wants and needs.
Rachel says that parents can embody a non-clinging Aparigraha mentality by creating an open, loving space for teens to talk about whatever is on their minds. When you no longer grasp for one specific outcome, you eliminate your desire to control the situation. Controlling anyone is problematic, especially teenagers, so don’t go down that road. Instead of desiring control, desire the conversation itself.
If we want or need for the conversation to go a certain way, teenagers will instinctively pick up on our need and will avoid complying. So, the idea is to create the proper atmosphere and then detach yourself from the outcome and be OK with whatever happens so that your teen will be more receptive.
This isn’t to say that you should never have expectations. What is important is making sure that you don’t consciously skew the conversation to what you want to hear from your teen. Driving the conversation according to your own agenda isn’t giving your teenager space to communicate—it’s projection.
It may be uncomfortable to hear things that you might not necessarily agree with, but it is healthy that you hear it from your teen directly and truthfully. By giving your teenager space, you allow them to feel safe enough to say what they really want. Sometimes you may end up in agreement but sometimes you may not. Sometimes your teen might not say anything at all. And that is OK.
Don’t let the outcome be a point of focus for you at this moment. The focus should be placed on the time you spend interacting and engaging with each other, not one singular moment. Giving your teenager space by allowing them to be the ones to guide the conversation enables them to learn how to communicate their own wants.
If you are completely detached to the point of passivity, then you will never be able to talk to your teenager about topics that are worth talking about and having expectations for, like college applications, sports tryouts, or dating. Being engaged and involved in these important conversations, no matter how tough or uncomfortable, is necessary for being a good parent.
The goal of having tough conversations isn’t to be in harmony at all times. The goal is to communicate in a way that is respectful and truthful. It is also a process. You may not get it right the first time, or even the first few times. But the fact that you are taking time and effort to communicate is a victory in and of itself.
Giving your teenager space also includes knowing how to engage with your teen in a healthy way. So the key is finding the balance between having some final goal about where you want the conversation to go, but being OK with wherever it does end up going. Think of it as general guidelines as opposed to hard rules. Having hard set expectations only sets us up for anxiety, disappointment, and potentially hurt feelings.
Want to Master Harmony with Your Teen?
We address all of this and more in our enlightening conversation here on the Talking to Teens Podcast. In addition tips on giving your teenager space, Rachel proposes the following ideas:
- Planning for what you need to talk about when you’re not in an emotional state.
- Embracing the idea of “I don’t know.”
- Actively practice Aparigraha and Ahimsa.
- Trust the process of conversation.
Being present and open with your teenager is easier said than done, but it is certainly not impossible. With much reflection and collaboration with your teen, you can communicate with each other in a way that doesn’t make them want to shut down. You can be a present parent without feeling like you’re meddling or overbearing.
Rachel Scott sets forth a compassionate standard for you to be present in conversations while still giving your teenager space and agency. Although it may sound paradoxical, you gain so much once you let go for a bit. Listen in to get a better picture of what it looks like when you are giving your teenager space to process their emotions and letting go of your own expectations.
Complete Interview Transcript
Rachel: Yeah, I had a book come out last year and I’m working on a second one right now. But mostly my passion is education. Because education right now is moving beyond just the formal, “I go to school, and whatever I get my Ivy League education or my university education, and then I go get a job.” Right now, there are so many ways to learn. We have so much information at our fingertips. What I’m very interested in is how do we curate that information effectively so that people can learn and not just be inundated with a ton of content? So that’s kind of my nerdy thing that I’m really interested in now.
Andy: And you seem to be doing it very well, not just talking the talk, but you’ve got a whole online presence, and social media, and all this blogging that you do all across the internet. How did that start? How long have you been doing that? And what’s going on with it?
Rachel: I’ve been teaching yoga for about… I always get somewhat surprised when I say this, it’s 14 years, I think, which is great. I’ve always been a writer. I’ve always loved writing and blogging about my experiences and probably about five or six years ago, I got a bit more serious about creating a blog and creating a presence. I’ve always been also keen on sharing my authentic experience. So, in other words, not just making pretty posts about, “Oh, hey, life is great and we’re yogi. And we just drink Matcha, and it’s a great time.” But I’m someone who’s actually experienced bouts of anxiety, had depression, gone through these things and used the tools of yoga to help manage and navigate those circumstances.
Rachel: Some of my blogs are very content driven, but a lot of them are very personal as well. One of them that I wrote for Huffington Post you mentioned is basically why you don’t have to be happy to do yoga. Because there’s this presence out there and sometimes we can get deceived by the online world of Instagram, and by Twitter, and by Facebook, where everyone just looks happy all the time. And I felt like it was important to also share those bits and pieces that are a little bit more of the dark and authentic side of what it means to be human.
Andy: Something that you do that I think is really interesting is you seem to write a lot about relationships and the role of yoga in relationships. I think this is fascinating because this kind of counterintuitive idea ties strongly into yoga. The more you push your team to, “Hey, hey, come on. Can we talk sometime today? I really have some stuff to talk to you about.” The more they withdraw. And so, I wonder what you think about this and with your experience in yoga. Yoga has this big idea of detachment, and I wonder how you think that might play into a parent teen relationship in that paradoxical way?
Rachel: It’s so timely. I just was down visiting my beautiful family in Dallas, and my nieces are just starting to creep up to being teenagers. And it’s so true what you say, the more you want to elicit from them, the more privacy they feel like they need. And I found that with my nieces. Basically, it’s just like holding a big space of love and then letting them come into that rather than trying to track them down or chase them around. But in yoga, there’s a concept called aparigraha, which means non grasping and it’s non-clinging. I know that I watch my sister and I watch my family go through this where you want to reach out and love by reaching towards, instead of creating this space where we’re not necessarily invested in the results. Where the result can be about what’s good for that other person, or it can be about just creating the space without needing the affirmation back and trusting that the process is there and trusting that by creating that space, that we’re actually doing the work.
Rachel: I watched my family struggle with this because… And I love my family and they’re absolutely wonderful, but it’s like the push pull is so potent. And I remember that as a teenager, myself, the more my mother wanted to talk to me the less, I just wanted to be around her. And so it’s a little bit like luring cats to affection where you just have to sit there and put out some food and then wait for them to come to you. That’s not yoga. The cat thing is not a yoga thing, but yeah.
Andy: But cats seem very yogic. They’re so flexible yet strong at the same time. But I want to go back to this. I think you mentioned a couple really interesting things here. One of them was creating this space, a loving space. So it’s like, how do you do that? And then how do you then detach yourself a little bit from being able to create that space and being okay with whatever your teen wants to do with it?
Rachel: There’s a word in yoga, which is Akasha, which means space and it’s kind of the space, the container that holds everything else. And that’s what it sounds like to me. I mean, one of the principle core teachings of yoga is that you’re not your thoughts, which is this kind of crazy idea that there’s something deeper within us that is permanent and unchanging. And that a lot of the thoughts that we have, good or bad that go on in our lives are actually not the real stuff. And that includes emotions too. And I think what’s important for parents to realize is that when they’re going through their teenage years, your teenagers are having a lot of thoughts and they’re having a lot of emotions and a lot of feelings. Your baby’s going through a lot of things, but that’s actually not their personhood.
Rachel: And that’s not who they’re going to turn out to be in 10 years. This is a human development phase, which necessarily involves a lot of confusion and a lot of searching and a lot of experimentation. So not only to recognize that for your child and to say like, “Okay, I know they’re going through this.” But to be able to step back and have perspective that this is just one piece of a larger journey, and it’s not the whole story. And then in themselves to also realize that we need to find a quieter space within us, rather than letting all of the thoughts take over and all of the worries and the anxieties and all of that grasping that can happen in the mind, ground yourself. So when parents are grounded, it’s kind of like the whole space around you calms down.
Rachel: The yogi, say satya, to like one in truthfulness, everything around you becomes truthful. And so when parents can find that space and groundedness in themselves, I think that others just naturally pick up on that and are able to be calmer as well. It’s kind of like having a bit of perspective on that and then also doing practices that keep them calm, because if we’re not calm that anxiety or that craziness kind of just like broadcast out and it creates more of that same kind of energy.
Andy: Okay. So what would be some recommended, “Hey, I need to kind of ground myself a little bit.” Or how can you notice maybe it’s time for that. And then what do you do as a parent to try and find that space a little bit?
Rachel: I think breathing practices and a meditation practice, especially if you know, for example, that you’re going to have a hard conversation with your team. It’s about being able to come to that conversation from a place of ahimsa, which is non-violence. And the only way we can do that is when we actually let go of our attachment to the outcome and recognize that the process of the conversation is what’s valuable. Whether or not they get it in that moment is actually going to be besides the point. They’re not going to understand everything we say, when we say, “Don’t go to that party, don’t stay out late, don’t break your curfew.” They’re not going to understand that, forget it. But it’s the process of showing the love and showing the care again and again, from a calm place that they can feel that I think is going to be helpful.
Rachel: So like doing a yoga practice, I mean, it doesn’t have to be yoga. Honestly, it could be anything, it could be taking five deep breaths. It could be going for a walk. Anything that creates a feeling of I’m here for this person, and I’m not here worried about my own agenda quite as much, like what serves them. That’s helpful.
Andy: I think you bring up something really interesting because it does seem like as parents, there’s this tendency to have an agenda, like I really need to talk to you. There’s these three things that we really need to talk about, college applications are coming up here and whatever, right? How do we balance the, “Hey, there are some things that we really kind of do need to talk about.” But then at the same time, not needing the conversation to kind of turn out in one way and being so attached to the outcome.
Rachel: I think this is one of the big lessons. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. There’s a book or a text called the Bhagavad Gita.
Andy: Of course.
Rachel: Yes. Which is all about Krishna and origin on the battlefield. And it’s kind of this exact question. So Arjuna is this soldier and he’s in the middle of this huge dynastic war with his family interestingly enough, because this is where it all comes up, is on the battlefield with our family. And in our relationships, this is where the yoga has to happen. And so he goes out into the middle of this battlefield and he looks across the battlefield at his family. And he sees people that he loves and people that raised him. He’s like, “How can I go into this conflict? I’m not going to do it. I’m just going to step out.” And as parents is kind of like, that’s where we get it. “I don’t even know, I give up. I don’t even know how to talk to you or no, we’re going to do it this way. And I’m going to fight.”
Rachel: That’s the kind of dynamic that we get into and what he learns through the process of being on this battlefield, which is just like us in everyday life, is that we need to show up and do our duty, and do what we need to do. So as parents, that means we need to sit down and have those conversations. And yet the way to make it a yoga practice is to let go of the results. And so it’s like, how do we do that? I guess that’s the bridge, but how do we do that is to recognize that all we can be responsible for is how we show up. And we need to actually give the kids the space to show up how they want to show up.
Rachel: And again, trust that their development and their evolution and their success as a human being is not going to depend on this one moment. I think that’s where we get so scared because parents just want the best for their kids. And that’s why we become such control freaks. It’s because we really want our kids to succeed. And we have a perspective that they don’t have, and we want them to get it, but they can’t. So it’s to show up and to do our best from a sense of equanimity and skillfulness and skillfulness means with calm and not being attached to the results and then create the space where we don’t have to be responsible for how they react. We can be responsible for how we show up and how we respond. But we have to recognize that, at this point they’re becoming people and they’re testing out their own ability to have willpower.
Rachel: And so we have to create some space for them to do that. And I think if there’s space, like my parents tricked me when I was a teenager, they gave me tons of responsibility. They were like, “Well, what do you want to do?” And it was the worst thing in the world. I made them ground me because they were like, “You set your curfew, what do you think it is?” And then I missed it once. And they were like, “That’s okay.” It wasn’t like they weren’t strict, but they were like, “We trust you. That’s where they started from is, “We trust you.” And because they started from, “We trust you.” I took responsibility for that. And so I came home late one time and they were like, “Well, you’re only whatever, 10 minutes late.” And I was like, “No, you have to ground me. This was the agreement.”
Rachel: It was like, I know it was a Jedi mind trick, but starting from a place of trust and love and giving our kids the benefit of the doubt in the long run, in the big picture, I think is important because they’ll live up to that. They’ll feel that.
Andy: It’s such a different conversation to get together and say, “Hey, let’s talk about your responsibilities. What do you think about how you want to handle it?” Rather than having the agenda of, “Okay, your curfew is going to be 11 o’clock and I need to make sure you understand that.” It’s like, it’s the same general conversation, but it has such a different feel to it from the teenager’s perspective.
Rachel: Well, they get to participate in it that way and take responsibility. It becomes more of a relationship of adults. But you trust them to actually make a good decision or you at least include their voice in the decision-making process. What I noticed is that in my experience with my niece, where I noticed the friction points is where she just wouldn’t feel heard. And that was the thing that was most painful is just not feeling like your voice is heard at a time when it feels when you really need to be heard, or when you have a lot of feelings going on. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that at the end of the conversation, everyone’s in accord and everyone agrees, but at least everyone’s felt heard. And there’s value to that.
Andy: There’s a benefit to being able to set up a conversation with your team and being able to genuinely say, “I just want to give you some time that I’m going to dedicate to you for whatever’s going on with you, that you…” Or nothing. We could just sit there and just look at each other, but time that I’m going to just give to you. It has that similar feeling to, I think what you’re talking about rather than saying, “Hey, we need to talk about your curfew. We need to talk about your homework. You didn’t get that grade on the test that we talked about and whatever it is.”
Andy: So walk me through this. We got to talk scheduled, okay, 15 minutes, Sunday morning. It’s going to be your time to talk about the stuff that’s going on with you. You mentioned kind of some breathing exercises, or maybe some sort of like a little meditation thing. What preparation as a parent leading up to that, starting out from 24 hours before, or two days before or 10 minutes before, what would the preparation in an ideal world or some different kind of options? What might that look like?
Rachel: I think that if you can plan for what you need to talk about when you’re not in an emotional state, that’s helpful. So that it’s coming from a place of being able to think about the big picture. What’s good for your kids, what your kid’s needs are, what your needs are, and not coming in with a predetermines, like this is going to be it, but rather starting from a consideration of, “Okay, we need to have a conversation. I think this is what my kid’s going to respond with. I think this is what I want the outcome to be, but what are the questions I can ask? What’s the space between there? And then, so you create kind of the agenda, if you will, for your meeting or what you need to discuss in advance when you’re not feeling like, “Oh my God, this has to happen now.” Or so it doesn’t feel so charged.
Rachel: And I think if it’s possible, even if you, as a parent, have a hope for what you want the outcome to be, to actually embrace the space. And this is hard of, I don’t know, of being willing to listen to the input that your kid gives you without coming in, knowing what the answer is necessarily going to be. Because they might have information that you don’t know about and they certainly need to be heard. And it will read if we come in and we say, “I want to hear what you think.” But we actually don’t want to hear what they think. And we actually already know how we want it to go and we already know what our answer is, then that’s going to derail our ability to really listen in that moment and to perhaps change our own mind about what we want. So I think that also before they come into this meeting, become as clear as possible in themselves.
Rachel: So sitting, taking five deep breaths or taking a minute where you listen to the sound of your own breathing, that helps us to create a space out of the narratives of the mind and into a space of just being person to person with this incredible being that you’ve brought into the world that you hope good things for. And you’re able to be more present in that conversation rather than just run on these preordained kind of scripts in our head about how we thought it was supposed to go or what we wanted. You know what you want, you got it written down or whatever, but then to come into a space with a lot of openness and it’s really, really hard to do because we get scared. If I come into a vulnerable conversation and I don’t actually know what you’re going to say, it’s really scary for me. Because I don’t want to be in that uncontrolled place where you could say something I don’t like or where it might not go the way I want to. So as parents, I think we have to be really brave.
Andy: There’s a humility there almost of, I don’t know all the answers. I don’t even know what is going on with my team or what’s best for my team. Or maybe something hopefully in this conversation well, it’s not about me trying to change them. It’s us together trying to change each other.
Rachel: Absolutely. It’s the conversations that we honestly don’t make that much time for because we run on a lot of assumptions in conversations. I mean, it’s faster, it’s easier. “Oh, I know what you’re going to say. I know what you’re going to do.” So I kind of pre assume all of these things in my head rather than having a conversation where we really get to be honest and honesty is super scary and super vulnerable because we reveal who we really are. If a parent came into a conversation and was like, “This is what I’m scared about, or this is what I’m hopeful for or how do you feel?” And gives their kids space to share that. I think that could take you further because sometimes I know having conversations with kids, they’re like, it won’t even go the way you think. They don’t want to tell you. And to create actually space for that as well to be okay in a way, rather than chasing after them and being like, “No, no, no, you have to.”
Rachel: It’s like actually creating a really vulnerable space and having the groundedness in ourselves to not take that personally, because what’s going on in their world is about so much more than the parents at that point. You know what I mean? It’s like we can’t take someone else’s actions personally. And with our children, it’s a really hard thing to do because we love them and we want their love. And it’s something as simple as when my nieces used to be like, “Auntie Ray Ray, don’t sing or Auntie Ray Ray, we don’t do this. I don’t want to talk to you.” It’s like a knife in your chest. Right? So having a conversation with your team where they’re like, “I don’t want to talk to you, or I don’t want to tell you.” It can feel as a parent, very hurtful because you long for that connection. But again, it’s like knowing that the space is the connection and that the space is a way to be incredibly compassionate and actually shower your child with loves because you’re giving them the freedom to be however they need to be in that moment.
Andy: And if you go into it with the goal of creating that space, then even if they don’t actually say anything, there isn’t this incredible moment. And we both cry and hug each other. We still succeeded if we were able to, for 15, for 10 minutes, whatever, sit down together and create an open space where we felt comfortable to say anything, even if maybe we didn’t.
Rachel: I love that. And I love the space too, for the kid to be able to really share anything they want to and for the parents, like the parent practice is to not jump on it and not react, but actually just to listen, just being heard really is I find is so therapeutic and so healing.
About Rachel Scott
A writer, yogi and educator based in Vancouver, BC, Rachel is passionate about helping students and teachers reach their personal and professional potential. Holding a Masters in Instructional Design, her educational specialty is supporting studios and teachers to create exciting, smart, and robust teacher trainings.
An author and blogger, Rachel writes for the Huffington Post, Yoga International, and maintains an award-winning blog here. In her new book, the candid and hilarious Head Over Heels: A Yogi’s Guide to Dating, Rachel shares how to apply the principles of yoga to romantic relationships. In Wit and Wisdom from the Yoga Mat, she offers pithy practices and techniques to get more zen in your life.