It’s a tough time going to high school – especially these days. There’s so many more extreme challenges to overcome. When I was a teen, sure, I got up to mischief, but it wasn’t video’d and posted all over social media in a shame campaign. When I did stupid things, my peers didn’t all get to know about it, in real time. I could feel the embarrassment and then it was over – I didn’t have to see the evidence of my innocent naivety plastered virtually all over the place every time I picked up my phone. Hey, I didn’t have a phone…so when I had my heart broken, an argument with my parents or felt suicidal, (which I did once or twice) I had to wait until Monday to get my friends empathy and support. By then, well, I was done with it and had moved on. My emotionally charged moments had a chance to subside, they weren’t fuelled instantaneously by the world I lived in.
The life of my teenage daughter is different to this.
When she feels uncomfortable with her body she only has to pick up her phone and instantly thousands of images of girls, with perfect form, looks and clothing rush back at her to confirm her inadequacy. When she feels anxious, depressed, suicidal, in an instant she is bombarded with accounts of other girls who have been diagnosed, medicated, committed. She gets informed of what to do, how to do it and may even inadvertently get drawn into the competition of it all – which she informs me is all too real. Then there’s the algorithms. Any search she does triggers advertisements, solutions, other peoples experiences, confirming her fears, until she’s perfectly convinced of their reality.
On the positive, our girls are more informed, know everything about everything – politics included – and have an opinion on it all. They see what’s happening, in real time, anywhere on the globe and have a profound awareness of inclusivity, equality and justice. Unlike me, they knew what a narcissist looked like, smelled like, sounded like and they will call it. They understand abusive relationships, can share about the psychology of trauma and have extensive knowledge of mental illness. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they actively prevent any of them – just that they know what’s going on while it’s going on. They make informed decisions that aren’t always personally empowering decisions.
To a mother, this can feel incredibly overwhelming. I once had a Mum describe it as “watching a runaway train hurling towards a de-railed track”. A metaphor for: ‘all we can do is stand by and watch helplessly…’
I’d like to suggest there’s another way.
And I can speak from experience. This is something I’ve gone through. I’ve felt the pain of lying in bed in the middle of the night, feeling the grip of powerlessness around my heart and fear in my guts. The helplessness, the feeling I should have a solution, the ceaseless investigation into where I went wrong. The futile conversations (in my head and with others), the hours of endless research, the ‘throw in the towel’ moments. The criticism of my parenting by a partner, the conflict that results and the eggshells I have to walk over. This is not freedom.
What I’ve learnt is that I may not be able to change what life deals out, but if I change my emotional response, I can activate a state of inner power that graces me with an inner freedom AND the creative solutions inaccessible to me in my state of reaction. Over time as I discovered the way to disentangle myself from my daughter’s feelings, the activation of my own past feeling memories and my projected fears, I became more reliably centred and empowered to act with wisdom and acceptance. This completely transformed the repetitive feeling loops I had with my daughter. She began to trust me to show up without reaction, so she knew she could confide in me without feeling guilty, ashamed, criticised or controlled.
By creating an emotionally safe environment in the home, I was building a sense of cohesion between us and deepening the love and closeness we felt with each other. It became less about the events that were happening and more about how we could use these happenings to grow and foster a thriving relationship. The outcomes became less important than the ease and contentment we were feeling along the way. This was empowering for us both. I learnt to use my emotional ‘power’ to create the relationship I wanted, regardless of the circumstances that were happening in my life. I communicated differently, thought differently, acted differently … deliberately working towards connection, as opposed to unconsciously creating disconnection. It feels so much better for us both!
There’s many things I can’t control, but they don’t have such a big impact when we’re both emotionally empowered. This is preventative medicine!
I know I cannot control technology, what influences my daughter socially, or the pressures she may have to endure. However I’m sure I can create an emotionally safe harbour she will choose to return to over and over again as she emerges into her womanhood. I believe this is my emotional advantage. As Mothers we all have access to this intuitive wisdom when we learn the skills that help us disentangle emotionally. This will make the journey we share with our daughters through their high school years so much easier and enjoyable.
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Lisa Jayne is passionate about guiding people towards their own emotional empowerment. She works in private practice, is an author and speaker supporting people to take charge of their feelings by listening to the whisper of their own emotions as they arise. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on IG here.