Transitions are tough at any age, but they’re extra-challenging for teens. Adolescence is already a time of nonstop changes, making unexpected upheavals like divorce, a big move, or the loss of a loved one even more unsettling. How can we make sure our teens not only survive but thrive in the midst of transitions? Change experts say it’s possible to build an inner infrastructure to help teens stay grounded. With the right tools, they can learn to calm their fears and even embrace the opportunities offered by change. Here are five top tips for supporting teens in transition:
Uplevel your listening skills.
Just listening isn’t easy, but it may be what your teen needs most. Active listening means being completely present, available and focused on what your teen is saying (or not saying). Instead of assuming you know what’s up or thinking you need to be ready with answers, you give them space to work through their thoughts and feelings. It doesn’t mean you don’t offer feedback or step in to keep them safe, but your first priority is just being there for them. When parents are good listeners, it teaches teens to trust themselves and gives them the security of feeling unconditionally loved.
Establish supportive routines.
When everything seems uncertain, teens’ mental and emotional health are more vulnerable. To protect them in times of transition, make sure the things you can control feel as safe and predictable as possible. Talk to your teen about creating stable routines you can both count on. That might include regular bedtimes and mealtimes, schedules for homework and chores, limits on screen time, and making sacred space for family and friends. Always be ready to reevaluate routines or let them go if they’re not helping. Finally, routines should prioritize self-care, relationships and well-being, and they work best when they feel more like rituals than rules.
Know their vision and values.
As Lewis Carroll said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” Navigating transition is easier when teens have a goal to work towards, and values give them guardrails for making good decisions. Help your teen create their vision for a successful outcome and identify the micro goals to get there. What if the idea of a big-picture vision is overwhelming to your teen? Don’t pressure them. As they get used to the changes, they’ll get clearer about their opportunities and options. In the meantime, their goals can focus on exploration and taking it one day at a time.
Address your own anxieties.
Worry is contagious. If you’re stressed about a transition, your teen is more likely to absorb your fears, act out against them, or try to “fix” things for you. Take time to identify each of your anxieties with self-compassion: Are you uncertain about your future and how that will affect your family? Concerned about your teen’s safety? Worried that your relationship with them will change? Once you’re clear about the source of your stress, ask yourself what you need to feel more supported. Make connections with others who understand your experience. Talk to a therapist, parenting coach, or supportive friend. Take time to breathe, exercise, and eat and sleep well. Make a list of resources and establish a plan. When you feel calm and capable, your teen will, too.
Put together a transition team.
When we talked to teens about transitions, they mentioned dealing with a family member’s illness, worrying about money after a parent’s job loss, and getting used to living with new step-siblings. Relationships are a big part of what gives teens their sense of self, so in times like these, other relationships can provide stability. Help your teen establish a support team of family, friends, and mentors. It’s especially important if you’re in transition, too. You and your teen both need to know you’re not in it alone, and you don’t have to be the sole source of support for each other. Reach out to people you trust and ask if they’re willing to be on call or spend extra time with your teen. Talk to their teachers, school counselor, and parents of their close friends. Let your teen know that it’s ok to ask for help. Instead of feeling fearful and alone, teens can learn to seek connection and stay open to opportunities. Transitions can help them develop self-awareness and clarity about their goals, get closer to the people they love, and be at ease with the inevitable changes of life.