What teenagers need from us more than (almost) anything else

Be the wall for your kids.

Kara Powell Image Kara Powell | Jul 21, 2016

Maybe it’s because I grew up swimming. Or maybe it’s because my oldest daughter is now 13 and a full-blown teenager (in ALL senses of the word).

Either way, I can’t stop thinking about an image that Lisa Damour uses in Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood (buy it here).

In the midst of inevitable parent/child conflict, Damour writes:

“Your daughter needs a wall to swim to, and she needs you to be a wall that can withstand her comings and goings. Some parents feel too hurt by their swimmers, take too personally their daughter’s rejections, and choose to make themselves unavailable to avoid going through it again … But being unavailable comes at a cost … Their daughters are left without a wall to swim to and must navigate choppy—and sometimes dangerous—waters all on their own.”

While Damour’s research is focused on girls, I would say the same imagery holds true with boys.

As parents and youth leaders, kids need us to be a wall. A wall of support that doesn’t withdraw or abandon them. Even when kids withdraw from us—often hurting us in the process—they need us to be the adult who stays steady (tweet that).

Damour gives some helpful tips on how to be the wall of support all kids need:

1. Anticipate that kids will push off.

When a young person swims to you, enjoy it, but don’t be surprised when they distance themselves from you. That’s all the more common when that young person is your own child.

2. Rally your own support.

Who in your life is the wall that you need, so that you can be a wall of support for young people?

And I’ll add a few more …

3. Be aware of your own anger and self-protection.

I’m most likely to move away from my kids when they tick me off, or when they raise painful (and unresolved) issues in my own life.

4. Help teenagers have multiple walls—not just you.

Whether you are a parent or leader, you can’t be the only wall for a young person. Our Sticky Faith research continues to showcase the importance of young people having a team of adults who combine to form a fortress of support.

What else helps you to be the support teenagers need, especially during or after those seasons when they push away?

Have new conversations about parenting and faith.

Build a network of support you can turn to when parenting gets tough. Find Growing With and the Growing With Small Group Discussion Guide in our bookstore.

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Kara Powell Image
Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.

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