Stephen Cowan, MD, Director of Health & Education

This is the sixth in a six-part series on the Five Phase Journey through Adolescence.

During the great upheavals of change that is the journey of adolescence, you are given the opportunity to help your children discover their own secret powers of wisdom and compassion. As your child reaches the other side of the great hormonal mountain, their identity begins to reestablish some sense of stability around 15-16 years of age. In traditional cultures this was a time for moving out and establishing one’s own family responsibilities. Because we now delay this process through high school, many teenagers feel unsure of their purpose and direction in life.  The transition back into the Water stage raises the deepest question of all, “Who am I now that I’ve changed?” Their need for freedom and individuality can at times lead to conflicts as they prepare to leave the nest. Questions about the future may be the cause of unspoken fears and anxiety. Society puts enormous pressure on 10th and 11th graders around college admissions.[i]  I have seen kids crushed under the weight of such stress. 

Advice for parents:

  1. The way we think changes outcomes. As parents you need to take a step back, see the big picture and take the time to marvel at the distant they have travelled and to honor the unique power and perspective that got them to this point. When you see their life as a journey rather than a destination you are embodying growth mind thinking which has been linked to long-lasting success.[ii]  This is much more likely to support your child’s resilience in the face of stress rather than adding more pressure by being a top-down authority.
  2. Differentiate between healthy stress and unhealthy stress. Help your teen locate tension within their body. This will enables them to better cope with stress, contain it and release it in healthy ways. Here’s a simple exercise I use with teenagers to help them become more mindful of the source of their stress and practice releasing it.  Ask your child to:
  3. Close your eyes and take a deep cleansing exhale.  
  4. Next imagine a stressful situation in your life.
  5. Now locate the place in your body (not your mind) where you feel the sensations of tightness or pressure.
  6. Next breath in and clench your fists tight and feel the tension increase in those stress places.
  7. Forcefully exhale opening your fists. 
  8. Repeat two more times, each time holding the tension a second or two longer. 
  • Create opportunities for mentorship. In ancient times apprenticeship was the primary way we learned. Today there is much less opportunity for such personal training. Seek out a healthy role model that your teen can learn from. Likewise, find mini-opportunities for your teenager to mentor younger children.  Whenever we practice sharing our gifts with others, we open the path of the true hero.
  • Practice what you preach: Remember that like you, your child is searching for a sense of purpose in their life. You are being asked to let go of the child you have invested so much love and time in. Are you willing to grow in new ways at this important moment in your life? Your growth will bring a greater sense of wholeness to both you and your child. In the end, this guarantees long-lasting harmony between you. And this is one of the keys to a life of love.


[ii] Check out this interview with Carol Dweck for the Harvard Business Review on mindset and success