Wednesday, June 21, 2017

What three things can help defuse teen anger?

I was talking to some mothers of teenagers the other day, and one asked about 13-year-old Boy Anger, wondering specifically, "Is that a thing?" (It is.) And "Is there anything that helps?"
(—Other than the cure for the common cold: It will eventually end?)

Our youngest just turned 18, and while I readily enjoy our kids at every age and stage, I can't say I'm sorry to see all the teenage mutant ninja hormones in the rearview mirror! But I do have some pointers for those just entering or in the throes of this parenting thrill-ride:

First, find them a physical outlet. I remember our oldest saying one day, much to my horror, "It feels so good to hit people with sticks!" Of course, he was talking about lacrosse, not beating somebody up in a dark alley, but it also revealed that deep need in a developing male's psyche to have an outlet for his anger. —A safe outlet, where he wouldn't be punished or penalized for letting some rage take over, and literally beat it out on the field, as long as he followed the rules.

It doesn't have to be lacrosse. They can ride it out on a surfboard or a snowboard, pound it out on the pavement, tackle it on the football field, pedal it out on a mountain bike, or chase it out on a tennis court. Any safe physical outlet will do. The more passionate your teenager is about the activity, the better.

Second, support them in a creative outlet. I recognize daily how much peace and deep soul-satisfying fulfillment comes through music and painting. And it turns out it's not just me. Nelson Mandela's widow, Graça Machel discovered a child's soul can be soothed by participation in the arts. Machel launched a 10-year study on Children and Conflict that concluded in part: "If their energy is channelled creatively, however, children and young people can become powerful forces for peace."  For teenagers, this effect is even stronger if they become teachers themselves, helping younger children learn to express themselves artistically.

My third piece of advice was less obvious, and came to me a little later, after things quieted down:

When our oldest and angriest son was in the throes of hormonal rage, I was praying hard about how to deal with him, and the answer came to me as a line from the 13th Article of Faith, but in a way I'd never understood it before:

"If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things."

I had always thought that meant to surround yourself with the best literature, and other beautiful things in the world. But in that moment on my knees, God taught me that it can also suggest a way to interact with your angry teenager: If there is ANYTHING virtuous, lovely or praiseworthy [about them], we seek after these things.

Praise. Could it really be that simple?

I started seeking—really looking hard—for things to praise about all our kids, and specifically our teenagers, watching for things they were doing right—ANYTHING. Then I'd point it out to them, no matter how small or obvious, both privately and in front of other people. I was determined to say every positive thing I could think of, right out loud. To them.

And it worked. Or at least it helped. Most of the time. Which is huge.

People were happier. Fewer doors were slammed. Fewer voices were raised. Fewer tears flowed. (Mine. As well as theirs.)

It wasn't the cure for cancer. Hormones will be hormones. But it did make a significant difference in the spirit of our home, and in my relationship with each child. 

It turns out, I learned later, there's scientific evidence behind the praise phenomenon. The pleasure centers in our brain crave sincere compliments more than food, alcohol, money or sex. Seriously. That could solve 80% of teenager problems. Am I right?

What has helped you in dealing with angry teenagers? What wonders have you experienced through praise? I'd love to hear about it in the box below. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

I'm a Survivor.

Sunday I passed a milestone birthday. No big, round numbers this year; a different kind of milestone. Yesterday I reached the age my mother was when she died.

It was a sobering birthday. I've been dreading it for months. Staring my own mortality in the face. It's like standing on a precipice and stepping off into the unknown. Because I have no idea what life looks like after this year.


In the meantime, I've been reexamining my mother's life—what she accomplished and who she became in her short time on earth—and feeling like I am the one who has fallen short.

I have a couple of Mom's journals in my possession. One of the first things that struck me as I scanned the pages of consistently precise handwriting was the countless acts of service—there was literally something penned in on every single day that she did for someone else...and sometimes multiple acts in a single day. I was blown away. She had five children plus a Navajo foster daughter. Six kids she was feeding, clothing, schlepping to school, concerts, parties and back to school night. Six kids she was teaching to be responsible, be extraordinary, and behave. And yet she found (or rather, made) time to serve.

She was also this incredible peacemaker. I remember how much time she spent on the phone counseling a sibling with a struggling marriage, helping a friend whose husband committed suicide, and trying to foster some unity between an estranged mother and daughter in our extended family. She was so good at seeing every side of the situation and helping people bridge the gap, go the distance, love, and forgive. She could listen endlessly, tirelessly, when others would have long given up. She was amazing at overlooking faults and choosing to love the most difficult and unlovable people. Including me.

She had unstoppable faith. Sometimes we would enter her bedroom and find her on her knees, and feel like we had interrupted a truly sacred space—an actual conversation with God. Her scriptures were worn threadbare. The leather binding had finally given way to decades of dedicated searching, and she taped up the spine with silver duct tape. (I love that image. So practical. So her.) She was completely obedient, and had an unwavering commitment to build up His kingdom on the earth, both in large ways (like singing in the Tabernacle Choir and serving on the Sunday School General Board) and small, like following daily spiritual promptings. She knew where her anchor was, had her sights on the North Star, and never veered off course. Her own steadiness anchored countless others.

She demanded excellence. From herself, and everyone around her. Setting a high standard usually meant that others also rose to the occasion. Whether it was coaching me for the national spelling bee, or helping her piano students master Suzuki Book One, she was so good at raising the proverbial bar.

She stayed active in her career. She was a very gifted musician, and never stopped performing and improving. Whether it was accompanying her father when he sang, performing in a chamber music trio, or conducting a choir, she was top notch. I drew this portrait of her (top) from a photo that was taken when she was directing a choir for the Franklin/Covey group. The most joyful and alive she looked in the last years of her life was the time she spent motivating those singers.

As her the end of her life drew near, it seemed as though she lived very close to the veil. She had become so strong, almost regal in her demeanor. Her heart had been refined and purified through her growth and her trials. She was even more humble and teachable, loving and giving. She became more and more Christlike as she faced the prospect of finally meeting her maker.


As my dreaded birthday approached, a few people started reaching out to me to make plans. None of them knew how difficult this day might be for me. I mentioned to one friend how I was feeling, and she instantly shifted gears and came up with a wonderful, soul-filling plan that sounded perfect to me.

Another friend—from our beloved Pasadena area, who we've been close to for over two decades—invited us to dinner at her home on my birthday. (My husband gingerly asked if that's what I wanted to do, and I assured him YES!) She is a fabulous cook, and invited just our immediate families and one other very close friend. It was exactly the sort of small gathering I love, filled with people I love.  It was sheer heaven. When this friend suggested a talent show, I'll admit I cringed. But honestly, everyone did something completely unexpected, and we all enjoyed ourselves so much. I mustered the courage to read aloud a couple of blog posts — most notably this one, to be a little bit vulnerable and let people know what I was dealing with this year, and then this one, to end on a lighter note. It was one of my favorite birthday celebrations ever.  I didn't just survive my ominous birthday, I thrived.

That evening gave me an entirely new perspective on living after the age my mother died. I've decided to see every day that I outlive my mom as a gift. One more day to work at becoming more like she was: More service-oriented and eager to lift others, more of a peacemaker, a better listener. One more day to strengthen my faith, and bolster those around me. One more day to demand excellence of myself and my students. One more day to excel in my career. One more day to be kinder, wiser, stronger deeper; to be pure, to be humble and teachable. To be like my mother. To be like Christ.