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  • Lori K Walters

How can I help my teenager be true to themselves when it’s something I’m still learning myself? Modeling authenticity when parenting young adults.

Updated: 6 days ago


Crescent moon over mountain peaks


A reader asked me a great question: How can I help my teenager be true to themselves when it’s something I’m still learning myself? 


I could totally relate to this. 


We all want our kids to feel free to be themselves. But, as adults, we know that authenticity can be a challenge. We get caught in illusions about how we ‘should’ be and either behave like the people around us or live behind our facades. It's the big process of life - learning to express ourselves fully and honestly. 


So how can we, who only partly know the way, support our kids? When parenting young adults, how can we help them truly be themselves? 


When I was born into this human body, it was the ultimate form of differentiation from a larger consciousness. I became me, a unique expression of Life so I could evolve and contribute to the whole. That's the big picture of human differentiation: our basic human state. 


Here on earth in our daily human relationships, healthy differentiation is complex and confounding. It can be tricky to distinguish what is true for us and what’s true for the other person. And with all our fears around being accepted and loved, it’s challenging to be fully and honestly who we are in the presence of others. 


Some of us act strong to protect our vulnerability. Some of us crave peace so much that we curtail our own voice, accommodate and acquiesce. Some of us place big expectations on ourselves as a way to feel valued. Others strive to make themselves look good, knowledgeable or successful in the eyes of others. What about you? In what ways do you thwart your own authenticity?


Maybe you put others’ needs above your own to maintain an image of reliability and responsibility. Or perhaps you’re the one who says, “everything’s great” when it’s not. 


We all have our ways of masking who we really are deep down in our core. We worry about our acceptability and, here's the rub, at the same time we obstruct our ability to be really understood and accepted. We yearn to belong but keep ourselves separate. We love unconditionally and doubt our worthiness when love comes our way. Being true to ourselves is an intricate. 


And in this world where our kids are growing up with more and more influence from peers and social media, they need our help to develop their ability to be their authentic self. 


Healthy differentiation means they are able to discern what is true for them. And they can recognize what they are and aren’t responsible for during their interactions with others. It means they can be fully who they are in the presence of others and allow others to be fully who they are as well. 


Do you have that all figured out? 


Me neither... 


So where can we start with our kids? 

We can help them perceive who they uniquely are. And celebrate that wonder. 


I’m not talking about defining or labelling them but, rather, helping them develop the habit of checking in with themselves and noticing what’s making them tick these days.   



Here are some lines of inquiry that can be helpful: 

  • What’s making you feel especially alive these days?

 This probably isn’t exactly the way you’d say to your kid; you need to find your own wording. And you need to wait and watch for the right context.


Let’s say that your child is developing a new interest in Formula One racing. You’ll sit with them, learn a bit and ask them what they like about it. And you can take that farther by asking what it feels like to be lit up by it. Help them identify their feeling ofliking what they like.


Here are some more questions worth exploring:

  • What’s delightful or disgusting to you?

  • How would you describe your sense of purpose these days?

  • What do you feel like creating? 

  • How do you feel yourself growing?

  • What strengths do you possess and what strengths do you want to develop?

  • What feels tender for you? 

  • What do you feel naturally grateful for and what feels lacking?  

  • When do you feel a real “Yes!” inside you? 

 


Helping your kids get used to this kind of self-inquiry will gradually yield a stronger sense of self. By developing a regular practice of self-inquiry, they will be able to connect to themselves more readily - what they prefer, where they shine, what they really want to do when the crowd is pulling them in a certain direction, their honest answers and the joy of being their unique selves.


~


And our kids learn a lot about how to live an adult life by watching how we live ours. If you want to help them to know themselves and be true to themselves, one of the best ways you can teach this is by modelling it. That is, being increasingly true to yourself AND sharing that process with them.


Let them hear you saying things like,

  • Wow this feels so right to me.

  • I might be the only one here who likes figure skating, but it makes me feel...

  • I’m surprised how much that upset me. I guess my opinion has changed.

  • I couldn’t decide so I just paid attention to that yucky, heavy feeling in my gut and I knew to say No.

  • I was really into it, but Asian cooking doesn’t feel like my thing anymore.

  • I thought I was the black sheep in my family but that’s not who I am anymore.


Let them see new your values, capabilities and passions as they emerge.

Let them witness you figuring out what you care about.

Let them hear your doubts. 


When we practice connecting with ourselves, we build the muscles that make it easier to show up authentically. And when we are being ourselves in the presence of others, we find ourselves in more enriching relationships. We live a life that feels true


That’s a legacy worth passing down to your kids and grandkids.



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