By Rachel Macy Stafford
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. — Ephesians 4:14-15
Standing in the classroom one day, at the end of another career day talk, looking through the notes written on index cards, it was evident that my honest confessions and vulnerability resonated with the students. An overwhelming number of young people shared the stress and pain of feeling unseen, unheard, and unaccepted for who they are. So many of their index cards gave me a glimpse into the various masks kids today are wearing—masks that I know all too well will only grow heavier as they continue down an unauthentic path.
- My mom is really great and loving towards me and same with my dad, but they don’t know what my dream is, and they have already taken it away from me—they just don’t know it.
- I put on a smile. People think I’m the happiest person in the world. I act as normal as possible. I break down only when I’m at home alone.
- I fear I am unlovable, and this fear dictates my life.
- Mom and Dad, I want you to see the amount of pain and stress I deal with all the time.
- Kids need to talk to people they trust, and they should be able to talk to their parents without their parents judging them or hating them for what they do.
- I wish my parents understood that I am not an athlete.
- I wish my parents knew what was going on now, and how things aren’t the same now as they were 25 years ago.
The teen years have always been an awkward period in which young people attempt to find their own identities. But the world we live in today makes this life stage considerably more challenging—not only for our young people, but also for the adults whose job it is to help them navigate their way safely and securely into purposeful lives.
In our media-saturated, highly competitive, fast-paced culture, young people feel extreme pressure to conform to unrealistic and conflicting expectations. This constant pressure to be someone they’re not in order to gain approval comes from all directions—school, peers, media, and home. As evidenced by the stacks of index cards I’ve collected over the past three years, teens feel it’s necessary to project an enhanced or filtered version of themselves to the world in hopes of social acceptance, even if that image doesn’t truly align with their values, interests, or strengths. The practice of curating an inauthentic self can be damaging and stressful for anyone, but especially to young people who are trying to establish their core identity and find their purpose.
We cannot control all the conflicting messages our kids receive, but we can control the messages they receive from us. Leading and raising kids these days requires more than modeling, more than imparting knowledge. It requires a whole new kind of self-awareness and communication. We must pay very careful attention to the messages we send our kids. Their actions or words might imply they no longer care about what adults think, but I have stacks and stacks of notecards telling me just the opposite. Truth be told, if we meet them where they are, without judgment, we have the opportunity to impart messages of acceptance to counter the insecurity that fuels many of the challenges young people face today, and we can thereby have a vital impact on young lives.
One of the most empowering gifts we can give kids is the permission and space to show up bravely exactly as they are, even if they don’t think “who they are” is what the world wants to see. We can communicate this permission and create conditions for authenticity to thrive in at least three key ways:
- By being honest with ourselves about who we are, removing our masks, and tending to the places in ourselves where growth and healing are needed.
- By leaning in when our kids show us who they are and not making their choices and emotions about us.
- By being aware of the confining boxes and damaging labels society places on young people, and either rejecting them or reframing them as strengths.
In my book Live Love Now, I explore how to achieve these conditions by extending acceptance in three strategic ways: through refuge, reframing, and respect.
When we support our young people to develop their most authentic selves, they are each better equipped to build a meaningful life from which they don’t feel compelled to escape, numb out, hide, or merely endure. When we offer them our unconditional love, acceptance, and support, they can better connect to their dreamer within—that bare-footed, hope-filled part of themselves that feels alive, content, and filled with confidence that they have a unique role in this world. With us by their sides, our kids can develop the courage to live proudly in their own skin, no mask necessary.
________Adapted from Live Love Now: Relieve the Pressure and Find Real Connection with Our Kids by Rachel Macy Stafford. Click here to learn more about this book.
In Live Love Now, New York Times bestselling author Rachel Macy Stafford tackles the biggest challenges facing kids today and equips adults to engage them with humanness and heart, compassion and honesty to discover the deep, life-giving connection everyone is longing for.
What do young people need now more than ever? Adults who are Truth-tellers not taskmasters. Encouragers not enforcers. Guides not half-listeners. The good news is, it’s not too late! No matter what’s happened in the past, you can help the kids you love face the top stressors of today, including academic pressure, parental expectations, technoference, lack of purpose, isolation, and loneliness.
With illuminating, straightforward strategies, this guide reveals the importance of practicing acceptance, pursuing peace, and exploring wellness and purpose for yourself so you can be the kind of real, relevant, and lifelong role model young people are searching for. Engaging and thoughtful, each chapter includes moving stories from Rachel’s personal journey as a mom of a teen and pre-teen along with illustrative narratives and prompts to help you reflect and take steps toward becoming the kind of adult young people trust.
Whether you’re a parent, educator, older sibling, coach, or anyone in a role of leading young people, this book will help you meet the goal of raising and guiding young people to become resilient, compassionate, and capable adults.
Rachel Macy Stafford is a writer with one goal: to help people choose love as much as humanly possible. She is the New York Times bestselling author of Hands Free Mama, Hands Free Life, and Only Love Today; a certified special education teacher with a Master’s Degree in education; an in-demand speaker, and beloved blogger who inspires millions in her weekly blog posts at handsfreemama.com and through her supportive Facebook community, The Hands Free Revolution.
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