Avoiding the Parent Trap

Being a teen can be hard — and parenting teens can be just as hard. But it can be made a lot easier, more like a fun adventure, if parents work on resolving their own baggage from the teen years, helping them move into the role of loving listener and guide.

That's the philosophy of Marla Estes and Katherine Holden, who will present a free workshop, "Coming of Age Through Film: Self-Exploration as a Tool for Parenting Your Teen," at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 29, at the Ashland Branch Library. It introduces a series of four Saturday classes that start April 9 and cost $160 to $240, on a sliding scale.

The classes analyze films about teen years as a doorway to understanding parents' own rites of passage and life transitions that still may be going on, such as empty-nesting, divorces, career changes and relationships with their own parents, Estes says.

The classes will approach parenting "from inside out," helping parents refrain from "going into reactivity," or trying to control the changes and explorations of teens, she says.

"Look at it from our own coming of age, so that we don't stop having empathy for them (teens) and get blind to the human factor," says Estes, a counselor with a master's degree in transpersonal psychology.

Many parents, she notes, still carry behaviors and strategies from adolescence.

If they were overly compliant or defiant in how they dealt with their own parents, for example, they may expect or fear their kids will do the same.

While it can be hard to control teen behavior, says Estes, "we can look at what's happening in us" and ask ourselves, "what can I learn, so I can be less triggered by my teens and ultimately be able to be more supportive of them?"

On the "attachment theory" spectrum, Estes says, many parents were raised on the extreme poles of abandonment or overprotectiveness, so they approach parenting by thinking kids need an excess of either independence or control.

"If parents (as kids) didn't get what they needed, they can approach parenting by being too clingy to teens — and teens don't need that," says Holden, formerly of Ashland High School's Wilderness Charter School.

"If you approach teens by trying to change them, that is counterproductive," says Estes. "Once I change my part in the dance, it changes for the other person, too."

The workshop will use teaching, discussion and exercises and analyze an array of coming-of-age stories from film, Estes says. It will allow members to "sit and talk about their own fear and discomfort from teen times, raising it from the unconscious" so that it doesn't get in the way of parenting in the present time.

"We have the responsibility to protect our children," Holden says, "but if we're anxious about what can happen in cars, based on our own teen experiences, we might put that into our children. As we isolate and learn our own fears, we can see where our fears leave off and their lives begin."

Estes calls it "being connected, yet separate ... providing a net, not a nest, for teens, not being either compliant or forcing, so there's no failure to launch."

Coming of age is a near-mythical "hero's journey" of transformation from dependent child to independent adult in which, Estes says, "the psyche need to prove its mettle and break away from the parents — and a lot of times, parents take it personally."

The most useful tool in the world, she says, is QTIP, which stands for "Quit Taking It Personally." The goal of the workshop and its parenting strategies, Estes says, is "not to give solutions but to raise awareness, which makes relationships more healthy, in an organic flow ... the 'Ten Steps' approach doesn't work. When you explore yourself, you're more attuned to the situation."

About simply pushing controls on teens, says Estes, "if it works, great, but if it hasn't worked so far — doing it harder isn't going to work either.

"Our approach is about open exploration. Control usually doesn't work and it suppresses things — and they will come up later in life. Teens need to come to an autonomy and they'll make mistakes doing it."

In parenting teens, a major goal is to transition from the control you had when they were very young and "move into a place of participation," says Holden. "Teens will pull back if we don't listen to their fears, and hear their story and they feel held. Healthy communication can't happen unless parents look at their own stuff and listen."

For more information, email Estes at marla16@charter.net, visit www.marlaestes.com or call 541-482-4948.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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