Have you ever reflected deeply on the following?
What constitutes the happy life in the long run? Have you ever asked yourself, “What defines a happy family? What do my family and I have to do to be truly happy, now and in the future? How to I balance my role as an individual, friend, mate, parent, or provider? Are the answers truly important? How committed am I to seeing it through?”
The answers to these questions are difficult to obtain without a large investment in time and reflection, and this assumes willing and open participation from everyone: you, your spouse, and each of your kids. You might expect it would take a high level of mutual concern, commitment, and trust from each family member to even attempt to find the answers.
But trust levels today are chronically low. In today’s world of smartphones, texting, reality TV, extended work hours, and the like, time to interact and share is at a premium. The urgent supersedes the important. And what is the result? Our interactions with our teens are relegated to excerpts of short probing questions, followed by their short, monosyllabic answers.
Under the circumstances of low trust, we cannot even begin to discuss family collaboration, harmony, fun, and ultimately family mission, in any meaningful way. We each suspect that the other family members are going to power through their own agendas with little consideration for other points of view.
In this situation sometimes, for a period of time, we need a trust surrogate: a group to help teens foster and cultivate self-esteem and self worth, authenticity, and openness. They need to develop an assessment of self that does not revolve around opinions of others, fashionable trends, and cultural programming from TV and the Internet. They need a safe forum of their peers to openly discuss and compare their concerns and fears. They need full knowledge of basic human needs that we all have now, and will have in the future. They need to investigate how to fill these needs with responsible, self-sustaining methodologies and values, rather than relying on trendy, quick fix techniques that work only for the moment.
And we need to do the same for ourselves, as adults. As parents, because we don’t know the answers instinctively either, we also need some slow and steady indoctrination in a high-trust environment. We need to work together to deliberately uncover life’s enduring principles that lead to human happiness, for us and for our family members. And like our teens, we would like to share our frustration and experiences with other parents, and discuss what we have tried, what works, and what doesn’t.
Teens and parents alike, we each need to establish a healthy independence and that defines each of us as individuals. We need to feel comfortable and confident in our own skin. Only then can we effectively and gently begin to re-engage with each other: cooperatively, respectfully, and in step as a family.
But in re-uniting we are unclear where we are headed next. What does each one of us need and want from the family? How well is our current situation and approach addressing our needs? What is the mission and purpose of our family, as defined by all members of the family? How does it serve each of its members? If you were to try to describe success in accomplishing the mission of the family, what would it look like? What would it feel like? Over time, how can we reshape our mission, keep it relevant, and keep it operational?
Teen Encounters’ mission and purpose is to work towards this end. We start separately with parents and teens to develop groups based on trust, respect, care, and understanding of one another. We slowly and deliberately integrate parents with teens, with a focus on developing, executing, and sustaining a family mission that is personally enriching for each and all.