Transitions and Connection in 2021

A Note from Susan Rahauser, Director of Student Counseling Services

As I think about the upcoming transition from spring to summer, my mind immediately goes to the adjusting we will do and have been doing during this pandemic, which has been ongoing and, quite frankly, monumental. Students may be glad to see peers, but also feeling academic pressure in a brand new way, as noted in this recent New York Times article.  

I’m also thinking about aspects of adolescent development and how parents can best support their children. Any kind of prolonged adjustment period is going to require extra attention, and sometimes these opportunities for connection and understanding can be missed. Perhaps the reason we miss them is that children, and the world, are changing so rapidly that we may not recognize what is happening, nor ask if anything different is needed. 

I once heard a brilliant poet, David Whyte, reflect on a time he struggled to dialogue with his teenage daughter. He said, “My daughter was evolving at such lightning speed on a daily basis, I found it a challenge to relate to her. The girl I thought I was talking to one day quite possibly would not be the same girl I’d find in our next conversation.” He went on to describe how lost he felt in a relationship that meant the world to him. After many difficult discussions that seemingly were leading nowhere, Whyte humbly asked his daughter a relationship-changing question, “What do you appreciate and not appreciate about my parenting?” 

Even though Whyte shared this story during a non-pandemic time, it’s message seems especially pertinent now. We are all trying to make sense of and move beyond pandemic grief and possibly compromised mental health, making our need to reach for human connection all the more valuable. Here are some tips for taking care of yourselves as parents. 

Studies show that when parents repeatedly meet an emotional expression from a child with a matching and validating emotional response (rather than an advice-giving or directive response), the connective fibers in the child’s brain change to increase emotional regulation. Therefore, being curious and empathetic turns out to be the easiest way to help your child develop more resilience. 
Finally, we often hear the teen peer group is more influential than that of parents, but we must resist the notion that our value as parents is diminished during this phase of our children’s development. Research consistently shows a teenager’s feeling of connectedness with parents and family is what matters the most to them. 

There may be times when we feel disconnected or alienated from our ever-changing teens, especially during a transition, but we can always stop and ask our children for their input about what is working or not working or what they are thinking and feeling. I wish you the best and most glorious of summers, and I will deeply miss the connection with all of you and the students I’ve been privileged to know as I retire from Mercersburg Academy.