Bridging the Gap Between Parents and Teens
by Pho Nguyen
We’ve all heard it before …. “The teenagers today, they are just so…..” And coming back in the other direction, “My parents are just so impossible….they just don’t get it.” Generation after generation it has always been there, but now add in rapidly advancing technology replacing interactions that used to happen in families, increased stress on parents from work and responsibilities, and an environment that pressures teens to both speed up and excel. Accumulating pressures can easily increase reactivity, and so the rifts between parents and teens that look small and seemingly insignificant at first can quickly become snarled and deeply painful. And then what? How can we unsnarl a tangled ball, especially if it has no visible tail to begin to untangle? What really works?
To help families answer those questions and have lasting happiness at home, Zen Master Thich Dieu Thien, founder of Universal Door Meditation Center, launched a series of Parent and Teen Workshops starting back in 2012. The idea for it came about when within one month’s time, three different families came to meet the Zen Master with extreme situations. The first two families both had teens who were severely depressed, and having exhausted every type of counseling, medication, and intervention, they were without hope. The third family came struggling with deep grief after their teenage son had committed suicide. The Zen Master said we can no longer wait until young people grow up to start helping families, and from there the Parent and Teen Workshops were born.
As a student at Universal Door at the time, I saw first-hand how powerful the workshops were! The results exceeded all expectations; both teens in the first two families experienced profound transformation and moved on to thrive in college. The members of the third family were able to experience deep understanding, resolution, and healing. When both parents and teens are participating, each person realizes more about themselves and their part of the equation, begins to work with it, and from there things shift, doors open. Everything is possible! I had a chance to see how universal the application and benefits of Zen meditation really are; it is like a miracle medicine for all wounds. It is so simple, user-friendly, and profound.
The key ingredient to the success is Zen Master Thich Dieu Thien and her core teaching at Universal Door: to help all people discover more about themselves, wake up from all confusion and misunderstanding, and realize the Awake within. She uses the simple terms “Awake Mind” and “False Mind” to help people distinguish an important difference. Awake Mind describes one’s clearest, centered “true self,” or our inherent nature before life conditioning and habits (karma) cover it over. Our False Mind includes the chattering voice in the head and the ongoing thoughts, perceptions, and beliefs that color everything that comes through our senses. We live from these pictures stored in False Mind, believing they are real; they directly determine the way we act, think, and feel in every moment. This is the cause of everyday stress, fear, and conflict, including the classic friction between parents and teens. Zen Master Thich Dieu Thien frequently reminds us that the ultimate goal is to wake up from False Mind, or said another way, to realize the truth about who we are, and who we are not.
You may wonder what’s the practical difference between navigating life from Awake Mind compared to False Mind? Look at it this way….In the typical family, how is everyday life? Adults and kids come home from work and school, tired, usually expecting this or that from each other, and often some struggle or conflict in there. It starts with a small thing, and if unchecked, it continues to grow. Then the next incident feeds it further. A stronger perception builds up and then we start to assume before anything even happens. The other person feels prematurely judged and unseen. We cannot hear each other. There is no space for others to speak. Our stock pile of perceptions and beliefs has become like tinted lenses through which we see things happen. We have started to see others as we are, as our created perceptions are, not as who they really are.
Now imagine a house where the seeds of Awake have been planted. Each person can recognize what is happening in their own mind and body, listen to each other, has space for each other. They can communicate easily and share about their day or their needs. Harmony is a basic foundation in the home. Sound good? This is not a dream or imagination. This is a real possibility. I watched it happen in dozens of families. At each workshop we could see the tremendous differences in the families since the previous workshop. The family members were happier, felt lighter and closer to each other.
Through the basics of what Zen Master Thich Dieu Thien teaches, both parents and teens have a chance to settle down and reflect on themselves. She often does this in very interactive ways, like teaching stories, live demonstrations, or activities. Combined with basic meditation practice, they understand themselves more, and automatically understand others. They are then able to soften, listen better, and communicate more clearly. With deeper understanding and improved communication, conflicts can resolve in a very natural way. And not just as a quick fix, but as a true change that allows relationships to continue to blossom for the long term.
In one of the first workshops, there was the situation between a father and daughter who lived in the same house, but had very little communication, many silent judgments, and a lack of understanding between them. Just, each going their way, day after day. As years passed, the gap grew wider. The workshop opened their eyes to the situation, and sparked a willingness to do things differently, as they realized the ultimate consequences if they continued to live like that. Each started to see some of the others’ perspective, each gave space, each resisted less. The result was understanding, ease and acceptance. Neither of them ever thought that would be possible, especially from attending meditation workshops! And even better, the daughter said she now felt comfortable to go to her parents with any problem that may come up in her life instead of trying to hide it or solve it without support, which could result in even worse consequences.
Throughout the workshops, two great ironies always appeared. All parents expressed how much they love their kids, and with deepest intention to give the best to their kids in every way. Parents make choices based on their own ideas, perceptions, and experience. However, those choices are sometimes different than kids’ ideas, or what the kids think is best. Without understanding and communication skills, conflict happens, and then blame and resentment. So what seems to be starting out from love can end up creating conflict, again and again. Why? How? How is it we constantly end up hurting the people we love the most?
The other great irony we saw was on the teens’ side. Deep inside, the teens said they love their parents, and would like to be close with them. Yet in reality the parents are sometimes the last ones teens are comfortable to talk to. In addition to that, they are the first ones that teens blame when they feel unhappy. Without the tools to bridge the gaps, the teens said they felt misunderstood, controlled by parents, and wanted to isolate and distance themselves from their parents, despite their original intentions to love and be close. And, again, how to untangle that mess?
But the fantastic news is that all these questions can be answered, and we don’t have to keep living with all the conflicts inside and out! There is a direct, practical path of practice that is sustainable and available to every single family, regardless of culture, religion, or any other factor. Zen Master Thich Dieu Thien teaches from her own realization that the Awake Mind is already within each person, like the sun that is always shining behind even the darkest of clouds, and we can return to that original Awake and live from there truly happy and free in any situation, disturbed by nothing. No family situation is hopeless,and also it is never too early to start the journey of bridging the gaps and building a solid foundation of understanding and communication that will last a lifetime. We hope you can participate in any of our upcoming programs, experience the changes for yourself, and share the benefits with your family and all families.