I grew up on the back of a horse. It was my passion, my life and my study. To understand the horse is to understand everything and little did I know that it would be integral to my work later in life and it would deepen close to my 60th Birthday.
I had the privilege of watching Monty Roberts, the Horse Whisperer at work decades ago and he confirmed what I knew as a child. Since then many other horse whispers have enlightened the field and thankfully the horse becomes the teacher.
I noticed in my work with teenagers that when I applied the same principles I had learned from dear Monty, a beautiful trust and openness occurred. The relationship with teenagers demanded gentleness, honesty and spaciousness to develop any kind of trust and safety.
We have learned you don’t break a horse’s spirit as in the old paradigm of getting control over a horse but instead you join-up with them. This means with respect and grace not control and power. You command respect not demand it, which has a very different quality
You don’t go out and catch the horse that wants to be free and wild but instead you let them catch you. And most importantly you leave your ego at the gate before entering their domain.
The same is true with teenagers, you cannot control them and the more you try the more you alienate them and send them away. There was only one irrefutable rule in my household and that was respect. Respect was the pinnacle upon which everything else was built. After that I was able to say “yes” most of the time.
Teenagers have less if any desire to please adults, unlike the younger age group. They are sorting out who they are apart from the indoctrination they have received. Their programming and conditioning has racked havoc with their spirits and we wonder why they are known as rebellious. The last thing they want is for some well-meaning adult to inflict their pearls of wisdom upon them. Who said it is wrong to make mistakes anyway, to fall down the hole in the road as many times as is needed to become aware. Who said pain was bad?
Teenagers have their own destiny and our only job is to hold out a safe container to be available whenever they need us, so they can catch us.
Don’t give too much eye contact or too much attention – let them have their space but be there when they need us even if we cannot see it openly. Look for the subtle clues that say “It’s ok to say something kind to me…its ok to love and hug me….but not too much and not in front of my friends and please back off when I have had enough….
On one particular retreat, we had some of the roughest street kids. Some were coming off drugs, one young man was on his way to a detention facility. As they arrived I made a point of being around but not overly attentive or welcoming. One girl in particular had an attitude and clearly was incredibly angry at being sent to the retreat. I understand her mother bribed her with money and cigarettes if she would attend. She was there to kill time but not to participate and she made that painfully clear. I watched her for the first couple of days but at the corner of my eye, so as not to intrude. On the third day I could see she was curious – who is this women who owns this place? She’s not saying very much. I could tell she wanted to connect with me but I didn’t approach her. Then that evening at the fire pit, I sat down beside her on a log, still not engaging with her directly but simply sitting looking out at the fire. Soon she started talking with me and that was it. The join up had happened. From then on she trusted me and we created a strong bond and platform upon which we could build. It took a while in fact 3 out of the 10 days we were together but that was how long it took. During those 3 days she had created a lot of stress in the group but I knew if I took my time, I could really connect with her.
The clues are all there if we are aware. Opening pathways of awareness is what this work with teenagers is all about and I love it as much as I loved working with spirited horses in my early years.
How can we empower our teenagers to be members of the tribe without shame, blame or projection? Easy – do our own work first. Let them see our own vulnerability
Mentoring life-skills – truly make them a partnership in our homes, not slaves and not guests. We don’t do them any favours by doing everything for them. My daughter who is now an Equine Veterinarian had chores from an early age. She learned how to take responsibility for animals before and after school. Her work ethic has always been stellar even as a young child when she would ask me if it was time to go to bed. She was willing to work for her dreams. I never once insisted that she do her homework. Frankly I didn’t believe in it but she did. I never pressured her to do anything but always remained open to her path and what interested her. Many who know her would say I really lucked out with who she is and that would be true. I would take a little credit though for the fact that respect in our household was paramount. Which led to us being able to say yes to her often. Rather than no, no, no….which is what most kids hear.
There are many myths and particularly that we have to entertain our kids, otherwise they will get bored if you don’t have so many things for them to do. But is this really true? Do we really have to fill their calendars and drive them here and there after school for various activities? Perhaps we have lost the art of communication and co-creativity with the advancement of technology?
Doing chores together, cooking together, building together, playing together, crying together. Notice the word ‘together’. We cannot protect our kids from life’s emotional dramas but we can offer our support and love when asked for it.
We are not owners of our children or anything for that matter. At best we are privileged to have them teach us for a number of years to open our hearts and deepen our ability to accept reality. Being non-judgmental is very important and this will allow huge growth to flourish.
Horses and teenagers love harmony and though it may not appear that way on the surface, you may be surprised what a little tenderness and awareness can do.