The Zen Habits of Teen-agers

Post written by Leo Babauta.

How do you improve your life and find happiness when you’re a teen-ager, and can’t control much of your life?

You change what you can control, and let go of trying to control everything else.

Several teen-agers have written to me recently, asking for a post on how to improve their lives when they’re still under their parents’ control.

It’s not easy, I’ll admit. But there’s a lot you can do, no matter what your situation.

For example … if your parents are constantly getting mad at you, constantly negative, constantly controlling your life and not letting you do what you want to do, how do you handle that?

Try this:

Look at every interaction with your parents as an opportunity.

It’s an opportunity to practice patience.

It’s an opportunity to empathize and find compassion for others.

It’s an opportunity to let go of your expectations of what others should do.

It’s an opportunity to stop wishing things were other than they are.

It’s an opportunity to be grateful in the face of frustrations.

I know that it’s frustrating when you can’t do what you want to do. Teen-agers are rapidly becoming adults, and yet they’re not given the freedom, the respect, the rights of adults.

As a side note, this seems wrong to me. Why don’t we give teen-agers the freedoms of adults? I know most of you will have reasons, but say them out loud … and then think of how you’d feel if your spouse or friend used that as a reason to deny you of freedoms. And think of how those same reasons were used to deny minorities and women those same freedoms, not too long ago.

Anyhow, this is the world we live in. So how can teens cope with this? Some suggestions:

1. Stop trying to change what you can’t. You cannot change your parents. You might be able to change your situation with drastic moves, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Instead, let go of the wishes you have that things were different. Things aren’t different, and wishing they were different just leads to frustrations. Accept things for what they are, see people for who they are, and work with that reality.

2. Figure out what you can change. Even if you have few freedoms, there are always small things you can change. Can you spend a few minutes doing sitting meditation? Can you eat more fruits & veggies? Can you walk more? Can you watch less TV and find a few minutes to create? Can you blog? Can you do some pushups in your room? Can you learn to be more grateful in every interaction with others? Can you slow down a bit? Can you smile more? There are lots and lots of small changes you can make, even if you can’t make the big ones you’d like to make.

3. You can always change your mind. Learn to live in the moment. Learn to be mindful of your thoughts. Learn to squash negative thinking. Learn to see the opportunities in everything. Learn to see mistakes and failures as an opportunity to learn and improve. Learn to be grateful, and compassionate, and kind.

4. Learn to live without control. If you don’t control much of your life, guess what? You’re like the rest of us. We only think we have control over our lives, but it’s an illusion. Instead, learn to give up that control, and deal moment to moment with what comes.

I’m no longer a teen-ager, so what I say might seem irrelevant, presumptuous. But I was a teen-ager once, and I am the father of three teens (and one pre-teen). I am a brother to two teens and uncle to many more. I do my best to show them respect and compassion, but know that they still feel frustrations. If they could learn these few lessons, they’d be far ahead of most people.

Post-script: A reader suggested I add a caveat, which I hadn’t thought of: teens who are in living situations involving physical or sexual abuse need to tell someone and get help. This isn’t in contradiction with my advice actually — it’s learning that you can control bad situations by getting help from others.