Everyone has voices inside their head. No, not those kind of voices. The voices that cheer us on or hold us back. Oftentimes these two opposing ways of thinking are personified as the Captain and the Saboteur.
This is (very) true for your teen, as well. They have thoughts that encourage them to be who they ultimately want to be. These come from the Captain. Then, they have thoughts that tell them they are not good enough and will never make it. These come from the Saboteur.
Choosing to listen to one or the other is a battle your teen has to do on their own.
As their parent, your teen will consciously or subconsciously assign you to be on either the Captain's team or the Saboteur's team. Obviously, you want to be picked for the Captain's team.
But desire and reality don't always align.
What team do your actions and words put you on?
Every interaction, especially when the stakes are raised for your teen, will put you farther on one team in your child's mind. This can be tricky when you feel your teen is making a wrong or harmful decision.
Despite the best intentions, parents can often end up deep in the Saboteur's territory. When your teen visualizes you as wearing the wrong jersey, it becomes very difficult to reach them and affect any change. After all, if you're on the enemy's team you can't be coaching the home team.
To be their Captain when your teen is sailing through troubled waters, do these two things:
1) Accept your teen right where they are. The Captain can live in the paradox of knowing that wherever their teen is is exactly where they need to be on their journey while simultaneously wanting more from them.
2) Don't just love them unconditionally, let them know that you love them unconditionally. The power of unconditional love is lost if they can't see it. Communicate with them in words and actions that you will be there to hold and guide them with patience and compassion.
What a Parent Can Do
Focus on the good you see in them
Acknowledge when they try
Praise them for their small victories
Don't lay down ultimatums or compare them to others
Avoid implying you wish they were different
In order to be their Captain, you need to view them as the Ultimate Captain views them; with perfect love.