Photo Illustration by Eugenia Loli

Planetary Help…On Teenagers

You wouldn’t necessarily think to look to Saturn and Jupiter for parenting advice, but the practice of astrology has some seriously amazing advice for parents and anyone else in the orbit of teens and pre-teens. Dr. Jennifer Freed, who has been practicing psychological astrology for nearly three decades, explains that there’s a unique source of age-old parenting wisdom in the ancient cycles of the planets. Her perspective on the teenage years is remarkably insightful, and while she draws on the cosmos, her recommendations to parents, teachers, and mentors are surprisingly grounded in the practical. Here, she explains how to set up children to enter their teen years as capable, giving, joyful young members of society; what’s actually behind the teen war against authority; and how what we’ve long considered “problem” behaviors present real opportunities for essential mental, emotional, and social growth. If there is an important teen or teen-to-be in your life, Freed’s outlook on the teenage transition is empowering and immensely valuable.

Transitioning from Childhood to Adolescence: An Astrological Roadmap for Parenting

Every parent I have ever known approaches rearing a teenager with a mixture of dread and voyeuristic excitement. How rebellious will they be? When will they have sex? How will I navigate their experiments with love and friendship? What illegal substances will they be lured by? What bursts of creativity and genius will they reveal? How am I going to deal with their hormones and moods—and mine, too?

We can learn a lot about the journey into the teen years by understanding the ancient cycles of the planets as they hit pivotal markers in every young person’s unfolding. Amazingly, the age-old wisdom of these cycles—which are called astrological transits—is as relevant today as it has ever been. Transits can serve as guides for parents in mentoring their teens across this important threshold of adolescence, while also allowing them greater freedom and responsibility.

The Jupiter Return: Ages 11-13

A primary transit at the cusp of adolescence is the Jupiter return, which happens between ages eleven and thirteen. The Jupiter archetype is the Seeker, the Teacher, the Meaning-Maker, and the Joyful Traveler. The shadow sides of this archetype include narcissism, entitlement, and debauchery.

The Jupiter return is a two-year period that represents the potential of finding one’s place in the family and community. In ancient times, this was always accompanied with rituals of initiation that ushered a child into adulthood and gave them important roles and expectations within their tribe.

During this Jupiter time, young people crave spiritual guides or teachers. Children in this stage are looking for sage advice about the meaning of their existence and why they are here. Modern education fails to address this need, instead emphasizing success and achievement but rarely delving into the soul’s quest.

Each soul is imbued astrologically with a map of potentials and patterns, which—if understood—can help each person maximize their strengths and learn how to disrupt destructive patterns in favor of healthier adaptations. Right before puberty, children are on a quest to know their inner “Harry Potter” or “Hermione.” They are, at this particular moment, primed for exploration of whatever brand of magic and imagination they can offer to the world.

As they approach the teen years, children need to start comprehending their unique gifts—the contributions they can offer their families and their communities. This is a unique time to shift from “What’s in this for me?” thinking to “How are we all doing? How can I help?” It’s a time for parents to move away from doing things for their children, and to begin thinking about how their children can do things for themselves. It’s a time to support children in starting to give more to their families and communities.

This is also an opportune time to help your child take relevant adventures that focus more on inner knowing and service rather than on consumption. Facilitate these experiences: Go together to help build a home in Mexico for the poor; volunteer together at the homeless shelter; attend a meditation retreat together that includes other young people and a lot of play; go to a dance camp together that highlights community and sharing.

Jupiter time is also about finding joy in life and learning about what actually brings us happiness. What can your child explore that does not rely on you or on money, and can bring them into rapturous experiences? Nature is one realm where this can happen, and that’s why nature connection is essential at this time—mountains, ocean, gardens, or forests. Children in the Jupiter transit are at an ideal stage to be supported in developing lifelong pleasure in nature.

Children who do not receive meaningful guidance at the cusp of adolescence—who are not guided to find a useful role in their families and communities, a sense of their unique gifts and magic, a way to tap into free, healthy joy—often enter adolescence with attitudes of entitlement and a vacant longing that makes them vulnerable to negative influences.

The Saturn Opposition: Ages 14-16

The next most influential cycle in a teenager’s life is the Saturn opposition, which occurs from ages fourteen to sixteen. Saturn represents discipline, authority, responsibility, and maturity; its shadow side can bring depression, righteousness, resentment, or stuck-ness.

When teens reach the age of fourteen, they have become ready to have their own opinions and challenge authority. This is a critical time to hone the fruits of rebelliousness—instead of the destructiveness of cynicism and resignation. Teens at this point need to polish their verbal swords and learn how to be constructive in their defiance of norms instead of being either too complacent or too arrogant and carelessly rule-breaking.

In order for teens to fully reap the benefits of the Saturn opposition, they need something concrete to test their skills against. Building an inner authority on a subject or skill is by far the most rewarding way to establish character during this phase of life. This kind of pursuit demands learning perseverance and structure. It cultivates the ability to fail and gives practice at resilience and recovery. A teen in this stage will either learn to give up too easily (“I just can’t do it”) or to recover from obstacles and setbacks (“With effort, I can do anything”).

It is the adult’s job to help teenagers set reasonable goals and establish pacing to meet those goals. The adult must be there to catch them when they fall or make a big mistake—but instead of coddling and supporting the child, or encouraging them to back off when things get tough or frustrating, parents need to help the child find healthy ways of achieving what they set out to do. I know far too many parents who can’t stand watching their teen struggle, so they give them an out. The underlying message there is: When you face a wall, just quit. It is far more productive and helpful to guide a young person in how to get the tools they need to scale that wall.

The last, most important feature of this Saturn cycle is learning how to deal with authority. Most humans aged fourteen to sixteen question authority, which is actually a healthy way to grow their own mettle and establish a robust set of values and beliefs. Many adults, however, tolerate what they see as casual rudeness, which is not only unacceptable, it actually deteriorates the teen’s self-respect. Adults need to address these challenges the same way they would if they came from a same-age peer, valuing the child’s input and ideas, but using the questioning as an opportunity to honor the child’s burgeoning knowledge and to teach respectfully from their own, wiser perspective. While not tolerating disrespect, caring adults should welcome this robust questioning from youth in the Saturn opposition phase of development.

Teens who treat adults with contempt are usually the ones who are suffering, alienated, or depressed. They lack true maturity and empathy. The trick: to encourage adolescents to combat injustice, unfairness, or parental inadequacies with direct yet compassionate communication. This is crucial in helping teens to develop the capacity for empathy, and to learn to skillfully, thoughtfully speak about pain, oppression, and unfairness.

If these young people are to grow into functional, satisfied, and successful young adults, they need to learn how to truly grasp the emotional and social context of others. This is the age range where programs that focus on social and emotional learning are priceless. If a teen can master empathy, can master a hard-won skill or subject, learn to challenge others with respect and dignity, and recover well from inevitable setbacks and mistakes, then they can enter the next phase of life (ages sixteen to eighteen) with a substantial, dependable character and a backbone that will assure ongoing resilience and social success. Teens who do not receive these skills during their Saturn opposition are generally the ones who are angry or depressed and self-harming. These are the teens who think all adults are idiots and have no real motivation to develop beyond their youth.

The Adolescence Trip

Yes, the trip to and through adolescence is filled with mystery, danger, and thrills! Yet, understanding the opportunities that the Jupiter and Saturn cycles present, you can navigate the storm of the teen years with confidence and curiosity. Nothing is more satisfying than seeing children become flourishing, capable young adults who are not only kind and competent, but who know their inner light and how to sustain it.

Jennifer Freed, Ph.D. is the executive director of AHA! which specializes in transforming schools and communities by focusing on peace-building peer-led initiatives.

Related: Astrology