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Category: adolescence (page 1 of 12)

Something Your Teen Needs, But Doesn’t Realize It

I’ve noticed something in working with middle and high school students and I’m beginning to see it’s consequences.

It’s something they need, but they don’t know they need it.  In fact, they think they have this skill, but I would argue most don’t.

What is it?  It’s this – they need to know how to be alone and be “ok” with their own thoughts, feelings, self.

They don’t and it’s a problem.

I recently visited with a licensed counselor that works in a local high school.  She explained that she recently moved to work with high school students because of her experience working with college students.  She would meet students over and over again, who had graduated from high-achieving high schools, who kept a great appearance, who were well-liked, who were considered popular/successful in high school…

…but were visiting a counselor because they were floundering in the early stages of college.  She attributed this problem to the fact that they don’t have basic coping skills nor do they have the ability to truly confront issues/problems/hard things in their lives.  A lot of those skills come from being alone, reflecting, and working things out on our own.  Teens are not every truly alone anymore and therefore not developing basic internal resources and skills.

We need to pay attention to this.

DISTRACTIONS ABOUND

We live in a very connected world and I’m afraid students don’t know how to turn it off.  Everyone has their favorite distraction.  I can’t tell you how many times I unnecessarily check my phone.  It seems as though I’ve trained my brain that anytime I slow down…or complete a task…or need to think about what to do next… equals – I should check my phone!  “Maybe something new has happened since I last checked it”, I tell myself.

Honestly, there is nothing that productive or beneficial that comes from this.  What am I truly going to accomplish on my phone at a stoplight?  

For your teen, it may be getting lost in snapchat or instagram, it may be scrolling through spotify for new music, it may be a netflix binge, but whatever it is – it is a distraction from being alone with their own feelings, thoughts, self and it’s a problem.

The high school counselor shared she often has students do an exercise where they imagine they are on a plane for 8 hours with no entertainment.  No phone.  No wifi.  No computer.  What thoughts would come into your head?  What would you do?  She said, this often produces a lot of anxiety in the student.  That should tell us something.  It is usually during this exercise that students realize that they are never truly alone and truly have no idea what they would do.

This was the same realization those college students came to when they sought her office at the university level.  We are seeing similar things in our impressive high school students as they head off to college.

In a connected world, full of distractions, it’s easy to ignore a conflict.  It’s easy to avoid something difficult.  It’s easy to project feelings elsewhere or get a shot of dopamine from social media or a netflix binge, but when it’s all over the issue is still there.  We can’t always run from difficult things.

PARENTS, THIS IS WHERE YOU COME IN

I appreciate Dr. Williams thoughts here:

 We’ve all encountered struggles that felt bigger than us. And we all develop our own ways of managing emotional pain, shame, and regret. When faced with difficult circumstances, it’s very normal to look for ways to cope.

Over the years, parents have verbalized their uncertainty regarding how best to assist their teen as they navigate the ups and downs of life. Being a teen today is tough. Teens face increasing expectations.  All of these expectations can and do cause internal pressure. Some teens are able to successfully navigate these waters. Others may flail or buckle under the pressure. It’s a normal human experience to want to escape reality.

When any of these behaviors become a way to DISTRACT, NUMB, or AVOID facing hard circumstances or prevent others from seeing our real selves, it can lead to feeling stuck and disconnected, which can cause us to spiral into more destructive behavior.

What’s the remedy when our teens feel stuck or disconnected?
Engagement.

The more we can teach our children to deal with (and not run away from) life’s challenges, the better they will realize their own unique capabilities, which fosters resilience and a sense of autonomy.

A parent’s task in helping avoidant teens is further complicated by the contradictory impulses of teens. They want us around, and at the same time, want us to go far away. The research is, however, clear. Parents are powerful pillars of influence in their teens’ lives!

Below are five ways that will help you recognize when your teen may be feeling stuck, as well as ways you can help them get unstuck.

1. Watch for warning signs. Some “stuck” teens will display difficulty concentrating and low motivation. They may be irritable, negative, easily frustrated, or prone to outbursts. Some overachieving “stuck” teens may be highly sensitive to criticism and begin to withdraw from family and friends. Since some of these signs are a part of normal adolescent development, it’s important to note what appears to be a departure from your teen’s typical pattern of behavior.

2. Initiate the conversation. Demonstrate casual interest by asking questions and reflecting on what you’ve heard. Teens can tell the difference between questions that show interest and ones that simply appear nosy. Be present but not intrusive. One conversation starter could be: “It’s normal to feel overwhelmed. I know that you want to do well (in school/sports/making friends), so I’m sure that you might feel some pressure at times. You’re not alone. I’m here if you ever want to talk about it.” Your teen may not open up initially. The key, though, is making yourself available for when they’re ready.

3. Be open. Sharing your own struggles with distractions and avoidance may help your teen better cope with their own situations (See below for an idea of how to do this this week!). For many parents the thought of disclosing their own teenage antics is a nightmarish proposition. However, research suggests that parents who have an open, warm, and nurturing relationship with their children can help them buffer stresses that can otherwise be destructive. Your teen may not show deep interest or ask many questions. Don’t worry . . . they are listening.

4. Stay tuned in. As a therapist, I can’t emphasize how important it is to plug in to your teen. What does that mean? Get to know their musical tastes, favorite artists, and even purchases. Know the names of their friends and their enemies. Regarding social media, I’m an advocate of intermittent parental monitoring. This one is tricky—teens also need some degree of privacy—but it’s a parent’s responsibility to know what’s going on. The content you discover may clue you in to ways to better connect with your child, or it may alert you to signs of stress. As parents, we must plug in to this important aspect of teen social life. Don’t tell my teens I said that.

5. Seek Professional help. Part of our job as parents is to help our children find resources to be successful. Those could include a school counselor, therapist, or trusted church leader. Remember that there are many avoidant behaviors that are simply a part of adolescence. It’s helpful to consult with a professional who can assess the severity and offer assistance. One technique that I like to teach is “mindfulness”—it’s is ideal for decreasing distressful thoughts. The ability to disrupt a cycle of negative thinking is crucial for optimal mental health and can help teens to plug in, to get “unstuck.”

Whether or not they tell you or show you, your teen values your engagement. What are some ways that you can engage with your teen this week?

Dr. Chinwé Williams is a licensed counselor in Roswell, GA. For more from Dr. Williams and other resources for parents of teenagers, visit TheParentCue.org.

TRY THIS

Whether your teenager is facing a challenge right now or whether you just know they will in the future, one thing we can all do to help our students cope with challenges is to model the way.

We can show them what it looks like to face a challenge instead of avoiding it.

Think about one area where you’re tempted to avoid or escape instead of “dealing” with it. Maybe you’d rather shop online than think about work. Or maybe work is the escape for a complicated situation at home. Maybe it’s easier to scroll through the news than to look at your budget. It doesn’t have to be something serious or dangerous—just one way you are personally tempted to put off dealing with real life.

This week, share that with your teenager. Maybe in the car you say . . .
• Hey, you’re not going to believe this, but I just deleted the Facebook app from my phone. I would catch myself scrolling every time I was mad just to avoid having a conversation.
• Hey, I know this probably sounds crazy to you, but I just realized I’ve been staying late at work because it means I won’t have time to go to the gym. Today I’m setting an alarm to leave on time so I can work out.
• Hey, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I have a bad habit of _______ to avoid dealing with _______. So I’ve decided to start working on that by setting up an appointment with a mentor/counselor/ doctor/coach.

It may feel a little awkward to admit feeling stuck in front of your teenager, but when you do, you’re giving them the tools and the courage to move forward in whatever they’re facing.

Speak Life. They need it.

pexels-photo-106258

I had no idea that was going on behind the surface.

Most of us are too afraid to actually be vulnerable with one another, but on this night over 60 high school students decided to let their guard down and be real.

We know developmentally that high school students are right in the middle of searching for identity and figuring out who they are.  We know that their brains are not fully developed in the area of decision making.  So, of course, we expect the teenage years to bring moments of trouble, hurt, mistakes, high highs and low lows.

It’s part of adolescence.  It’s part of growing up.

That night we asked the high school students to trace their hand on a sheet of paper and write one thing they needed help (anonymously)  with on the open palm of their hand.  We then taped these hands to the wall and they went around and prayed for each other.

As I moved around the room, I realized that there is more going on than you think.

These are put together, physically fit, intelligent, social — the type of kids you’d expect to be on top of the world.  But beneath the surface they are all hurting in very real ways.

Parents, my encouragement to you today is to take a moment in the coming week and look your son or daughter in the eyes and speak life into them.  Speak over them words of identity.  Speak over them words of what you see in them.  Speak over them the joy it is to know them.

I encourage you to give them space to share what’s going on.  Look them in the eyes, with your full attention, and ask them how they are doing.  Don’t dismiss what they share as trivial (even if it is!), because your attention and reaction on the small things will open the door for more vulnerability in the future.

You have more influence than you think!

This part of growing up  — so don’t be surprised by it, but don’t let it pass by.  There is an opportunity to shape the heart, mind, soul, and future of your child.

If you were to stop right now and write down some words of identity or significance for your child, what would they be?

Now make a plan to share it!  Speak life.  As I learned that night, they are desperate for it even if they hide it really well.

 

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Here’s a related post for further reflectionSpeak Up! You Might Change Their Life.

Hope vs. Fear

“Every decision we make today will be driven by fear or love.  Who we toss the keys to determines a lot about the destination.”  –Bob Goff

Several years ago a good friend of mine gave a talk on parenting out of hope, as opposed to parenting out of fear and it has stuck with me.  I didn’t have kids then, but I knew I needed to remember this message.  At the time, parenting out of fear was easy to dismiss, however I knew enough about parenting to realize fear can be a constant companion.  Now that I’m a parent, I know that a lot of time is spent worrying about the big and meaningful and small and trivial.  It’s easy to get caught up in worrying about our kids.  It’s easy to begin to parent and make decisions based on that worry or fear.

Think about it.  What emotions do you experience when you anticipate any major milestone in your child’s life?  First steps.  First day of school.  Last day of school.  First taste of failure or rejection.  Dating relationships.  Driving.  College.

You get the idea.  There can be a lot of worry, anxiety, and fear in these situations.  Do these emotions drive your response?  Do you quickly rush in to build fences of protection?  Are your actions motivated by fear above all else?

Helicopters and Lawnmowers

In our culture today, there’s a reason many parents are described as “helicopter parents” who monitor and watch over their child’s every move (“How helicopter parents are ruining college students”).  Or, even worse, “lawnmower parents” who mow over any obstacle in their kids path (“Don’t Be a Helicopter Or Lawnmower Parent”).

But, what if we didn’t let fear rule the day?  What if we decided to adopt a posture of hope for our kids?  Instead of spending anxious energy worrying about possibilities that may exist “out there”, what if we began to pray our hopes and our dreams for our kids in these situations?

When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to go on a trip with a small group of people.  It was incredible opportunity to spend a week with my youth pastor, the director of a large Christian summer camp, and other men and women who would have a huge impact on my life.  It was a chance to do something significant that would change my worldview.  It was a chance to have a formative experience in the this great big world we live in.

The problem for my parents was that it was in a third-world country where my safety could not be guaranteed.  A country where our car might be surrounded by a large crowd at the airport (which it was) or where I would find my self in the presence of automatic weapons often (which I did) or where we would be taking a picture of the beautiful countryside and then get rushed into the bus because we were no longer safe there and needed to leave quickly (which happened).

My parents had a lot to be afraid of and plenty of fear and worry, but they allowed me to go.  They chose to adopt a posture of hope.  They chose to hope that this trip would expand my heart for God.  They hoped it would be a trip where I rubbed shoulders with adult men and women who were following Jesus with all they had.  They hoped I would see poverty up close and understand more about God’s heart for the orphan and the oppressed.  They hoped I would go on a great adventure and it would plant a seed to continue to follow God into the tough places and be a light to those in need.

It was their hope, not their fear, that came true and that trip remains a significant part of who I am and my faith journey.  If fear ruled the day, my parents would have been seen as reasonable and responsible parents.  No one would have faulted them.  But I wouldn’t have experienced the growth and transformation that trip allowed.  This trip shaped my high school years and ultimately my future.  I’m thankful for their courage.

Echoing Jesus’ Prayer

Recently, I came across Jesus prayer in John 17 and decided to adopt it for my own kids.  As Jesus’ time on earth is coming to an end, he prays for those he will be leaving behind.  Jesus knows what is out there and what they will be up against.  He knows the dangers of the world and desires to protect those he loves.  Knowing this he prays:

“Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name…my prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one.”  John 17: 11, 15

For my kids, my prayer is that they will engage the world and be a light of God’s love to those they meet.  In order to grow into the strong, courageous person that requires, I have to let go of control.  I have to take risks.  I have to allow them to fail.  I need to give them space to grow and explore.  Is that going to be easy?  It’s not proving to be.  But when I step back and imagine the end (my little girls as adults living in the world), I know the answer lies in hope not in fear.  God, give us the courage to trust you, cultivate hope and smother fear.

What does it look like for you to echo Jesus prayer for you kids?  What protections do you need to trust God for?  What ways do you need to allow them to stay in the world and engage?  In what ways are you doing God’s job of protecting and need to take a step back?

There will be a part two to this post coming soon with some practical thoughts on this can play out, but until then:

Who are you giving the keys to –  fear or hope?

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