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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.

Is My Child Addicted to Technology?

apple-iphone-smartphone-technology

“The last thing they need from us is to be shamed for trying to stay afloat on the only waters they’ve sailed.”

In a recent post, Three Reasons You Shouldn’t Call Your Teenager a Tech Addict…and 5 things you can do instead, Brad Griffin points out that addiction language can be damaging and desensitizing if we are not careful.  He writes:

“Young people are growing up in a world where digitally-connected media forms are all around them. This is the only world they’ve ever known. They are trying to figure out how to navigate that world, and they also happen to be drawn like sponges to most of what the digital world offers. The last thing they need from us is to be shamed for trying to stay afloat on the only waters they’ve sailed.”

Like or not, the reality is this is the world they know and live in.  It’s how they connect, communicate, explore, learn, relate, organize, etc.  If we are not careful about how we approach this subject, we will shame our way out of  this area of our kid’s lives.  If this is an area we want to have influence and restriction around, then we need to be strategic about how we approach talking about something that is so much of the fabric of their lives it drives us crazy!

Think about the last couple of times you’ve talked to your teen about their technology usage.  What type of language did you use?  What was the tone of the conversation?  How did they respond?

If you were your son or daughter, based on the last few conversations, would you want to talk more about the topic with you?

As much as it may pain you, if you will set aside your frustrations and take some time to come alongside your son or daughter to learn how they use it, what ways it brings joy into their life, what ways it can hurt them, and actually seek to understand — you will find yourself in a much greater position to influence and engage the topic in future conversations.

Not only that, but when’s the last time you looked in the mirror?  In the post, A Quick Look in the Mirror, I wrote about the story of my daughter racing to bring me my phone as if I couldn’t survive without it.  In that moment, I realized I was modeling the opposite of anything I hoped to be saying about technology in the future.  My ship was sunk before we even started the battle.

Brad points this out by sharing,

For starters, parents can turn the mirror toward themselves and ask questions about what their own behaviors model for their kids.

According to the Common Sense report, nearly 80 percent of teenagers report checking their devices at least once hourly, but so do nearly 70 percent of parents. Kids agree something is amiss here. Nearly half agree that their parents are regularly distracted by devices when teenagers are trying to talk to them. Half of them also see their parents checking mobile devices while driving, and while two thirds say there is a “no device rule” at the dinner table, about a third say their parents are likely to break that rule during dinner. Finally, a third of kids ages 8-13 say they feel unimportant when their parents are distracted by their phones.

It looks like we might all need some help on this issue.

I highly encourage you to check out the rest of Fuller Seminary’s post here:  Three Reasons why you shouldn’t call your teen a tech addict and five things you can do instead.  With each of the 5 “instead’s”, they offer links to helpful resources.

We’ve also written on how to navigate this issue here – Get Off Your Phone! A Few Tips for Restricting the Use of Technology and here – Raising Kids in the Digital Age

Practical Ideas to Help Your Child Become the Adult You Want Them to Become

Looking for something practical you can do invest in your child’s life?

Last post, Play the Long Game, I discussed the importance of having a long term perspective in parenting and introduced the concept of “Imagine the End” from our friends at Orange.  With that in mind, we want to give you some very practical ideas you can implement this month to help foster that growth in your children.

As a parent, it can be heart-breaking to think ahead to the day when your child packs up his room and leaves your house, to (hopefully) at least return for the holidays. At that moment, everything you have taught, modeled, and encouraged will be put to the test in the real world. That’s why it’s never too early to begin laying the foundation for the kind of adult you hope your child will grow into and the kind of relationship you hope to have after all the cheerio-smashing, music-blaring, curfew-breaking years have passed. Here are a few ideas to get you started…

Show Compassion.
“Compassion for others” is probably high on the list of qualities you want your child to have. And what better place to start than with an organization named exactly that? Compassion International is an incredible organization for you to use as a tool to teach your children about serving and loving others. Spend some time researching an organization as a family and decide on a way you will help this month!

Keep A Secret.
Imagine your kids becoming people who think of others more than themselves. Interested? At your next family dinner, ask this question: Who do you know that needs a little extra help or attention this month? Then think of one person (a family member, neighbor, friend, classmate, peer, etc.) per family member. But don’t let anyone outside the family know what’s up! Plan together and then check back in throughout the month to see how each family member is serving his or her secret person.

Bake A Tradition.
Traditions make a family a family (well, traditions and embarrassing photos – all denim photos anyone??). This month, pass on a family tradition by working together to make a dessert that grandma or a favorite family member makes. As you eat your dessert, talk about the importance of family and how sweet your favorite traditions are!

Mail A Letter.
Get your kids in the habit of “writing home” this month by giving each person in your family three notecards, envelops and stamps. Have each person pick three people who serve them well and write or draw a picture to say “thank you for how you serve me.” Talk about what you wrote as a family and send your notes in the “snail mail”!

Guess Who.
Bring serving home this month by encouraging your family members to serve one another. Put every family member’s name on a piece of paper. Then, draw names and keep it a secret. Challenge each family member to make their secret person a priority and make them feel special. At the end of the month try and guess who each person’s secret person was.

Not all of these will work for you  and maybe you have a better idea!  If so, go for it.  The goal is to begin to think about what you can do NOW in the time where you have your children under your roof to prepare them for the FUTURE under their own roof.

You only have so much time, but it’s amazing what you can do when you do intentional things over time!  What are you waiting for!?  Today is a great day to influence the next generation.

 

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