For a parent with a teen who is struggling emotionally, it can be difficult and confronting to deal with. I would often lay awake worried sick that I really did not know how deep the hole was: was it ‘normal’ level teen angst or were things far more serious? Was I missing ‘signs’? Was I overreacting? What can I do to make them be happy again? I felt powerless and confused, struggling to know what to do. How could I help? I could not sit back and do nothing...or should I?
There have been many reports in recent years that teenagers of today are more vulnerable to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. I am no expert on mental health but I honestly see a connection to what our young people are exposed to compared to our generation, and it makes sense to me that this could be having a serious adverse effect on their wellbeing. The level of exposure to negativity seems far greater than ‘back in our day’.
Never before have we, young people especially, been so exposed to so many terrible, hurtful, devastating events happening in our world and often in real-time. It literally live-streams into their lives on a daily basis. Back in our day, we might see a snippet of a news report showing selected images or if on the rare occasion, we actually read the newspaper as we turned the pages to find the funnies we might catch a story headline or two. But if we are honest, we could have easily ignored most of what was happening in the world if we really wanted to. I grew up with an element of blissful ignorance.
I recently spoke to a wonderful mum who was deeply concerned with the fact her tween was stressing about the family finances. It is not like this mum was oversharing information with her tween, but the young girl was observing and absorbing. She was stressing on behalf of her mum even though mum was actually handling the finance challenge quite well. I know many accuse the teens of today of being self-absorbed and entitled, but from what I have witnessed, there is a large proportion who are acutely aware of the shitty things happening in their lives and in the lives of those they love, and they absorb it all in. Imagine how a young person might be feeling taking on the pain of the world, not knowing how to process it or how to fix it.
The trauma of the world is not going to lesson in the near (or even distant) future, and we can not really remove this constant inflow of information overload without sacrificing the good, social and important parts of our very social media lives. Whether we like it or not, I am unable to foresee a future that does not still include social media platforms or the internet. So what can be done? How do we counterbalance the negative exposure for our teens? How can we help them to realise it is not their burden to carry? As with everything, it requires balance. We need to actively give them good to counteract the bad.
How often do you actively introduce positive and enriching things into your teen’s lives? For many parents, we are barely making it through not losing our shit let alone having the headspace to know how to counteract the world! But I believe there is a way to do this. When speaking with the mum of the stressed tween, clearly this young woman was a sensitive caring person who was observing some grown-up issues, not fully understanding them but absorbing none the less. Her mum could recognise that she may need to make some changes in order for her daughter to not feel that these ‘heavy’ adult things need to be her focus. So why not introduce her to some positive grown-up things?
I suggested an activity that was not hard and something that they could learn together: to explore the 5 Languages of Love together. By doing a search online, or buying the book and reading it to each other, or finding some podcasts on the topic, the task did not have to add to their already busy lives. Could this mum and daughter, through exploring a concept that focuses on how people show and on desire love, balance out the negative in the world?
The purpose of the activity was to introduce something deep, something emotionally mature, and something positive to contemplate and explore to a young person who was clearly overwhelmed by negative and ‘heavy’ things already. Counter the negative with something positive to consider and reflect. The 5 Languages of Love is not really that complex, it requires observation and consideration - a skill set any parent of a young person would like to see develop!
Through nurturing and thoughtful discussion exploring what actions/activities they would attribute to the 5 love languages, could they identify in themselves what language they used and what language did they seek? It is a concept that can give a huge insight for all in how they interact with others and one that requires you to focus on love instead of the barrage of hurt. How amazing will be for this young adult in training and her future relationships, friendships and working relationships be if she can recognise how others feel validated and loved and how they show it?
Other activities you can do with your tween/teen could be:
*keeping a Grateful for You journal - where you write things that you are grateful for or about the other person,
*going to the beach or a scenic walk where you actively observe some of the little things most people would miss,
*both join a facebook group like ‘Humans of New York” (or the equivalent) where stories of inspiring people are shared.
Whatever you want to do, the focus must be on inspiring, loving, nurturing, gratitude, and kindness - things that balance the negative they are exposed to.
Young people today might be perceived as selfish or self-centred, but there is no denying the statistics that they are also suffering. Instead of just dumping these things on them, we as the adults should be actively trying to help them build resilience by recognising the good in the world. We need to be supporting them through challenging times, not just lumping cliche generalisations on them. I do not believe any parent wants their teen to carry such heaviness in their young lives, but like me, many can be at a loss what they can do.
I hope that by exploring the strategies suggested in this article, you too will be able to find something to balance the negative that your teen experiences. If not, reach out and we can explore together.