What messages are today’s teenagers hearing? Are they messages of support and encouragement from adults--or threats from society? Keep in mind that today’s world is much more complicated and stressful than it was 30 years ago. Teens are constantly judged or measured to a standard in school. Every ball game they play becomes a measurement of whether they will be successful in sports. They are told if they do not make perfect grades and get into a great college, they will not have a bright future. Teens are constantly being expected to do more and more--and it never seems to be enough. When do they hear the simple words, “You will make it!”?
Emotional poverty is a state of mind that teenagers find themselves in when they lack the ability to deal with specific circumstances or life in a healthy manner. Everyone struggles to deal with difficulty, but some cannot emotionally deal with difficult circumstances. They don’t feel positive about what lies ahead for them. They don’t feel anyone understands them. The future becomes a scary place where they may not want to go. They turn to escapes, such as drugs and partying, or they may just shut down altogether and become depressed. Emotional poverty leads to frustrations that can cause teens to drop out, or turn to violence, cutting and even suicide.
When individuals find themselves pessimistic about life in general--regardless of resources--they may be dealing with emotional poverty, vulnerability, isolation and intense emotional suffering. Emotional poverty is not limited to the materially poor. Anyone can fall victim to its brokenness.
Being poor is as much a state of mind as it is financial resources. It doesn’t take a rich man to encourage a child. It just takes somebody who believes in them. Years ago, adults knew how to fill a child’s heart with riches--no matter how poor they were. But many teens today are not surrounded with this type of support. It is very important for parents and caregivers of today’s teenagers to instill three ideas in every teenager by high school graduation. These include confidence, hope and worth.
Discuss emotions with your teenager and be sure to tell them the following: Emotions are normal. Feelings are not facts. Expression is the opposite of depression. You are at a stressful time in your life. It is normal to feel fear, frustration, anger, sadness and feelings of being overwhelmed. It is normal to look in the mirror and not like what you see. Remember you will not be a teenager forever. You will grow and figure things out. Give yourself time. Keep in mind that feelings are not facts. Just because you feel like a loser does not mean you actually are. Find a healthy, safe way to express your emotions instead of burying them inside. Try writing, crying, talking or exercising.
Teens want space to begin making their own decisions. They also don’t want to feel alone. Spend time with them. More importantly, spend alone time with them. This is not a time for delving into their lives. But rather, a time where you are just available if they need to share. Try taking a drive alone with them in a car or eating a meal together. Individual attention makes them feel important.
When kids are first learning to walk, they fall down a lot. Each time they fall, they do not judge themselves as a failure. They just stand up and take another step until they accomplish their goal of walking. This is what winning is all about. Confidence comes when people do things they have never done before. The key is to not judge yourself when you fail. Just keep getting back up until you get what you want.
Everybody has unique gifts and talents. Urge teens not to compare themselves to other people. Help teens find their interests and follow them. Let them know what you think is special about them. Tell them they can never be a let down in your eyes. Their acceptance in your eyes is unconditional no matter what. Do nice things for them from time to time just because you love them--and not because they had to earn them.
Let teens know that life is like a jigsaw puzzle that comes together one piece at a time. They do not need every answer beforehand. Encourage them to follow their interests and see where it takes them. Let them know they always have the right to change their mind. When they learn to match their talents with their dreams, things will fall in place. It just takes awhile to put the pieces together. Above all, let them know that you believe in them and they will make it.
Teenagers hate being compared to other people--good or bad. This is the time in their lives when they are seeking their own identity. The quickest way to turn them off is to compare them to someone else.
If teens want to sign up to compete in some activity, that’s fine. But never let them feel like their worth is dictated by whether they win or lose. The number one statement they love to hear from their parents is, “I love to watch you play.” This gives them a feeling a worth for who they are as a competitor.
The teenage years are a time of constant judgement from self and others. Recognize this and try to avoid judgemental statements if possible. If they become too hard on themselves, lighten the mood with humor or realistic expectations. Make coming to you a safe harbor, where they can hang out and not be judged or criticized.
Many times, teens feel no one understands them. Make time to do things they are interested in as a way of showing respect for them. Sometimes, parents do things they are interested in and expect their teens to follow them. While it is a sacrifice to leave your interests behind to follow them, this sacrifice shows you care for them as individuals.
Things can happen in life that are out of our control. Medical advice is necessary. It can be dangerous to diagnose from a computer website. Seek out a professional you trust and listen to what he or she says. It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help as you deal with your teen.
Life for teenagers today is similar to a complicated car engine. It feels like a complex maze of wires and parts. It is a complicated machine requiring an expert mechanic. Society in general has made growing up a more complex challenge than it was 30 years ago. That being said, if we as parents and caregivers can instill the necessary tools of confidence, hope and worth, our teens will find themselves with the tools they need to successfully meet the challenge.
More expert advice about Raising Teens
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