Does anyone remember what it was like to be a teenager?
Did you become excited to transition from middle school to high school or were you mortified and overwhelmed by the new social expectations, the clicks, the groups, the harder classes, the choices you had to make and the pressures to succeed?
I remember – like it was only yesterday.
I look back on my own adolescence and see 'my cloak of darkness.' Maybe this is why I very much appreciate what teens are going through. The more I work with adolescents the more I remember what it was like to be 13 going on 30 or 17 and fearful of what will happen next - after high school. Most of all I remember just trying to "be cool!" While simultaneously worried I was going to fail or fall apart.
After working with a group of teenagers just today I realized things have changed so much, for example: technology, the cost of living and the criteria for getting into colleges. However things have changed very little in terms of what our young people have to deal with: peer pressure, bullying and academic stressors at school. During this time of hormonal flux and bodily changes, developmental stages force our young people to feel things they never felt before – in front of everyone. Acne, weight gain, awkward growth spurts, family conflict, academic challenges, dating, sports, band, video gaming, social media and drug experimentation are just some of the challenges teens face.
During adolescent development the brains of teenagers are pruning neural pathways they no longer use while readily reinforcing the ones they do. This is a time for taking risks and also one of the best learning windows, which doesn't always equate 'safety.' Now is the time to help the adolescent in your life find balance: help him or her weigh their decisions, by getting in touch with their honest values and standing up for what they believe in. The brain patterns and neural pathways they develop now and use - will form the 'adult them.' It will serve them in the long-term to be challenged in the right ways. The neural pathways that remain and flourish will be thankful for your precious guidance. During this time of push pull with the adolescent, they may reject your assistance but they are still aware that you are putting yourself out there when you take risks and ask, "What are you up to?" The challenge as parents is to accept the response might not be what we want or think we need. It can feel like a thankless job sometimes and therefore makes it easy to fall into the pattern of being over critical with our teenagers.
Thinking back to when you were a teenager: Do you regret not practicing piano - then forgot how to play by the time you were in your twenties? Or perhaps you gave up something important to you in order to stay in the ‘cool’ crowd. Did a small part of you die with that decision? Teens are under a lot of pressure to make these kinds of decisions every day. They probably cannot imagine their own parents as teenagers also going through similar dilemmas. They probably don't imagine their parents doing anything except being boring old people who tell them what to do all the time. We can help them imagine this by sharing our own stories and assisting them to reflect on what is meaningful to them. Most teens could use a sounding board to bounce ideas off but are potentially afraid to ask. I learned from some astute teens today that sometimes what is most important to an adolescent is also his or her biggest source of stress. If this is what they face every day then they need all the help they can get from all the people that love them to help them cope - with looming future goals and high expectations.
Another thing I learned just today – working with teens – is that self- forgiveness goes a long way.
This is easier said than done of course and each and every one of us could benefit from judging ourselves less; accepting ourselves more for who we are and taking bigger joy in some of our smaller successes. Everything is a process and patience is something a teenager isn't well suited to. They need help to see the bigger picture and need to be reminded that larger goals are a compounded accumulation of smaller goals and every small achievement counts!
I know this is hard to do even for adults. And sometimes life ‘is hard.’ But it is also a choice to live in the moment. Living the way we choose takes courage. Waiting for the end results also takes courage and it is a courageous endeavor not to judge our selves no matter what the outcome. Taking pride in the efforts we put forth is not always the message our children receive. This is a learned skill that doesn't just happen overnight. Teach courage. Teach patience. Dare to fail in the eyes of your teenager especially if the chosen endeavor represents success according to your personal values. Failure takes courage and also paves the way for future success - they are inextricably linked. Preach values over success and try to find out what is important to your teenager and help him or her do the same. I'm sure they have heard, "it is the process not the end result that matters." But how many times have they witnessed this so they can believe it?
Our world today is so 'success oriented' and the definition of process may elude some if they only see success as the accumulation of wealth and material gain. Another parenting challenge is to try not to let the need for monetary success stand in the way of the emotional needs of our children. Demonstrating being in the moment with family and forgetting about achievements for a day can be a refreshing way to reconnect. Take time out for some simple fun. Go for a walk on the beach. Ride a bike together. Go out for ice cream. Reach out to a teen in your life today. Teach them something new or just talk about life. Offer him or her support if they have questions. Forgive that they didn’t do something right or perfect. Ask, "Why do you think that is?" or "What was that like for you?" Give a child or adolescent the refuge of your HEART by just listening – without having something else pending on your time or an, 'agenda' you want to squeeze in.
You will be glad you did!
We all fall into the traps of being busy, rushing against deadlines, squeezing in one more errand or task. Our kids are absorbing what we do more than what we say. Their brains are learning the same patterns we set. They will become us or, 'anti-us' depending on their perceived values. In my opinion the greater goal is to give them the support they need to become, 'them.' Adolescents are receiving judgment as feedback from everywhere in their lives: peers, teachers, parents, the media, etc. Maybe this is training for the "real world?" But when the brain isn't fully developed and won't be until possibly mid twenties to early thirties, we can hardly expect them to respond as adults to all of these demands. And then it might benefit us to ask ourselves, "Are we really coping with all the stressors of adulthood?" What are we really asking of our teenagers today? To be something they are not? The world loads them up with stress and expects them to handle it. Would you want to live in this type of world? Sometimes we don't like what they do and maybe we blame ourselves too much. The trick is - even when we feel we are failing as parents, it is so important to let our adolescents know how much we love them - regardless of whether we love the choices they are making. They will make mistakes, but they are not the mistakes they make. They are learning, growing, confused, intelligent, awkward, sensitive, beautiful, conniving, rebellious, impressionable creatures.
Give him or her a hug today. You will be doubly glad you did!!
by Bonnie Cardell, LMFT
[THIS BLOG FIRT POSTED on June 6th, 2016 at http://marketstreetpsychotherapy.com/blog/hug-a-teen-today/. It has been revised from its original version to reflect the changing or elaborated views of the author.]
School can be the number one stressor for children, specifically adolescents and early teens (grades 5-8 and over). This age group is exceedingly vulnerable to peer pressures, clique formations, experiences of physical awkwardness and social exclusion.
This stress is compounded by the existence of social media and online bullying. This is so REAL for teens today that children who are still concrete in their thinking and who depend on the external opinions of others are attempting suicide due to overwhelming responses to vulnerable social media posts about feelings of stress, anxiety & depression. Our children can be targeted within their own social media circles when they post about such topics. Mainly because these circles can expand to people they don’t even know by virtue of the open connections they have access to: friends of friends, etc. In addition they might still be too concrete in their developmental stages of thinking to understand the personal repercussions of their online actions.
Through my counseling experience, one type of situation I have witnessed is bullying by association: for example a boy wants to bully his peer and slanders his peer’s sister, by making a comment about her which is sexual in nature. This young girl is not yet old enough to have experienced this sort of activity. However she is old enough to have an online profile. Comments made in jest in order to hurt someone can be toxic to an entire community. For example imagine chains of rumors and devastating remarks about this young girl start appearing in her social media threads because someone who was connected to both parties saw the derogatory post and boosted it. This undermining of her personal reputation devastates her. In such a situation if parents get involved quickly and intervene, they can counsel her through this crisis before it escalates further. This type of activity is common, it can be shaming and unfamiliar territory for the uninitiated.
Online bullying has also become such an epidemic that groups of peers will target a vulnerable teen and tell them to “kill yourself” as a solution to their problem. This could be considered funny (if you are a teenager) or sarcastic, or sardonic, depending on how one translates it. But if you are a vulnerable teen you may also actually be suffering from depression and by virtue of having a stressed nervous system have lost the ability to decipher what is real and what is a satire on current adolescent life. The dangers of “groupthink” are the underlying reasons for gang rape and other atrocious crimes committed by adolescents and adults alike. Groupthink has permeated our children’s online profiles. Our children are not sophisticated enough, nor are they equipped to deal with this kind of invasive, permeating stress. It truly is a more potent type of peer pressure they are dealing with today.
What can we do to help prevent this?
Safety is also a Primary Concern:
It is True – what they don’t know can hurt them especially in an online format:
Good schools offer programs to target online bullying, but this doesn’t stop it. The village mentality is the only way to wrap our children in a cloak of safety. I think it is fair to say too that an ounce of prevention is worth its weight in gold if one child seeks help before attempting suicide after an immature and temporarily insensitive teen or group of teens lash out in this way. When bad things happen to our children, everyone involved is a victim. This is a new problem our generation of parents has been forced to deal with. It is one that needs to be always monitored as it moves faster, changes shape and develops more quickly than we can technologically grasp. Many children these days know more about the computer and online world then their parents. All the more reasons to create a setting where families can talk about what goes on at school, in other social environments including sports, social media and online gaming.
Keep our children safe in 2017/18 – take some time to connect with teachers, school administrators, and community leaders and learn what others are doing to help children deal with the stress of school compounded by social media. Don’t be afraid to connect your children to a therapist, school counselors and other community mentors available to them for added support. Take some time over your extended holidays to talk about social media and create a safe space for your family to talk about bullying and or online bullying. You may be surprised what your children deal with daily. Don't judge, try to listen first. Then collaborate on some safety guidelines.
See Definition: Groupthink
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints, by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.
[THIS BLOG FIRST POSTED January 8th, 2016 at http://marketstreetpsychotherapy.com/blog/social-media-and-online-bullying/ and has been edited to reflect current changes bullying trends.]
by Bonnie Cardell, LMFT
When working with our teenagers, whether as teachers, parents, caregivers or healthcare workers, it is important to keep one thing in mind: What afflicts the adolescent is infectious, and we adults are not immune. We are all part of a system, which aims to nurture and protect our children. Recently, while cleaning my office, I stumbled upon an old Tarot Deck. Then I found myself reflecting on the symbolism of The Fool in the Major Arcana of the Tarot (Morgan-Greer):
One who is enthusiastic but inattentive to details, immature and carefree, yet pure of heart. In the Reverse: Poor evaluations, carelessness.
For me, the irony of the symbolic definition of The Fool lies in its mutability. It could appear the same whether viewing its positive attributes or the reverse. Especially from an adult perspective – the outcomes could be perceived as the same – tragic. This is where the real irony comes up for me when working with adolescents. It is in their nature to rebel and to formulate theories about the world and themselves in it. This is exactly what they are supposed to be doing. To the adult eye however, these theories may appear illogical, even dangerous. Yet experience has taught me, it is a more fruitful tactic to suspend current adult belief systems, including prejudices, in order to fully understand the teen-age mind.
The adolescent derives his or her own logic from life events, which have personal meaning and are important milestones in his or her developmental process; while simultaneously, in terms of cognitive development, they are moving from concrete ideation (early teen development, ages 11-15) to abstract understanding and reasoning (later teen development, ages 15 -18+) and the eventual ability to reason in adult terms. Before they have achieved enough life experience and concurrent brain development to think like adults, they cannot. And even when they can, before the brain is fully developed which isn’t complete sometimes until age 25, they are still subject to impulsivity. Therefore to view them with adult spectacles can be futile, or even foolish. Further if we recognize the infectiousness of the adolescent process and the idea that we are all involved in this growth pattern by association, we can then step back and dually realize we are just seeing it from different generational viewpoints. For example, not seeing the difference between innocent exuberance and neglect or carelessness can be the fault in our own efforts when trying to communicate with our teenagers. What the parent sees as defiance or behavior lacking in right motivation, the teen sees as something entirely different. Our job as caregivers is to bridge that gap.
Our biggest challenge as caregivers is the idea we think we know what’s best for our children. With teenagers this needs to be flexible because this is exactly the notion the teenager rails against. They probably don’t want to be perceived like us. And they certainly don’t want to be analyzed by our adult standards. The most common complaint I hear from teenagers when asked, is that they don’t feel listened to. And frequently when adults try to listen to them, they don’t feel understood. I believe this second part comes from the fact that as caregivers we have the teen’s best interest in mind but we forget they see the world much differently than we do. And we forget the infectious interconnectedness of our family system. Each member of the family system has the capability to behave poorly when challenged and stressed, even more so when there is a teenager in the house. This is due to the relentless challenging of our family values, boundaries and beliefs by our beloved teens.
This is where mindful-family-communication becomes most helpful. We cannot bring a teenager to understand what we have gained through more life experience than they have. This will only invalidate their current experiences and will be perceived as lecturing. This approach is not helpful, and in some cases damaging.
The best way to understand a teenager is to ask a lot of questions. And in spite of the urges we have to correct them or to prove how their logic is wrong or short sighted, we must try even harder to see it through their eyes. Understanding how they could believe such a thing or put observations together in the ways that they do is important. Acknowledging that his or her perspective makes sense and let him or her know we are willing to suspend our own beliefs in order to engage with them on their level is validating. They will in turn feel heard. Utilizing these few simple tactics helps build trust. If you are actually ‘talking’ with your teenager you have achieved something very special.
I have observed in my own parenting and in working with adolescents in crisis, that as soon as I superimpose my viewpoints onto their world and they are already testing my boundaries and logic, I have lost the battle. And I have probably sacrificed trust at this point. This tactic usually leads to quarreling where no real communication takes place or worse - isolation.
My best friend’s mother who passed recently was remembered for being a beloved high school teacher. She was committed to her job, her community and her views. During her celebration of life, it was brought to the attention of her friends and family by her eldest daughter that her mother achieved civility with everyone she knew, from every age bracket, employment status, class, and political party. She did this by keeping her beliefs in tact but never allowing those beliefs to get in the way of friendships – even if friends stood on opposite sides, politically, morally and so forth and she had a lot of friends. In fact during her celebration of life, the staff of the facility kept rolling in more tables because people kept arriving to pay their respects, more than they had imagined would attend.
One thing that made my friend’s mother very successful at friendship was that she devoted herself to learning as much as she could about other people’s views. “That way,” she was quoted as saying, “She not only understood her friends better, but she would be able to debate and defend her views utilizing their own language.” She was obviously very successful at bridging the gap. She was a true mogul in terms of bringing people together. She knew how to make people feel heard. She often reflected to them what she thought she heard them say and frequently asked thoughtful questions to clarify what she might have missed. In the therapeutic world we call this, reflective listening.
When trying to understand your teenager remember to embody a mindful and curious attitude toward your conversations. Engage and build trust. Don’t worry about who is right before you know what your adolescent is really thinking. In your heart of hearts you want to protect your children from themselves but remember they are going to rebel because it is within their physiological and cognitive developmental stages to do so. In other words – they cannot help it. Lastly, “the entire family is probably engrossed in an adolescent growth pattern.” Hang-On!
[THIS BLOG FIRST POSTED November 22nd, 2015 at http://marketstreetpsychotherapy.com/blog/teens-teens-so-near-to-our-hearts-the-more-they-retreat-the-more-we-part/ and has been edited to reflect current changes.]
Reading Resources for Parents of Teenagers:
The Teenage Brain, Copyright 2015 by Frances E. Jensen and Amy Ellis Nutt.
*Note - This resource wasn’t available when I first published this blog, so I am adding this as an invaluable text, easy to read and link below to purchase – I’m not receiving anything by recommending this book. I just believe we all need a guide when our children are at stake and this one will open your eyes to things you never considered and will make perfect sense when you reflect – enjoy!
Brain Rules, Copyright 2014 by John J. Medina.
SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Copyright 2008 by John J. Ratey, MD (Coauthor of Driven to Distraction with Eric Hagerman).
by Bonnie Cardell, LMFT
During my meditation practice today I thought of five things I learned from my ancestors and also five things I personally value, based on what I have learned either from my ancestors who tried to guide me or from my own wisdom and life experience. I decided a wonderful way to honor the Autumn and the change of seasons for me would be to take five minutes per day and think about these five values, and think about the actions I am creating in my life and whether I can trace my actions and my daily living back to my five most prominent values. I’m taking count to make sure I’m “living it right.” I’m hoping to leave behind what isn’t working and what no longer emanates from my heart.
If you feel you are winding down, feeling depressed, or just don’t feel motivated. Maybe your actions need to be reassessed for connection to your values. Try identifying five values you have gained in your life or from your ancestors, living or dead, and apply these to the things you do. Are they in discord? Do they match up? Taking count is one way to get back in touch with what is meaningful. We have the whole winter to contemplate what to do with this new knowledge. Then in spring we plant the seeds and begin afresh.
Taking count also leaves room for failure, because it is only through failure we learn how to succeed. This is life’s wonderful trick! As in nature, things may not be what they appear to be at first glance – even when we look them straight in the eye. It might be the perceiving eye has a blemish, or a blind spot for the truth. And maybe we cannot see truth until we know what it is? And if truth is ever-changing like the seasons, then surely we can forgive ourselves for what didn’t work and let nature take its new course. This is my new perceived understanding of, “TRICK-OR-TREAT.”
by Bonnie Cardell, LMFT
[THIS BLOG FIRST POSTED November 14th, 2015 at http://marketstreetpsychotherapy.com/blog/getting-in-touch-with-our-values/]