In today’s ever-changing world, adolescence poses even greater challenges for today’s teenagers. They not only encounter the traditional trials of previous generations but also contend with modern-day complexities, such as the pervasive influence of social media and the continually evolving online landscape. This article explores the hurdles our young people face and the reasons behind them. Additionally, it offers insights into how we can best support our teens during these tumultuous years.
Understanding the Challenges
The teenage years bring forth a multitude of challenges. We’ve all experienced adolescence and understand how demanding it can be, given the profound changes we undergo and the quest to find our place in the world. However, contemporary adolescents face even more formidable obstacles due to the rapid expansion of the online realm and transformations in the education system. As a result, adolescence has become more challenging than ever before.
While every teenager encounters a unique set of challenges, adolescence, by its nature, presents difficulties for all, regardless of their circumstances. In 2023, it is imperative that we recognise the critical significance of the relationship our teens have with themselves. While we often emphasise their relationships with friends, family, and teachers, we frequently overlook the most pivotal relationship they will ever cultivate—the one they have with themselves. This self-relationship is, I believe, more crucial now than ever before.
Addressing the Gap in Education
Regrettably, even in today’s world, our education system falls short in providing our youth with a crucial life skill—self-mastery. While we educate them in various subjects to prepare them for the world, modern times reveal that, without a strong sense of self-worth, self-esteem, and confidence, even the most educated youth may miss vital opportunities or grapple with unhappiness in various aspects of their lives.
As someone who faced challenges during my own adolescence, both within and outside of school, I approach this article from a particular perspective. In my current role as a therapist, I aspire to be the support I needed when I was younger and to share what I wish someone had told me back then. I firmly believe that had I understood how to nurture a healthy relationship with myself, I could have spared myself many years of unhappiness and struggles.
Understanding the Crucial Information
As previously mentioned, it’s all about the relationship we develop with ourselves. Throughout our childhood and adolescent experiences, we evaluate our value and worth as individuals. How we perceive ourselves during these formative years establishes the foundation for our self-worth. If these foundations are shaky, regardless of our children’s intelligence, they may lack the self-belief to transform that intelligence into something extraordinary, and, most importantly, they may not discover happiness in their pursuits.
For instance, experiences like bullying can leave adolescents feeling inadequate, unliked, and unimportant. Low academic performance can lead them to believe they are incompetent or failures. High expectations can nurture a sense of inadequacy. Criticism can make them believe they are fundamentally bad people, and so forth.
Once they internalise these beliefs, they start viewing themselves through this lens, leading to a multitude of challenges in their daily lives—self-doubt, self-criticism, worry, anxiety, stress, perfectionist tendencies, avoidance, social awkwardness, fear, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and more.
As a therapist, I frequently encounter a prevalent challenge in young people—perfectionism. I believe that social media contributes to this issue, as it promotes the idea that perfection is necessary for acceptance in today’s world. Perfectionism is the relentless pursuit of an unattainable ideal of perfection, often fueled by the fear of failure or the fear of not being perceived as good enough. These behaviours, though seemingly positive, are actually driven by anxiety and fear. It is a significant problem in today’s society that we should not overlook.
How Do We Help Our Adolescents Survive These Challenging Years?
Drawing from my own experiences and years of working with clients who have also developed unhealthy self-relationships during their formative years, we must help young people understand that how they perceive themselves will have a lifelong impact. We need to assist them in understanding that their worth is not tied to their grades, abilities, popularity, looks, or any other external factors. Instead, they should learn to value and accept themselves for who they are on the inside.
We should encourage them to focus on their strengths in school rather than dwelling on their weaknesses. Every child excels in something, and we should never overly emphasise their weak points. Instead, we should encourage them to work on subjects in which they excel. Doing so enables them to believe in themselves rather than reinforcing the notion that they are not good enough.
We need to help them to focus on the kind of person they are, not what they can offer or what they can do. While education, peer relationships, and family support are essential, if we aim to raise happy and healthy adolescents, we must help them prioritise their relationship with themselves. This self-relationship forms the foundation for their well-being. We should equip them with the tools to build resilience in challenging situations so they can process these challenges externally rather than internalising them as reflections of their self-worth.
It’s important to note that our teens don’t have to experience bullying or have a difficult home life for these issues to arise. Their perception of themselves in all aspects of life, heavily influenced by social media, can lead them to perceive themselves as outcasts or not good enough. This is a significant challenge we all face in the modern world.
How Do We Help Them?
We must help our teens become more resilient in facing the everyday challenges of adolescence. Here are some ways to achieve this:
1. Education in Schools: It’s frustrating that we still don’t provide the right education on this topic. We need to help young people understand mindset and provide them with tools to manage their own minds. Our brains are fascinating, and understanding their capabilities can help us build resilience and cope with challenges. Prioritising this education in schools could lead to better academic outcomes, as self-belief is crucial for success.
2. Communication: Encouraging effective communication with our teens is vital. Teens often internalise their emotions, leading to unfounded and untrue conclusions about situations or themselves. Allowing time for your teen to open up about things can broaden their perspective and help them arrive at healthier self-conclusions.
3. Emotional Intelligence: Teaching teenagers to identify and manage their emotions is crucial. Normalising their feelings shows them they are not alone in their struggles and enables them to develop skills in managing emotional challenges and bouncing back.
4. Problem Solving: Adolescence comes with problems, many of which can be solved quickly with the right support and know-how. Teaching teenagers effective ways to identify and solve problems as they arise can boost their self-confidence and resilience in coping with situations.
5. Parental Roles: Parents play a vital role in building resilience in our teens. Providing emotional support, setting realistic expectations (not too high, as this can be part of the problem), and maintaining open lines of effective communication are essential. Teens should feel they can discuss their challenges without judgment or criticism. Celebrating your teen for their character, not just their achievements, is crucial. In today’s world, we often focus on what we can do or how we appear, ignoring who we are on the inside. A key piece of advice for parents is to let your teen know they are valued, loved, and worthy for who they are, not just what they do.
Before I conclude on the importance of our parental role, allow me to share a story about Thomas Edison, one of the greatest inventors of all time. In the late 1800s, Thomas was asked to leave his school for being perceived as mentally ill and a challenging child to manage in the classroom. However, his mother had a different perspective. She told him that he was asked to leave the school because he was too intelligent for the school to handle and proceeded to home school him from that day forward. Many years later, he indeed became one of the greatest inventors in history.
Now, if his mother had told him the truth—that he was perceived as mentally ill and challenging—would he have achieved such greatness? We’ll never know for certain, but drawing from similar stories and our growing understanding of the power of our beliefs, it strongly suggests otherwise. What we believe about ourselves lays the foundation for both success and happiness.
I believe this story alone highlights the importance of our roles as parents in helping our children build the foundations for a happy and fulfilling life.
Adolescence is undoubtedly a challenging time. With all the changes in the body and brain, along with the expectations from school, peers, family, and social media, it’s tough for both teenagers and parents. However, what’s most important is helping our young people lay the foundation for a happy and successful life. It’s not just about getting good grades; it’s about their relationship with themselves.
We must assist our young people in becoming more resilient in a challenging world by helping them recognise their worth, their value, and accept themselves for who they are. If your teen believes in themselves and knows that their self-worth is never a reflection of anyone else’s opinion or what they can do, then everything in the external world will fall into place. It all starts within them.
For more information on how we can support you and your teenager visit www.mindyourfuture.co.uk