How Can You Make a Difference in the Life of a Teenager?

Recently there was a tragic suicide at the college that my granddaughter attends.  When I talked to her about it, she was devastated for the student and her family and worried about her friends.  In the days that followed there was lots of concerned outreach on campus and significant efforts were made to let the entire student body know about available resources for anyone facing challenges.

Whenever we hear of these kind of heartbreaking circumstances, we rightly reexamine our priorities and reaffirm our connection to one another.  We think about how we can help and what we can do better. 

Unfortunately, this tragedy was not an isolated event.  More and more teenagers and millennial’s are struggling to deal with stress and difficulty without the proper emotional resources and skills.

The statistics speak for themselves.  One report found that diagnoses of major depression are rising fastest for those under age 35.  In fact, just in the last five years, depression diagnoses have risen 47% for millennial’s (18-34) and 63% for adolescents (12-17).  To give you some idea of the amount of people affected by this debilitating illness, that equates to nearly  3.1 million adolescents that had at least one major depressive episode, nearly 13% of the entire age group.

Keep in mind that these are only the reported, diagnosed cases.  Unfortunately, there are many more youth out there suffering in silence.

Additionally, it has been found that anxiety disorders affect 25% of adolescents.  All told, that means that over a third of teenagers (38%) have been diagnosed with either depression or anxiety.  These teens are at a higher risk of engaging in substance abuse, performing poorly in school, and missing out on social experiences.

I don’t tell you any of that to make you anxious or depressed.  I bring it to your attention to give you an idea of the challenges our youth face and enlist your help in giving them the resources they need to live their best lives.

I think there are lots of things we can teach our youth that will help them as they face their challenges, but especially when it comes to depression and anxiety, I want to focus on three in particular: they are not alone, they are worthy, and they are powerful.

1. They are not alone – Life can be overwhelming.  As youth transition from childhood into adulthood, they can be inundated with fear, confusion, and worry.  There are many decisions to make and various pressures from home, friends, and society. 

In our roles as caregivers and counselors, we can help alleviate some of these pressures simply by being available emotionally and physically for our youth.  They need to be able to express their emotions in a safe place and share their feelings without being judged.  At this age, you might be tempted to constantly offer your advice or counsel, but it can be even more powerful if you wait and listen.  Express your confidence in them to be able to solve their problems and assure them of your unwavering support.  Whatever challenge they are facing, be careful not to jump in and take over.  A young person can see this as evidence that you don’t believe in them or trust their abilities to handle things.  Instead of trying to fix their problems, empathize and ask questions that will allow your teenager to discover their own solutions.  Some helpful questions are:

  • How did that feel?  Can you describe how you are feeling inside? The more you can have your youth name and identify the feelings inside their bodies, the less power the emotion will have.
  • What have you already tried to solve this problem?  Do you have other ideas that might work?  Would you like to brainstorm possible solutions?
  • If you knew everything would work out, what would you do?  Sometimes this question will help your youth see that they already know the answer, they’re just scared of what the results might be. 
  • What if there was no “right answer”—then what would you do?

Opening a dialogue that has no judgement and lots of expressions of love, can make a huge difference for a teenager.  They need to feel that you trust them and love them no matter what. 

Youth often feel isolated and alone even in social or family settings.  As humans, we each have a deep biological and evolutionary need to fit in with the rest of the pack.  When we are young and haven’t learned to overcome these instincts, the need to belong is especially strong.  Many young people worry that they are different than everybody else and maybe something is wrong with them.  Your unconditional love will make all the difference.  They need to know that no matter what, they always belong with you and that you aren’t judging them.  The more they feel this, the more they will open up and communicate with you.

2. They are worthy – As we grow and develop, and start to notice the differences around us, our minds automatically like to categorize and rank things.  We rank everything from other people to the best places to eat or our favorite bands or appropriate ways to dress or behave.

One of the most powerful things we can teach our youth is that people can’t be ranked because each person is inherently worthy.  We are each 100% valuable.  No amount of money, good looks, talent, ability, hard work, success, or anything else can add to our value or decrease our value.  It can be incredibly reassuring and empowering for youth to understand that they don’t have to “earn their worth.” 

We have a good family friend whose son was injured in an accident and lost much of his brain function.  He can’t eat or talk or walk or even sit up on his own.  The other day his mother got a note from another child telling her how much he liked Dakota, her brain-injured son, and how he was always smiling even though he “had some problems.”  When the mother read this sweet note aloud to her family, her four-year-old daughter, Navy, said, “What problems does Dakota have?”

His sister, a small child, couldn’t see any problems at all.  Her brother is 100% as he should be.  He is perfect exactly as he is.  In her mind, he shouldn’t be any other way than the way he is.  Somewhere along the line, we start to rank things and think that we could be better if we could change “x” about ourselves or if we looked like “so-and-so” or if we were different in some way.  What if we could see each other exactly as Navy does—without thinking that there could be a “better version” of them?

Helping our youth understand that they are 100% valuable exactly as they are, gives them permission to start to accept every part of themselves.  This will help alleviate many of the insecurities and anxieties they carry.  They constantly worry that they do not measure up or that they aren’t good enough.  We should help them understand that that is impossible!  There is no measuring stick or magic moment when you become “enough” or worthy of love—because you are already inherently whole!  The more we can believe that and live that, the better it will be for the youth we care about.

3. They are powerful – Finally, our youth have more capacity than they know.  Part of the problem our children face is that they don’t yet know that they are more powerful than any challenge in their life.  They feel like they are the victims of the circumstances and the people in their lives and the choices of others.  It is critically important to teach them that all their power is actually found inside of them—in their thoughts. 

Everything we do in our lives, we do because of how we think it will make us feel.  Our youth want to feel better.  They want to not be so scared or so worried or so misunderstood.  They want to feel love and peace and confidence and joy.

The trouble is that many of us have been taught that the things outside of us cause our feelings.  Things happen and we feel bad.  But not only is this not true, it leaves us powerless.  If we can’t change other people and we can’t change our circumstances, then it seems like we’re never going to feel better.  It feels hopeless.

The truth is, none of our feelings are created outside of us.  Every single feeling we have is created because of a thought.  Our feelings are only generated by our minds, by the thoughts we think.  When our youth truly understand this, it changes everything!  It puts them back in the driver’s seat of their own lives. Imagine what they can do when they gain awareness of this truth.  If they are feeling anxious, it is because of a thought.  If they are feeling hopeful or energetic, it’s because of a thought.  They are in charge.  They get to think and feel what they want and this will create the results in their lives.

Like you, at Grand Key Education, we believe in our youth.  We are amazed at their intelligence, their bravery, and their potential.  We also believe that most teens have not been given the mental and emotional tools to overcome their challenges and create the future they want.  They want to feel better, but in most cases they don’t know how.  They want to make connections with their parents and families, but too often they lack the emotional skills to express their feelings.  They want to have an amazing future, but for many this feels impossible and out of reach.

We have created an engaging and entertaining online course called Own It! that teaches the principles of how to manage our thoughts to take control of our lives.  The course gives youth real tools for identifying and eliminating negative thought loops and cultivating an ownership mindset.  They learn about self-awareness, the vital connection between their thoughts and their outcomes, and critical problem-solving skills. There is an important socio-emotional component that helps them identify and process their emotions in positive ways and it includes tools for goal-setting and achievement.

We call our course Own It! because that’s what we want for our youth—we want them to own their own thoughts, own their own feelings, and own their own results!  We believe that our youth have everything inside of them to have the lives they dream about, we just need to give them the right tools to access that power.

Click here for more information or to get your teen enrolled today!

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