Parents and teens, one of the best things you can do to alleviate depression, anxiety, and a struggle with identity and purpose is get a job. I know it adds stress in a certain way, but in my observations, teens who work have several things: 1. Increased confidence. 2. A better understanding of money. 3. Can talk to people with good eye contact. 4. Lower anxiety. 5. More friends. 6. A place where they belong outside school and home. 7. Discipline that isn’t coming from parents or teachers. 8. More realistic ambitions and goals. 9. A better sense of marketable skills when they choose a college major. 10. More purpose, which leads to lower anxiety and depression overall.
I know this isn’t a foolproof solution to every problem. However, it has made a huge positive difference in the lives of many of my clients. I think it’s worth a try.
I have dealt with two simple phobias in my lifetime, and both terrified me enough to significantly alter my behavior and well-being. One was a fear of sleeping at other people’s houses and one was a fear of vomiting. I will share about the fear of staying at other people’s houses because it’s a little bit more common for kids and teens.
When I was 8 I used to spend the night at Tracy Hall’s house. She was my best friend at the time. We spent hours imagining games, creating “newspapers,” and torturing our parents with plays we had written and acted in. One night I couldn’t fall asleep. Tracy always left Nickolodean on her TV throughout the night. I watched show after show. I saw reruns of all kinds of old programs where gak (sp?) was being dropped on families, Lucy and Desi were arguing, and whatever else you can think of. Eventually this not sleeping was making me anxious. I could’ve slept if the TV were off, but I was afraid to turn it off because Tracy (very bossy) had told me I wasn’t allowed to turn it off or she couldn’t sleep. When I went home the next morning I was an exhausted, emotional wreck.
The following weekend when I tried to sleep at Tracy’s I ended up calling my parents to go home. From then on it started happening no matter where I slept if they weren’t there too. It grew into an uncomfortable separation anxiety that was only quelled if I KNEW I could be home and in bed by 8:30pm.
There are two ways to overcome a simpe phobia. One is to rip off the band-aid, feel a flood of anxiety, and stick it out until the anxiety finally passes. The other is to face it gradually. I wish my parents had known about the gradual approach but after a few years of this fear, we went at it 100%. They told me when I decided to spend the night there would be no coming home no matter what. They made arrangements with a good family friend and sent me over. I cried, panicked, and had one of the worst nights of my life. Eventually morning dawned and I still remember how proud I was, “I’m over my fear of spending the night!”
How surprised I was when I went to stay at another friend’s house and I was afraid all over again. I couldn’t believe it! I was incredibly frustrated. My parents didn’t let me come home and I found it was a little easier to cope. It ultimately took 11 nights at other people’s houses before I didn’t experience anxiety any longer. If I went too long between sleep-overs the anxiety would start to creep in again. I had to inoculate myself by spending the night somewhere about once per month.
What I hope you can see from this post is that overcoming a simple phobia isn’t simple. I actually hate that term. It prevented me from staying at birthday sleepovers, sports team sleepovers, going to friends’ houses late in the evening, and prevented me from ever enjoying summer camp (although I still went).
When you or your child begins the process of facing a simple phobia you must be dogged about not backing down once you start the process. You have to be consistent and you have to do it many more times than you think. In this post I have given you the flooding approach, which is terrifying but effective. In the next post I will explain the gradual approach, which is much more gentle.
Academics overwhelm every teenager at some point. Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
One thing all adolescents have in common is that at some point or another school stresses them out. They are given an assignment that really stretches them, or have to make a certain grade on a final exam to get a passing grade in a class. Every kid runs up against a class where they don’t understand the material and feels completely lost. Middle school and high school can be a huge challenge for your kids.
Here are 5 tips to help your teenager cope with school stress:
Help them keep the big picture in mind. A high school grade or class doesn’t in any way define who they are as a person. The effort they make, and the ability to cope with challenges does define them. That’s where your focus needs to be as a parent.
Give them guidance on how to seek out the help they need. As your teenager gets older and older, you should do less and less of the actual calling/emailing teachers and tutors for them. Help them find the information they need to seek out help, but get them to do it themselves because that also builds character.
Help them learn to break problems into small pieces. If your teen is given a 10 page research paper, then it’s your job to help them learn to break it down. Help them make a check-list of steps that get the paper done. Kids who learn to patiently outline papers, research carefully, write a draft, edit their draft, and then turn in their papers get better grades. They also learn huge life skills about time management and planning.
Help your teenagers learn to pace themselves slowly. A teen who studies consistently for a couple hours per day is a better student than one who studies in spurts. It’s hard for teens to learn that there are days when they have no homework assignments, but they should still be working on school. If they take the time to work when there’s no work assigned, then they can stay ahead a little bit. This reduces future stress.
Learn to study in groups. It makes it more fun, and it makes it easier to stick with it for longer. If your child is stressed about how to handle a difficult class, one of the best things they can do is get together with a few of their friends who also have the class. Different students understand different parts of the material. If they work together they can help each other learn.
The bottom line is that school is overwhelming sometimes. It gets to every student from the 2.0 student to the 4.0 student. One of the best things you can do is to help your adolescent have a strategy. Recognize that teenagers aren’t always great at carrying out their strategies, so you will have to gently help them stay on track. It’s also important for you to recognize the limits of your child’s abilities. If your teen is working as hard as they can and getting a 2.5 GPA, then don’t push them to be a 3.5 student; they will start to feel like you are never satisfied with them.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Being a contented teen is a learned skill. Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Do you have a high achieving teen? Awesome! It’s so nice for those of you who parent teenagers that compulsively do all their homework, keep up in sports or other extra-curricular activities, and generally try to do the right thing.
These are also usually the kids who have a touch more anxiety than their peers. Sometimes they have quite a bit more anxiety. Teaching them to be content (but not complacent) is a tough task.
Contentedness means having gratitude for the gifts God has given you. It means being thankful for the body you have, your status in life, the family you have, and the friends you’ve made. It means knowing where you are naturally more talented, and not being mired in disappointment over the areas where you’re not. If you are a great athlete, but struggle in school, you embrace this. It doesn’t mean you quit trying in school, it just means you accept that it’s tough for you. It means you seek extra help when needed. It also means you don’t resent people that find school easy.
For the parent of a high achiever, you have a huge challenge. If your adolescent is the “typical” high achiever, then he or she expects to be the best at everything. Your son expects to be the best athlete, student, more popular, etc. Your daughter expects to be in the best shape, get accepted to the best college, and have straight A’s. Anything less causes your teenager to feel inadequate and frustrated.
Help your teen know their strengths. Help them develop those strengths. Help your teen accept natural weaknesses. Teach your teen over and over again that most people are good at a few things, bad at a few things, and average at everything else. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.
When I see teenage clients in therapy who are struggling with anxiety, the first thing I assess is how well they are functioning in life. If they are accomplishing a lot, but still not happy, we begin to work on gratitude and contentment. I use the counseling process to help them continue to cultivate their drive for success, but with a different motive. Instead of comparing to others and then feeling less than, I want the teen to appreciate their exceptional abilities, average abilities and weaknesses.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Hello, I’m Lauren! If you notice your teen struggling, you might be feeling helpless, hopeless, frustrated or concerned as a parent. Try to remember, there is hope. I want to help your adolescent feel better. My hope is for them to enjoy their life again. I want them to feel confident they can handle whatever situations arise.