Please don’t ask your teenager to ‘’be themselves’’
There is a terrifyingly high rate of anxiety, depression and a lack of emotional resilience in our children, youths and young adults today. Part of this, I believe, is due to the pressure on them to know where they fit into this fast-paced world of intense competition, superficiality and shallow personal relationships, where they are incessantly told they can be whoever they want to be and do whatever they want to do so long as they want it enough.
Teenagers are growing and developing in every way. Their characters are changing and maturing along with their facial features and bodies. They do not yet have a strong sense of themselves and adolescence is about exploring, experimenting and emulating as they develop into young adults.
Here are three simple ‘don’ts to remember when you fear for them and their futures:
Don’t ask them what they want to do with their lives. Take the pressure off them and let them not know. Encourage them to study the subjects they enjoy just for the sake of it, pursue hobbies which make them happy, take time to ‘chill’ and space to simply be.
Don’tadd to the pressure on them to be high fliers. Balance this with a belief that they could be deeply happy doing a more ordinary job well. Most people work at their career and it takes time and unpredictable turns. They can start anywhere, and will learn a huge amount from that first step, be it waiting tables, cleaning chalets or – yes - making tea.
Don’t ask them to ‘find themselves’, or ‘be true to who you are’ or ‘be authentic’. It just adds another layer of pressure. Within safe limits let them explore this in their own time. Most people don’t have a strong sense of ‘who they are’ until much later in life. Instead affirm their value as you see it, say how you love that they are caring, clear about right and wrong, interested in a range of things and happy.
Do introduce them to real-life role models who are relevant to their own lives. Give them accessible heroes to emulate and act as templates on which to build themselves.
Do listen to them and allow them to explore their thoughts and feelings, fears and self-doubts freely with you. They are on a journey, be alongside them.
Do give them firm foundations by loving them unconditionally and letting them know every day that (perhaps beneath some challenging behaviours) they are OK just as they are.