Being a teen has its ups and downs. Thinking back on my teen years, I remember many awkward and embarrassing details. Puberty was one of them, and along with adjusting to the new changes in my body, I was also trying to overcome the hurdle of not being a social outcast. In middle school and high school, there were cliques everywhere, and it was often hard to fit in. Everyone wants to feel that sense of belonging and no one wants to eat lunch alone. I think back and wish that my parents understood how I was feeling. As a parent of two girls now, I want to make it a point that we need to address issues like this with compassion, be there to listen, and help them feel secure in who they are by addressing their self-esteem. When it comes to teens, communication is key and there are many ways to get through these years together.
Since the core of communication is being a good listener, it’s important that we listen to our kids. Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we stop and realize that what kids really need is for us to just sit down and hear them out. Talking with our teens and helping them put things into perspective can provide a positive impact. They may be dealing with fears that are crippling their social skills. Fears of rejection, isolation, and loneliness are all common during adolescence. Figure out together what is an exaggerated feeling that may be triggered by these fears and what is actually happening. When we are able to uncover the core of their insecurities, we are better equipped to address them properly.
If our children feel like they don’t fit in, then maybe it’s time to create a strategy to help them make new friends. We should encourage our teens to talk to different people and be welcoming to everyone. Ask them if they want to join a club or participate in an extracurricular activity that will heighten their social skills. It’s also important to teach our teens how to become better at communication. Show them how to be assertive without being aggressive, and make sure they understand the difference. When they begin feeling more confident about communicating, making friends becomes a lot easier.
Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am,” and this lesson is something we should not only apply to ourselves, but to our children early on. For example, my girls don’t get very far when they put themselves down. They know better. When we enlighten our children on the dangers of the “self-fulfilling prophecy” and teach them how to overcome negative self-talk, we begin to help them change patterns of thinking and behavior that can improve the way they feel. We must also keep in mind our own self-fulfilling prophecies and practice what we preach because our own negative self-talk trickles down to our children.
Our kids are unique and we should always encourage individuality. Part of this is not projecting our own desires on them. I, for instance, was very good at theatre, but if my daughters show interest in athletics instead, I wouldn’t allow my ego to get in the way. We may encourage our own interests out of love, however, it creates deeper issues with self-image if we aren’t careful. When we connect with our kids about their own interests and encourage them in those areas, we’re helping them embrace their originality.
Many of these issues are very real to our teens. Keep in mind that there are many ways we can work together to help kids feel more secure in their social environment. Sometimes it calls for seeking professional help. We aren’t doctors, but we do notice when something is off with our children. When there is a suspicion of a disorder or mental illness, don’t hesitate – take them to a trained professional. Communication disorders, autism spectrum disorders, depression, and anxiety can all interfere with a teen’s social life and may possibly be a reason for their inability to “fit in.” Remember, if your child can’t deal with their peers, they’ll likely have problems relating to others as adults. Addressing all of the issues now will help eliminate a lifetime of unnecessary emotional pain.