Some Simple Advice for Tweens and Teens
I have had the privilege of counseling tweens and teens for 20 years. The tween and teen years are filled with ups and downs and hormonal changes. Within a day, or even an hour, you can experience fluctuating excitement and dread, confidence and self-doubt, and anxiety and wonder, all while trying to find your way. Keeping a few ideas in mind can help you not only survive, but THRIVE through these years. Here are 12 simple ideas.
- Take your time
When someone asks you how old you are, how often do you start with, “I am going to be…”? It is natural for kids to look in to the future and wonder what is next, or to watch older siblings go through milestones with excitement. But when you are constantly focused on the future, you miss out on what you are going through RIGHT NOW. Yes, certain privileges come with age, and you WILL get there. But what you cannot do is go back in time. So focus your energy instead on enjoying right where you are.
2. Chin up, shoulders back, and smile
The way you carry yourself can really have an impact on how you feel. Smile when you don’t feel like smiling. I’m not suggesting ignoring or suppressing your feelings. I’m just suggesting that smiling gets more of a positive reaction out of others when you might be feeling crummy and need it most. So if you’re having a bad day or just feeling sad, instead of walking with your head down, try lifting your chin up, and smiling at others. A simple smile back from a friend may make you feel better, and be just the shift you need to have a better day. Also, studies show that even a forced smile can trigger the release in the brain of serotonin, which increases relaxation, and dopamine, which boosts mood!
3. Maintain a sense of humor
Humor simply makes life more enjoyable, makes problems feel less daunting, and is another way to connect with people. Try to remember that the situations and moments that are embarrassing and feel terribly awkward today will be the very moments you look back on and laugh at.
4. Remember that you are not alone
Part of why children can feel terrible is because they feel like they are the only one feeling a certain way. The only one who has self-doubt. The only one who did not do well on a test. The only one not invited to a party. The only one who does not have it all together. Remember that everyone has doubts and insecurities, but kids simply do not want to share their insecurities with others and make themselves vulnerable. Trust that you are NOT alone in your struggles. Truly believing this can make you feel less alone.
5. Popularity does not translate to success or happiness
If your goal is to be popular, this can lead to not being true to yourself. When you are consumed by the pressure to be liked, this guides your decisions and actions, rather than being true to yourself. This can easily lead to unhappiness. When popularity is the goal, you can miss out on wonderful things. You may miss out on meeting new and different people and developing your own interests. In addition, you may get yourself into risky situations and make impulsive decisions in order to go with the crowd in an attempt to be liked.
6. Instead of having a goal to be popular, have a goal of being your best self
Resist conformity. Reflect on your former passions. Is there anything that you love that you gave up in order to conform? Being yourself will attract the right people into your life. Remember that it is your individuality that makes you unique and interesting.
7. No one is “better” than you, and don’t let anyone make you think differently!
You have probably heard this before, and there is a reason why the adults in your life tell you this! It’s because it’s true! Some kids feel badly about themselves and find that the only way to make themselves feel better is to put others down. So they make fun of what you are wearing. They may say you’re not good at something that they know means a lot to you. You do something well, and they say they can do it better. They may call you “too emotional” or “too sensitive” after upsetting you. The children who try to put you down are often children who feel insecure or don’t feel good about themselves. Or they are hurting in some way that you know nothing about and are actually in need of compassion, but are going about it all wrong. Do not let others who insult you make you feel that they are better than you.
8. Be mindful of your use of social media.
Did you know that scientists have discovered that increased use of social media and technology is associated with increased levels of depression and anxiety? That the use of social media and technology is affecting your brain??? These are good reasons to be mindful of the amount of time that you spend using technology. And when you do use social media, try not to react to what you see. Remember that people are less polite and more aggressive on-line than they are in person. Remember that there is no privacy with technology. You may think you are sending a private text or message, but anyone can take a screenshot and forward to others. Remember that nothing is private, and everything lasts. Avoid dealing with conflict on-line, either publicly or privately, and instead talk to someone on the phone or in person. If you see something on-line that is upsetting to you, resist responding. Don’t just take time to “cool off”, but rather make it your personal rule not to engage in any negativity on-line. Nothing good comes out of it, period.
9. Be around people who make you feel good
Remember that the company you keep has an impact on the situations you find yourself in. Kids often do not engage in risky behavior alone, but they try to get someone to do it with them! So if you find that spending time with a particular person leaves you feeling uneasy or uncomfortable, listen to your gut – it is trying to tell you something! Remember that good friends make you feel good, just by being with them. Pay attention to how you feel during and after spending time with someone.
But the reality is, you cannot always control who you are around, but you can control who you let affect you. Develop a strong filter. Ignore feedback from those who do not have your best interest in mind, or who want to bring you down. Imagine those words being blown away on a cloud and gone for good! At the same time, be open to accepting constructive criticism from those whose opinions you value and respect. Sometimes the people who care the most might have something to say in your best interest that you do not want to hear.
But did you know that often the biggest critic is yourself? Battling negative thoughts all day? So try to keep your thoughts constructive so that the voice in your head helps you to remain confident, positive, and true to yourself. And if you find yourself really struggling with negative thinking, talk to a trusted adult. So many children like you struggle with negative thoughts, and counseling can teach you coping skills that you can use now and for the rest of your life.
10. Resist the pressure to have your life all figured out
It is acceptable and normal not to know what you want to do. And when you think you know, it changes, and that is OK too! Sometimes you have to try things out in order to figure things out, and sometimes figuring things out means that something is NOT for you. Do not compare yourself to someone you think has life all figured out, as that person’s path may change, and that is OK too! Remember that this is a time of exploration and discovery, and that even adults change their paths.
11. Be careful not to base too much of your identity as being part of a group
Yes, it feels good to be part of a group. Everyone longs to belong to something. However, group membership can change without notice or warning. One powerful person can influence a group, even if unfair and unwarranted, and out you go! Being cut from a team or having an injury can change group status overnight. While it feels good to be part of something and “belong”, be mindful not to make this the basis of your identity or your self-worth.
12. Always have a trusted adult you can turn to.
This is a time of undiscovered territory and unanswered questions. At times, this can feel scary! While it is great to receive support from peers, your friends do not always have the answers, may be just as scared as you, and sometimes can unwittingly guide you in the wrong direction based on false information. It is important to identify a trusted adult you can turn to. Ideally this would be a parent, but if not a parent, identify someone else you can turn to. Adults know more than your peers, have more wisdom and factual knowledge, keep your secrets, love you and care for you, and you do not need to worry about your “status” or impressing them. Turning to an adult when needed can help prevent a temporary problem from becoming an issue with long-term consequences.