It starts as early as kindergarten “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. Furthermore, it starts on the very first day of high school “where are you going to college?”. The pressure of “have you started ACT prep?” starts earlier and earlier with every generation. It’s no wonder teens today seem to struggle with crushing amounts of stress and anxiety. It’s teens against the world and mindfulness is essential for survival.
Mental Health Trends Facing Teens
I work with teens every day in my counseling practice. As a result, I have started to notice some trends. These trends include sleep problems, difficulty focusing, procrastination, self-harm, and bottled-up emotions. All of these point to diagnoses of anxiety, depression, or maybe ADHD. However, I see the problem completely differently. The mental illness does not lie with the teen, but rather the world they live in.
A World of Contradictions
I thought being a teen in the early oughts was stressful, but today’s teens are faced with a world of contradictions. These issues are pushing them under a sea of internal turmoil.
We want teens to utilize self-care, take breaks, eat healthy, and get good sleep. However, there is an increasingly large amount of panic being spread within the walls of their schools about college prep. It starts as early as the first day!
Too Much, Too Fast
I work with many high school freshmen who are being told they need to start ACT prep ASAP. Furthermore, they are expected to plan out what classes they are going to take Junior year. This is even before settling in to being a high school student. There is no time to focus on just the semester ahead. The whole 4 years are carefully stacked like Jenga blocks. As a result, if one piece is removed from it’s place, the whole tower may come tumbling down.
Does Anyone Bother to Ask Teens What They Actually Want?
I have had teens in my office who have stopped playing their favorite sports and activities to keep up with the demands. I work with teens who can’t get their homework started because there is a brick wall of stress in their path.
Has anyone even asked a teen if they want to go to college? They start the first day with the decision already made for them. I think that decision starts from birth.
Don’t Look Down
High school is like walking a tight rope. The only things to think about are getting to the end and not looking down. They are being asked to perform a balancing act while a sandbag is tied to one ankle. Teens are discouraged from seeing the world around them. Rather they are asked to fixate on the future.They are being pushed forward and being held back all at the same time.
Societal Pressures To Perform Well
I understand why this is happening. Our educational system places such emphasis on high test scores. Its as if that is the best indication of academic success. I think at the core most educators want to foster well-rounded, emotionally healthy individuals. However, they are under immense pressure to comply with demands of a system they cannot control.
There is Great Value in Balance
If you read my last post, Exercising Teen Emotional Intelligence, you know that I see great value in balance. My ideal educational system would be one that places students before scores. Further, one that promotes emotional wellbeing above the number of kids that go to name brand institutions after graduation. I want to see a school that truly invests in what their individual students want for their futures. While at the same time promotes attention on the present, here and now.
How Our Teens Suffer
The attitude of constant future thinking in our schools is setting teens up for suffering. This suffering may show up in a variety of ways, some teens may internalize the pressure while others splatter it all over the walls like graffiti.
Internalizing Teen Anxiety and Stress
The teens that internalize the stress are the ones that make good grades. However, they spend many nights laying awake unable to sleep. The internalizers are like hermit crabs, where the shell outside is hard and strong, but the inside is soft and vulnerable. They know how to pull out the straight As even if it’s by the skin of their teeth.
Internalizers Appear to Have it All Together, But Struggle
Hermit crab teens may appear to have it together, but every night when they go home to do their work, the pressure sounds like a thousand buzzing bees in their head. The sound makes it impossible to get started so they may not finish their school work until the late hours. They get it done, but the noise prolongs the ability to focus and get started. Much of the time spent in their room is actually taken up by anxious thoughts and worries, rather than completing work.
Externalizing Teen Anxiety and Stress
The teens that externalize stress are the ones that act out and are often found in detention. Externalizers are like puffer fish, who react more visably. Puffer fish teens may seem like “bad kids” or kids labeled with ADHD, because the stress cannot be quietly contained.
Most Teens Lack the Tools To Recognize Teen Anxiety and Stress
Most teens, whether internalizers or externalizers, do not have the tools to recognize the stress is happening. This leads them to internalize or externalize without awareness that it is related to something bigger than themselves. They may feel as though something is wrong with them, leading to more stress and pressure and ultimately mental health problems.
Focusing Within Our Control
While the daily environment our teens are placed in leads them to struggle, it does not mean we can’t help our teens succeed emotionally. The school wants high grades, test scores, and performance at the expense of emotional balance and well-being, but parents and mental health providers can serve to provide what they are lacking by promoting mindfulness.
Through Mindfulness Our Teens Can Survive
The reason that our teens are so anxious and stressed is because at school they are forced to constantly live in the future, which is hard because no one can predict the future. They are encouraged to control as many variables about the future as they can, which is robbing them of fully living. If we are living in the future, we are not really living.
We want our teens to not just breathe, but live life to the fullest! They are only teens for a short period of time.
This is where mindfulness can help!
When we hear about mindfulness, we tend to picture someone sitting criss-cross applesauce, chanting the word OM over and over again, but meditation is not the only way to achieve mindfulness.
Mindfulness for Teens is Simply Focusing on the Present
Mindfulness is simply focusing on the present moment and the here and now. We can help teens survive a future-obsessed world by not adding to the pressure, by allowing home to be a calm and slow-paced environment.
To start, encourage teens to take a screen-free break when they come home from school. Maybe do it with them! Put your phones on the charger and go out for a quick walk around the block. As you walk, try to point out as many colors as you can see, notice any sounds you hear, pay attention to the smells in the air. These are all things happening in the here and now.
You can also allow this to be a space for your teen to talk, while you actively listen without providing advice or suggestions. This is an easy, quick mindfulness practice that can be good for both parents and teens. Slowing down your body also helps slow down the mind in a way that allows it to think more clearly.
The College Prep Obsession
Another way to help your teen with mindfulness is by helping them see that they do not have to have the next 4-years decided or figured out. Place emphasis on taking things one day at a time.
Focus On What Your Teen is Interested In
Also, figure out what interests your teen, not just what career path they want. What makes them truly excited and come alive! Maybe they want to learn about welding or carpentry. Explore diverse areas of interest that may open them up to new possibilities for the future.
College is Not a Good Fit for Everyone
I know we live in a college-obsessed world, but not everyone needs college to do what makes them come alive. Let’s work towards a better future for our teens by allowing other options to be considered. Afterall, getting a college degree does not guarantee the same level of financial security that it once did.
It Doesn’t Have to be Ivy League
Another way to help your teen with the college stress is to remind them that going to a name-brand school does not have to be the main goal.
Think about it: the last time you went to the doctor, did you ask to see a transcript of where they went to school? I bet it didn’t even cross your mind to find out if they went to Harvard or a state school. You just care about having a doctor that knows how to care for patients. It may be some perspective to consider when your teen is bombarded with pressure about where they will get in.
Find a College That is the Right Fit
I believe that there is a perfect school out there for every person if college is the plan. I bet your teen can find the place where they belong and feel seen as a person, not a set of scores.
Counseling Can Help Calm The Storm
Not only can parents serve as a calming presence for their teens who are navigating a future-obsessed world, counseling is another avenue to explore. Having a safe, confidential space with a person who is not a parent, teacher, sibling, or friend can be a breath of fresh air.
When I work with teens, the first thing I explain is that in this room they get to show up just as they are, whatever that may mean. I do not expect a performance or a happy face, I want this room to be different from the other spaces in their lives.
Reveal What’s Inside
For my teens that are like hermit crabs, I work with them to find out what it looks like inside their shell. I let them know that they can take their time revealing what’s inside. A lot of times, hermit crab teens have gotten so used to that shell that they do not know how to take it off. It’s something that we work towards slowly, because it can be intense. There might be a lot of pain inside that has yet to be sifted through. The ultimate goal is to help the teen embrace their inner selves. We work towards accepting the presence of vulnerability and imperfection and learn to sit with discomfort.
Acceptance of Self
For my puffer fish teens, the work can be pretty similar to that of the hermit crabs. The goals is acceptance of the self and becoming aware of the external pressures that are effecting them.
There is Relief From Teen Anxiety and Stress to be Found
I help both types of teens learn what balance is and that they get to determine what pressures they wish to take on. I encourage teens to take in the information they receive from the world about what they “need” to be working towards and also listen inwardly to their unique needs and wants. The goal is increasing agency, autonomy, and self-awareness.
Begin Therapy for Teens With Anxiety in Metairie, LA Today!
If your teen is struggling with their mental health and its impacting their abilit to fully live and enjoy life, Therapy for Teens at Creative Counseling and Wellness is here to help. As a Therapist, I have both personal and professional experience with these issues and am prepared to walk this journey of self-discovery with your teen. Follow the steps below to get started. Through ownership, balance, and practice, your teen can own the stage and the stage called life!
- Reach out to me via my convenient online contact form.
- Get to know more about me and my story here.
- Begin the journey to self-discovery and healing
Other Mental Health Services Offered at Creative Counseling and Wellness
I specialize in working with teens and their families. I work with a wide variety of individuals such as: LGBTQ+ Teens, Teens with Anxiety, Theater Teens, Creative/Artistic Teens, Teens Questioning Gender Identity, High Achieving Teens, Teens with Social Anxiety, and Teens Struggling with Perfectionism. My own own life and experience gives me a unique perspective that lends itself to working with teens especially. Reach out today!