There is a quiet plague that is infecting teenagers around the globe. It’s the festering combination of lacking confidence, conforming to look, act and feel a certain way and the pressure to achieve success in everything before you make it through puberty. All of these things have manifested themselves in a generation of quietly insecure, self-loathing young people afflicting themselves with self-harm, too much drug and alcohol abuse, ill-equipped with the life skills to grow up and make a positive contribution to the world.
What have we done?
I recently contributed to a workshop for the lower 6th form of an elite girl’s school. The room was full of bright, beautiful faces. These girls are well-educated and have many opportunities before them. Yet, when I held my session on First Impressions, I asked them if they like what they see when they look in the mirror. I didn’t mean just the outward appearance, but what radiates from within.
Much to my chagrin, only one out of the girls in the room held up their hand. I suspect a few more girls felt good enough to, but didn’t for fear of being labelled arrogant. Either way, it was sad. Just the question itself sent two girl out of the room in tears. This problem does not afflict girls alone, I’ve seen plenty of boys who suffer this dark lack of self-esteem as well.
This affliction goes beyond the turbulent norms of puberty. Their discomfort was palpable as was that we as parents, teachers, care givers and leaders in society are doing something wrong. Our message is warped.
Here are some ideas on positive reinforcement for our teenagers in times of negative influences.
Take some of the pressure off. It’s good to encourage your kids to do their best, but when their best isn’t good enough don’t criticise, encourage instead. Children come into their own at different times. Early achievers often suffer setbacks when they finally fail at something, while those left to develop at their own speed without constant parental pushing appreciate and thrive on success when it happens.
And when it comes to failure, teach your children not to be afraid, to learn from their mistakes, and try, try again until they succeed. Failure is not a badge of shame. Tenacity paves the road to success.
Teach your kids the power of ambition, not blind ambition for the sake of success alone, but passionate ambition led by value and belief in something they love. This is the honest route to happiness.
Whether they like it or not, sport is nourishment for the body just as much as food. Start young by engaging your kids in sports; so, by the time they are teenagers and decide that nothing is more important than their social life, they’ve experienced the physical and mental benefits of regular exercise and it has become routine. I cannot express enough the value of this. Participating in sports can help young people develop confidence, self-respect, the ability to work with others, leadership skills, positive body image and healthy eating habits. Don’t take no for an answer!
Communicate openly and often. Express love. Tell your children you love them. Hug them. It’s been scientifically proven that hugging someone for 20 seconds a day reduces stress. Comfort them when they are sad or worried. There is no substitute for a parent’s love. Even if they seem not to appreciate your efforts in the moment, they will appreciate you in the future.
Share your life experiences. Our children often think we had no life before them! Correct their assumptions and tell them about the good, bad and ugly moments in your life. Let them in on your successes and failures, your loves and lost loves. Share your foolishness and fun. Let them know you’re vulnerable, sometimes weak, sometimes strong but most of all human with feelings just as significant as theirs.
Don’t let your teens overindulged. They will no doubt experiment with drugs and alcohol just like you did. In today’s world of unlimited internet access, they are also sexualized at a much early age. It is our job to make sure they don’t develop a warped sense of right, wrong and the norm. I may be older but I’m not stupid or out of touch with what our kids see and do. As parents, its our job to continuously monitor their activities and make sure they have a healthy, balanced perspective. There is a fine line between respecting your teens privacy while making sure they don’t lose the plot. Yet, we must actively encourage common sense.
Whether it’s nature, philosophy or religion, young people should explore spirituality. It’s my belief that you are not a complete person without your spirit and your spirit needs nurturing. Living in the land of Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr and the rest can leave one devoid of the human spirit. Furthermore, fashion magazines and “Reality TV” are more corrupting to the human spirit than most things. Tempt your teens away from technology and towards a different kind of enlightenment. Life balance is the key to a happy existence.
Finally, tell your teens they are beautiful and clever, especially when they least believe it. Bang it into them as if you are tapping on your computer keyboard. With so much external negative noise we have to reinforce our positive message and encourage thoughtful behaviour if we expect them to have a positive outcome in their lives. It is hard work being a good parent, but it’s worth it.
That’s my good life advice.