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Understanding your teen will help improve the messages

As adults, we have mostly forgotten the pressures and raw emotion of being a teen. We focus on the fact that they don't have to work and have an easy life compared to the ‘grown-up’ financial and responsibility pressures adults face, failing to remember the immense stress we ourselves endured during a time of enormous biological, social, and psychological change.

Many adults reminisce about their childhood as the most carefree years of their life, time-rich, and full of possibility. We have forgotten the 5 key factors that weigh weekly on the minds of teenagers, amplified by today’s ‘always on’ world:

1. Family Pressures

It doesn't matter what parenting style you use; the fact remains that your teen still feels pressure to make you happy and fulfill your expectations. One of their greatest fears is that of disappointing you. According to a Pew Research Center survey of U.S. teens aged 13 to 17, 61% of teenagers stated that they feel significant pressure to get good grades, and this is just one of the pressure points they feel that rules their days.

From keeping up with school work and academic standards to getting involved in extra-curricular clubs, volunteering, and spending quality time with family and friends, this age group often feels that their time is in fact not their own. According to a study carried out by Brown University School of Medicine, ninth and tenth-grade students need nine hours of sleep every night to be at their best cognitively but are only averaging 7.5 hours on school nights.

It’s essential that they have a safe place to come home to, without judgment or demands, where they can rest and top up their reserves.

2. Identity

These are the years where your child is finding their true self; discovering who they want to be and how they want to show up in the world. These years hold great opportunity to dream and plan for the future. With a good understanding of who they are and where they want to go, decisions about the future can be exciting.

However, this is also a time of uncertainty, mistakes, misjudgments, all of which are a necessary part of the process to allow them to explore, discard, retain, and figure out what they enjoy and what makes them happy. Finding our own identity is easier said than done. It can be an emotional and exhausting journey.

Developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst Erik Erikson first introduced the term ‘identity crisis’, and believed that ‘it was one of the most important conflicts people face during the developmental process’, with the first stage prevalent amongst adolescents as they start to explore their own purpose.

According to renowned psychologist and author Carl E. Pickhardt, this is when they ‘must get used to functioning on a significantly expanded playing field of life experience than she or he encountered before.’ Your teenager is facing some ‘BIG’ questions and has a lot on their mind as they start to form their own values and think about their purpose and their path.

In uncertain times, goals are the glue that keeps us focused and avoid panic and demotivation. Talking about your own goals openly, and agreeing on family goals, can help demonstrate to your son or daughter how to explore and create their own goals, helping to ground their journey and exploration.

Your support, and most of all your understanding, can help to manage anxiety during times of change.

3. Social Pressures

Your teenager is starting to understand how their views of the world fit into their new identity, as they cement their own values and belief structure. The middle-high school years are a confusing mix of changing hormones, maturity development, and reduced supervision by adults, meaning teenagers are usually at their most susceptible to social pressure.

Pickhardt’s survey showed, ‘The pursuit of self-discovery and facing constant unfamiliar territory at the height of teenage years causes a dip in confidence levels as young people become more worried about how they come across and express themselves in front of others (64%)’.

Added to this, teens can often be ruthless in their exclusion of their peers, moving friendship groups as they define and redefine themselves, and looking to strengthen their own identities by excluding those who don’t share their views or values. Many have not yet developed the emotional resilience to handle these changing relationship patterns, and dealing with it can have a huge impact on day to day concentration and focus.