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.
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.
Understanding that social pressure is influencing behaviour and moods means that we can watch out for signals, take care to moderate our own response, and make sure they know we will always be there as their greatest cheerleader.
4. Future Lifestyle
Your teen is just realizing that the lifestyle they enjoy now is no longer guaranteed. What does that mean and how can they keep the elements that make them happy, and change those they don’t want? We often chastise children who focus on money as a future goal, but we fill our homes with the association that money is important and hard to get... If they think money is difficult to obtain, and they have dreams of living a "good life", then it makes sense that they would stress about where it’s coming from in the future.
Practical tips for understanding day to day finance and expenses can go a long way to helping them understand how the whole money thing works, and how to budget with one eye on now, and one eye on the future.
5. Further Study
Does studying come easy for your teen? Do they enjoy going to school? If the answer to either of those questions is no, then how are they supposed to feel positive about the prospect of higher education? They are also of an age where they understand the sacrifice needed in terms of cost, time, and any foreseen burdens on the family, and this will also be weighing on their mind and adding to the pressure.
Post-school options may include applying to college/university, attending college open days to see whether further study is right for them, taking a year out, applying for full-time work, finding a part-time job to fund studies, trying out internships, meeting industry mentors etc. This can be overwhelming, to say the least, especially as teenagers perceive that these decisions may well affect the rest of their life.
Giving your teenager the space to find their ‘why’, and to create concrete goals based on that purpose, and supporting them to do the right research, will help them to handle the anxiety about what comes next. As long as they have the right tools to hand, they can keep changing paths and still end up exactly where they want to be, whether that is a vocational, career, or academic route.
At The Bedrock Program, we work with teenagers, young adults, and parents to build up the self-awareness and resilience needed to navigate the noise and enjoy the ride through these remarkable years.