Children and Fears…Age by Age Part 3
The Teenage Years…
Teenagers basically have two jobs while in their adolescent years. One, to become independent and more responsible for their own decision-making and actions. The second, to establish a sense of who they are, and what sort of person they are becoming – “Who am I?” and “What am I like?
With this comes facing two prominent feelings: fear and worry. These may be hidden way down deep under the anger, moodiness, attitude, and even rage, but fear and worry are implanted in their existence. I discuss specific fears of the adolescent in my Blog, Children and Fears…Age by Age Part 1
Who am I?
One of a teenager’s greatest fears is being different in some way from his friends. Kids want to dress, look and talk like their friends, so that they can feel part of their “friend group”, especially in the adolescent years. This is normal. Being accepted by their friends (their peers) is vitally important. They worry a lot about what other people think of them and tend to think that people are being critical of them and can be hypersensitive to any correction, redirection, or guidance when it comes to the image they are trying to portray or who they are trying to be or become. Their physical appearance is important, and they tend to be self-critical towards themselves. They can be extremely self-conscious and feel that everyone is looking at them. They worry about their shape, acne, hair, clothes, etc. Anxiety can also be a result of differences in timing of changes of puberty (sexual development). Some may worry if they mature early or if they are late developers. They may also have worries about new sexual feelings and impulses. Teenagers will make poor choices many times in order to be accepted in a “friend group”. As feelings often get stirred up with adolescence, some fear a loss of control in coping with their angry feelings. Many times, the angry feelings adolescents are covering up their “fear of the unknown” and feeling angry is much easier than trying to decipher what the “fear of the unknown” means.
While young people may want to be independent, “stand on their own feet” and take responsibility for their decisions and actions, they may also worry about making the right choices. They expect many things from their parents yet want their parents to “back off “at the same time. Teens want to be grown and to be treated as if they are adults, yet fear being without a parent and “knowing what to do” when they are no longer living at home.
Helping Adolescents with Their Fears
Teenagers do not like feeing discounted or that their opinions do not mater. Adults need to listen to their worries, opinions, fears, and ideas and treat them seriously. Kids will shut down and stop talking when they think they are not heard, made fun of, or not understood. They will find a friend who will listen and not always give the best advice. Listen to a teen describe their feelings, ideas, and urge them to problem solve. Then, offer your ideas, opinions and allow time to process the conversation for the best solution
Young people may be embarrassed about talking about some things with parents. Instead, they may spend hours on the phone talking to friends about their clothes, social situations and the opposite sex. They may appear to value what their friends think, much more than the adults in their lives. They do care what the adults think and generally already know what the responses will be from their parents. These discussions may seem like a waste of time to parents, but the support that they give can be of major importance to the young people. Using social media is the new way of talking with friends and maintaining their social groups. This can prove to be a negative impact to all children and limited screen time is advised.
Ways to Support Your Teenager
- Be available to give them information if and when they ask for it.
- Be aware of their moods, attitude, and things they say. Do not push them to talk, they will talk when they are ready.
- Do not allow them to be disrespectful. They know exactly what disrespect looks like in your home and they should not be allowed to do it. By applying a consequence, they will learn they can talk to you but not in disrespectful ways. Consistency is key here.
- Help them look at situations and choices in a calm, thoughtful way so that they can make wise decisions. When they react in negative ways or become hateful, stop the conversation and tell them you are willing to listen and talk when they are ready to have a respectful conversation. Do not revisit the conversation until you are approached, and the teen has calmed down.
- Help them gain confidence in their ability to make decisions and of finding useful ways of coping. Teenagers still need a lot of positive reassurance from adults. They may not act like it, but they doubt themselves most of the time and need the adults in their life to commend them on a job well done.
- Don’t make the decisions for your teenagers. Let them fail! Meaning, allow natural consequences to happen when their actions caused a negative result. Don’t rescue them or fight their battles. When you do, you will be the bad guy when the consequence goes south. You will be blamed.
- Give encouragement for thinking for themselves – don’t always provide the answers. Kids need to learn coping and problem-solving skills. Neither are learned when the adults in their life is solving their problems. Parents know when to step in when they use their own common sense.
- If you think that your teens anxieties are becoming so unreal or too strong that they are interfering with their daily life, then it could be useful to suggest that they talk with a counselor or mental health provider. When the entire family is revolving around one child’s fears, everyone in the family suffers and dysfunction surrounds the family unit.
- Do not embrace the teens fears. Kids react to adult’s actions. Feeding into a fear does not allow the teen to work through the fear and develop coping skills to deal with the fear. Self-esteem is formed when an individual accomplishes something, they did not feel they could accomplish.