Give me time to get to know me. Allow me to be a teenager.
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I recently had the opportunity to spend some time
with an 18 year old boy. He is an avid sportsman, successful rugby player and athlete representing his school
in their first rugby team and even participating on provincial level. He is academically sound, a member of his school’s leadership corps and generally popular at school…but, depressed none the less. He tries his level best to keep his innermost feelings a well guarded secret for the sake of everyone around him, all the adults who have so many expectations of him, so many dreams and ideals for him, those he simply does not want to disappoint and for the most part he succeeds perfectly. Unfortunately at his own expense and to his own detriment. He is unhappy, discontent and is slowly but surely building a resentment towards the activities and sports he so enjoyed, the activities that allowed him to
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have fun and to unwind with others who shared the same interest. So the question then: Why the depression? Why the stress? Chatting to him it seemed that his participation in sports and cultural activities, his achievements and the various roles he fulfills have come to define who he is. “If you’re not in the first team, you’re nothing at school.” A troubling statement to hear but one he seemed to believe in strongly. He added that being a member of the team allows him certain privileges other regular learners hardly even know about, it’s economically beneficial to his parents as his tuition is completely covered by his scholarship and it validates him in a school where the competition is fierce and he can be replaced at the drop of a hat. The young man in question finds himself in
a competitive school, driven to be one of the best in the country, suggesting that performance is key. With performance comes the expectations of producing results…winning results, most of the time and preferably all of the time. Schedules are hectic, with practices at all hours of the day; morning, afternoon and even some evenings, matches every weekend, festivals in between, coupled with participation in other sporting disciplines, cultural activities, academic and leadership commitments. Most of the time it seems that he is able to cope but when the adults in his life seem to lose sight of his personal and social needs as a young man, as an adolescent, he has the innate need to escape, to break out. But should he do that his house of
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cards will undoubtedly come tumbling down…and he has no idea what and who he will be without all he has. He is 18 years old and on the verge of entering his adult life. He can drive, vote and use and buy alcohol legally…but…he is not allowed to enjoy a night out with his mates, not even after a winning performance
on a Saturday night. No, that would be considered unfocused, uncommitted and disrespectful to his team members, his coach, his school and his parents and can ultimately lead to him being dropped from the squad. He is expected to mingle with certain guys and to avoid others’ his
coaches and teachers deem as “trouble-makers” suggesting that he is unable to assert himself and exercise good judgment and values, despite occupying a leadership position at the very same school…a confusing situation to be in at best. The example described is certainly not an isolated case, not even by a long shot. Working with teens from various backgrounds, schools, socio-economical environments, races and cultures over the past years has certainly taught me that teens across the board have many things in common including especially immeasurable pressures placed upon them by so many around them. Their lives in general seem to have become a delicate juggling act that some appear to master slightly better than others but those who are constantly anxious about dropping a ball seem to be at risk and the adults around them don’t even realize the underlying pending danger. Teens who are struggling for identity among their siblings or peers may find a unique area of improvement and accomplishment in an activity such as a specific sport, musical instrument, or artistic performance, which causes their self-confidence and self esteem to blossom. BUT, If their identity becomes significantly
associated with the sport or activity and they fail, however, their identity can also fail…a vulnerable place to be in, much like the position the teen in our example now finds himself in. Being in
a position at school that allows a teen to feel like a “big fish” can feel great especially if it is in a relatively small pool. It can enhance the teen’s esteem, confidence and ultimately identity. But what happens when that same youngster leaves that school and enters a tertiary institution such as a large University or even just the real world out there, surrounded by other formerly “big fish” who have equally good or even better skills and longer and more impressive resumes? The little fish find themselves at risk of being swallowed by the huge ocean they suddenly live in…they are one of many and soon the questions start emerging: Who am I without the rugby team? Who am I without my leadership badge? How will people take notice of me? Who am I supposed to mingle with to be taken seriously? What
can I do to be validated? “Having a balance in life is as important for teenagers as it is for adults”, says Mary Beth Klotz, a school psychologist and a project director for the National Association of School Psychologists in America. Ms Klotz says, “Establishing good habits, problem-solving skills and stress-busting strategies can help you all life long.”
Douglas Agar, president of a school psychologist foundation says the signs of teens leading a life out of balance include when “students just become overwhelmed, frustrated and start having anxiety issues about not meeting the expectations their parents might have of them, or they have of themselves.” Adler adds that “fears of inadequacy propel the cycle further.” I asked my young friend what I considered to be important questions: “What would you like to do right now?” “How would you like to conduct your life at this very moment?” His answers were simple…”I’m 18 years old. I want to play the sport that I love and enjoy and I want to look forward to playing it. I hate it at the moment and I don’t like feeling that way. I want to work hard at practice and give my all in a game but then I want to go out with my friends to celebrate and to unwind after a match. I want to be trusted to choose friends that share the same values and interests as I do. I want to be trusted to make choices and I want to know that it’s alright if I make mistakes.” Sounds pretty normal and reasonable to me. One of the most difficult things for teenagers is the transition from being completely dependent on their parents and other adults into the real world, where they need to act responsibly and maturely to be successful. Though much focus is on protecting children
as they grow up, the people around them must allow them to take calculated risks, learn to fail and do real-life problem solving in preparation for their adult life. As teens they have the all important tasks of individuation and separation and allowing them to make decisions and even mistakes without overpowering and controlling them allows the teen to build important life skills to succeed in performing these teen tasks instead of triggering the mighty rebellion embedded in every teen. (Adults remember: rebellion does not necessarily refer to sudden piercings, tattoos, weird hairstyles, but can include lack of performance, withdrawal and other less explicit behaviours.) Possibly the most important element of any teen is the need to feel and ultimately be treated like the unique individuals they are. Teens detest being compared to siblings or other teens. When adults attempt to compare them to or push them into a box with other teens it can create anger, frustration and even rebellion often sparking behaviour beyond any expectation. Like adults teens want to be recognized for their uniqueness and for their good qualities separate from anyone else. They want respect and they will thrive when they are allowed time and space to practice becoming an adult in an environment where respect for their need to grow, change and develop is a key ingredient.commonwealth
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Tags: identity, parenting teens, teen anxiety, Teen depression, teens