Help Your Teen Smile Again
“Where Did My Happy Child Go”?
It used to be that you could elicit a smile or spark happiness from you child just by mentioning ice cream or movie night. Now that they’ve gotten a little older, you never know what you’re going to get from your teen or tween. They seem moody, sad, or just irritable. Is everything okay?
Adolescence is the stage of human development marked by vast change and significant growth. At this point in their lives, teens are beginning to migrate away from relying on their parents for emotional support. They are starting to drastically shift that focus to friends and peer groups. Preteens and adolescents are going through such an enormous amount of cognitive and emotional change at this time. The still developing prefrontal cortex (responsible for thinking through consequences of behavior) isn’t fully ready to help them navigate through more complex situations and relationships. In addition, the well-known hormonal fluctuations make their emotional world feel chaotic, irritable, and sad.
Aside from the biological changes they are going through, adolescents are starting to experience an onslaught of psychosocial dynamics. Teens are constantly comparing themselves to others on a daily basis – sometimes minute by minute. Your sons and daughters are measuring self-worth based on the opinions of their peer group.
Social media is the sole source of information your child cares about. Research continues to confirm what we already know: that the algorithms used in social media promote personal dissatisfaction among teens to increase screen time on their platforms. For many tweens and teens this has led to even more insecurity and inadequacy. Not surprisingly, the outgrowth of this is usually anxiety, self-hatred, and depression. Measuring up to others and seeking to gain control over emotions becomes a daily struggle. This is why it is so important to help your teen find their own inherent value and not hinge their happiness on the approval and “likes” of others.
Self-Esteem and Self-Empowerment
Healthy self-esteem is key because kids need to develop a stronger sense of who they are before their peers determine that for them. Self-esteem reinforces the idea that what they believe about themselves matters more than what others think. Children who have a stronger sense of self have much better well-being and more emotional stability.
Kids’ often compare themselves to others in areas such as academics, social status, appearance, interests, sports, style, etc. Because of this, it is important to help your child or teen recognize the difference between what they can change and cannot change. Early 20th century psychotherapist Alfred Adler theorized that when people recognize their differences and perceived shortcomings they tend to compensate and thrive in other areas. This is typically a good thing.
It is equally important to teach teens how to advocate for themselves, take ownership of their mental health, and take action to make positive change. Many parents continue to unwittingly enable immature behavior in their children by doing things for them, rather than foster the ability to make independent decisions. This mostly happens out of fear and habit. Instead, encourage your tween or teen to ask for what they need or explore positive ways to change what they want to be better.
If grades are suffering, talk to them about options (organization, tutors etc.). If they want to be healthier or get fit, help them explore routes to that goal such as looking into exercise plans or gym memberships. If they are worried about having crooked teeth and are insecure about their smile, look into a reputable orthodontist in your area. Help them see that they can make positive change by speaking up and taking action.
Though adolescence is a challenging time for your teen, it is also an opportunity to help shape your child’s well-being and mental health. They may seem unhappy. Smiles may be rare at times. However, empowerment makes the difference! Help your teens empower themselves and accept the things they can’t change and positively take action on the things they can.