Worry Proofing Young Teens

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Why do we need to worry proof young teens? What do they really have to worry about anyway?  Has it really been so long ago that we have forgotten what it feels like to be in middle school?  I think it is much worse now than it was when I was growing up. The pressure to fit in has always been there, but there are so many other demands on these middle school children that it is a wonder to me that any make it through unscathed.  Common worries for young teens include:

  • a parent dying
  • divorce
  • grades
  • bodily injury
  • the future
  • gender issues
  • race issues
  • social issues

That’s a heavy load of worry.  The increase in worry during this developmental period coincides with an increased awareness of the world and a decrease in egocentrism. While these processes are generally positive, they are not without consequences.

As a parent or teacher there are several things you can do to help worry proof them.  It is important to nurture their positive self-determination. Teach them how to acquire control over their own lives.  Steer them to rewarding friendships.  Model optimism for them, even in the face of challenge and adversity.

teen girlsWe all know that friends become very important for most preteens.  Having friends can be a direct measure of popularity and can provide a sense of security.  Getting with the wrong crowd can have devastating effects.  Each of these peer groups also have their own code of conduct. Teaching them to maneuver the intricacies of social responsibility with the expression of their own thoughts and values is very important.

This is not the time when being different is embraced except by a very few individuals. If they are going to be trying to mimic the mannerisms, speech, dress, behavior, consumerism, music, and fads of their peer group we need to make sure that their peer group is one we can tolerate.

Although they may be critical of everything you do, remember that they are watching closely.  This is a time where they will become very aware of any discrepancy between your words and your behavior. If you want them to be optimistic, you must be optimistic.  If you want them to stand up for themselves, you must stand up for yourself. If you want them to be kind, you must be kind.  Perhaps even more difficult, if you want them to be honest, you need to be honest.

Unfortunately, we can’t really take away all of the things that these young people worry about. These issues are real.  As parents and mentors, we need to remain open to hearing what they have to say on these issues, even when we don’t agree. When they ask your opinion, answer honestly.  If they don’t ask your opinion — say very little.

Remember what it felt like to be that age.  How did the adults in your life handle your concerns?  Which responses helped you to relax and enjoy life and which responses only increased your anxiety and worry?  Tell them to “ignore it” when it really bothers them is the same thing as telling them that their feelings are wrong.  Do you think they will tell you when something is bothering them again?  Probably not.

It can be very easy to get caught up in their drama and trauma.  Try to avoid jumping in too soon unless safety is really an issue.  Give them the chance to handle things if they can or talk them through solutions if there is one.  Be ready and available to listen and empathize.  If the worry seems to be interfering with friendships, academics, or other activities consider professional intervention.


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