Do you remember when you were younger and thought anything was possible? Perhaps Superman was your hero, and you were convinced that draping a towel over your shoulders and jumping off the sofa made you just like him. Or maybe you loved Dorothy Hamill (yes, I’m dating myself now) and promptly got a cute haircut and skated around your house with your shoebox-inspired carpet skates. Do you remember when the possibilities in life were limitless?
Do you also remember when you convinced yourself that nothing was possible? Perhaps your parents said there was no way you could ever fly (breaking your wrist didn't help the case, did it?), or your best friend laughed at your now-not-so-trendy haircut. Whatever the case, mountains may have seemed too high to scale, and confidence no longer fueled your youthful naïveté. Those feelings impacted your choices, and they are impacting your child's, too.
You see, today's youth have those same feelings of power and powerlessness. They *want* to do more, to be more; yet, they often feel they can’t or they won’t because they don’t feel seen or heard. Whether in my practice or in everyday conversation, not feeling seen or heard is one of the top complaints of teens.
Here’s a sampling of what kids say: “No one ever listens to me. And, when they do listen, they say, ‘oh, you’re just a kid.’ Sure, I may be a kid but I have thoughts and feelings, too.” “I was asked to step aside at the coffee shop so the grown-ups could order first since they had somewhere important to be. Um, hellloo, I’m pretty sure getting to my AP Psych class is kinda important, too.” “You’ll understand when you are older. I hate this, Julie. It’s like I magically will understand things when I reach the age someone deemed me as an adult. So basically nothing I feel or do matters right now.” Ouch. That is painful to hear. I don’t know about you but I can still recall hearing similar things when I was a teen … and that well over 30 years ago! Quite frankly, it would not have taken much for me to feel not just that I was noticed but that I mattered. And, whether you are a parent, an educator or a caring community member, there are three things you can do to interrupt this cycle of feeling dismissed. You see, it’s not always what we say and do to teens but how we respond to what they say and do. This is a subtle, yet incredibly powerful, difference. When a teen shares something with you, respond with the three things:
Acknowledge what was said or how someone is feeling. This is not the time to problem-solve, advise or even share your opinion. You acknowledge what a teen is saying or feeling by simply saying “I hear what you are saying,” “let me make sure I understand” or “tell me more.” This sends the message that you are listening and what they say or what they are feeling matters.
Ask what they think/need. All too often, teens are directed in what they should think or do. When you take a beat and ask “what do you think,” you send the message that you care about what a teen has to say. You teach them that their thoughts, their words, their feelings are important. These four words provide an instant boost to their self-esteem. Easy enough, right? Not quite so fast. Part of asking is also listening. Once you have asked, what do you think or even what do you need, listen. Listen deeply and wholly. And then...
Appreciate what they have shared by saying, “thanks for sharing that. I appreciate hearing your point of view.”
Watch this video for more information.
Whether you are a parent, an educator or a caring community, you have truly do have a pivotal role in the way teens feel about themselves. Three simple things you can do to send the immediate message to teens that they are a valuable part of our society.
And, now I’d like to hear from you. When you were a teen, what were some things that helped you feel that you were valued? As an adult, where do you find the opportunities to acknowledge teens, to ask them their thoughts and to appreciate them? Please share them in the comments section below. And, as always, if you know someone who is looking to understanding teens on a deeper level, I’d be infinitely grateful if you passed this post along.
PS. Looking for more ways to impact your relationship with teens? You might want to consider our What to Do When Your Teen Won’t Talk with you for more tips and tools.