As teens struggle with anxiety and perfectionism, how can we help them like who they are?
The kinds of negative thoughts are becoming more common in our homes and schools. Teens are experiencing increased anxiety. Why is this happening? We can’t say for sure—but we do know there are steps teens can take to improve their mental health.
Although you may have heard this before, kids really can benefit from regular exercise. Encourage more regular exercise programs during and after school, and support team sports, strength training, running, yoga, and swimming—not just for their effects on the body but on the mind, as well. Getting out and engaging in some form of exercise can make us feel stronger, healthier, and more empowered.
Focus on self-compassion
Self-compassion—treating yourself with kindness, openness, and acceptance—is a healthy alternative to the incessant striving and performance orientation often tied up with self-esteem.
Avoid social comparison
When we focus on self-esteem, we tend to get caught up in comparing ourselves to others. Instagram and other social media platforms don’t necessarily help. Regardless of what teens choose to do online, many of our schools are also structured for social comparison. Grading, labeling, and tracking practices (grouping students based on their academic performance) don’t necessarily honor the stops, starts, and inevitable mistakes that are a natural part of the learning process.
Capitalize on specific skills
If you keep your eye out for teens’ talents and interests, you can support them in cultivating their strengths. Talk to the teens in your life. Celebrate their talents and tailor activities and instruction around their abilities as much as possible.
It may not be easy to shift teens’ global sense of self-worth, but we can certainly highlight and encourage areas of interest and particular skill sets so that they feel more confident, capable, and inspired.
Finally, when teens reach out to others, they are more likely to feel better about themselves. Researchers found that adolescents who were kind and helpful in general had higher self-esteem, but those who directed their generosity toward strangers (not friends and family) tended to grow in self-esteem.
As adults, we can actively support service learning projects in our schools and our teens’ interests in advocacy and civil engagement. When teens regularly contribute to a larger cause, they learn to think beyond themselves, which may ultimately help them to be more positive, empowered, and purposeful.
As many teens struggle with anxiety and perfectionism, our urge may be to jump in and fix their problems, whatever we perceive them to be. But a better approach, one that will hopefully help reverse these worrying trends, is to cheer them on as they develop the mental habits and strengths that will support them throughout their lives.
—Greater Good Magazine