Linda Bonnar is a Dubai-based life coach who specialises in coaching teens and is just about to launch a book on the topic called Press Play. Here she shares some of their most popular worries that you might not know about...
1. “I don’t like social situations, I feel uncomfortable in large groups, especially at parties”
Parties aren’t all fun and games for everyone, in fact for some people they can be an absolute nightmare, especially teenagers. The very thought of going to a party or a large gathering can bring about a state of anxiety as they think about who will be there and what will happen. The uncontrollable judgement that comes with these social situations, the desire to fit into such a situation and perhaps the peer pressure too. And that’s without the whole ‘appearance factor’ too. Put these all together, and for someone who’s prone to anxiety, you’ve just triggered a massive “What if?” cycle, something hard to break, especially if you don’t know how.
So, what are some steps you could take with your son/daughter to enable them to deal with social situations better? Find out what it is that’s actually triggering that worry and work through it with them. It could be a confidence issue, it could be a friendship issue or it could be the fact that your son/daughter simply prefers their own company at this point in time; but if you’re concerned then ask them about it.
And while it might sound obvious to some, when your teenager shares something they are worried about with you, as innocuous as it may seem to us as adults, treat their concern/ worry seriously, because what might seem like a little thing to us could be the biggest thing in their lives right now.
2. “I think my girlfriend has an eating disorder”/ “We think our friend has an eating disorder.”
Unfortunately, I’ve been faced with this very issue a few times as a secondary school teacher; students have come to express their concerns for one of their friends; they feel helpless, confused and often very angry at what they can see happening to their friend. An eating disorder is a serious issue, regardless of the person’s age and it’s no longer something that affects just young girls.
Supporting someone with an eating disorder is no easy task and if your child is in this situation then they, too, will need support. It can be incredibly frustrating to see their friend make such choices and it’s not something that everyone understands. The best thing they can do for their friend is to show their concern, love and support as best as they can. Providing support in this case can prove tough as many people simply cannot understand the reasons behind their friend’s poor choices, negative attitude, behaviours, habits or rituals that come with the eating disorder.
Encourage your son/daughter to speak to a school counsellor if one is available – don’t feel that as a parent you have to have all the answers, especially on a psychological issue like an eating disorder. Remind your teenager that even if their friend isn’t the most pleasant to be around at the moment, while they cannot change what the person is going through, they can be there for them and listen, and that will be appreciated in the long run.
3. “It’s the same 20 questions every day in the car”
As soon as a student in a class raised this issue of The 20 Questions, every other student in the class (26 of them in all) started nodding in agreement; some covered their faces and some laughed as they spoke about the questions they get every day when they see their parents later in the day.
Naturally, we spoke about ways the students could take control of the situation more constructively themselves, but if you’re faced with the silent teenager in the car on the way home, here are some things you could do: Teenagers have raised the fact that they hate the same questions every day, so instead of the typical, “How was your day?” how about asking, “What went really well for you today?” or “What was the best thing about today?” or “Was there anything challenging you had to deal with?” Some teenagers have said they feel like they are being “examined” by parents and that their parents ask so many questions because they’re being “nosey”! One possible solution to this is to change the focus of the conversation in the car on the way home by asking for your teenagers to give input on things they could help with.
I always knew the young people I taught were super-bright, but it wasn’t until I asked them different questions that I realised how creative and device-savvy they were too! Our young people often know a lot more about certain things than we do, and we all love to be acknowledged and appreciated, so ask them for suggestions on things too.
There are also times when your son/daughter simply wants to process what’s happened during their day. As one student said, “Sometimes they don’t get that I’ve been talking or listening all day, so when I get in the car or see them at home, I just want to be quiet for a while”.
4. “I feel like my teachers hate me so I can’t be bothered doing any work for them”
Upon receiving an essay back in class one morning, one of my A-Level students asked me, “Ms, why do you hate me so much?”. He went on to say, “You clearly hate me because you never give me higher than 15, what have I done to you?”
Yes, it’s a strong accusation to make, but if you’re 17, trying your best, and you’re still not getting that mark you want in a subject (especially one you feel confident in) it’s also quite understandable. Unfortunately, this is a more common stressor than we probably think; a student gets a piece of work returned to them, they get a lower grade/mark than they expected to get, they then put two and two together and get 5: my teacher doesn’t like me.
Of course this belief is reinforced if it happens again (and/or happens in another class) and this naturally has a knock-on effect on the student’s level of motivation and work ethic. As parents, you might notice lower grades in reports, or emails home regarding homework or work ethic, and this may even surprise you as your son/daughter “loves the subject”.
As humans, we sometimes need a little help to look at things more rationally, to get things out of our heads so that we can see them in a more logical way and this is what you can do here. Encourage your teenager to check for evidence, rationally and logically, to support this claim that they are making. They could begin by grading/marking their work themselves – objectively (with an exam board-produced mark scheme if they are in an examination year group). Ask if the answer produced actually answers the question and look for key pieces of evidence to support this – the key here is to continually prompt and check for evidence; could there be evidence to support the idea that the teacher has marked the work produced rather than evidence to support the idea that the teacher doesn’t actually like the student?
5. “I go on social media a lot but it only seems to make me feel worse about myself, I’m not even sure why I do it anymore.”
I don’t know many teenagers without a social media account and I certainly don’t know any teenager who doesn’t have a device, especially a phone. Come to think of it, there are only two of my own friends I know who have never actually created a Facebook account. And while social media is fantastic in many ways, it’s also helped to create The Highlight Reel – the phrase coined for creating comparisons between our everyday lives and the highlights of other people’s lives we tend to see on social media posts.
If you’re a teenager who’s struggling with self-confidence, then social media can often exacerbate this as many teenagers create unrealistic comparisons between themselves and others, or use the number of ‘likes’ they receive on their posts as an indication of how popular or attractive they are. The unfortunate side of this is that for many young people, their level of self-confidence is still based on what they look like, how others perceive them, and not on how they feel.
If you’re concerned in this regard, do your best to create an environment that focuses on positive and healthy body image such as making better food choices, without discussing restrictive eating habits. Highlight your son’s or daughter’s individual strengths and talents so they see and value their own self-worth. Listening out for and being aware of comparisons your teenager talks about and speaking openly about what they look at on social media and how enhanced or ‘highlighted’ a lot of these images are, helps to create awareness too.
Photos by istock/shutterstock