The Age of Empowerment. Supporting Teens through Tough Times

"Inherently, each of us has the substance within to achieve whatever our goals and dreams define. What is missing from each of us is the training, education, knowledge and insight to utilize what we already have."
Mark Twain

What makes one child positive, motivated and friendly while another child fearful, negative and lacking motivation? Is in the DNA of a child, a certain gene that creates a successful disposition? Are children just born that way? Studies have shown that we are all products of our environment. We come into this world with our own personalities, though how we meet the challenges in our lives is dependent on what we are exposed to as we grow up.

  • It has been found that decline of emotional/mental health resulting in feelings of hopelessness and depression has its roots in low self-esteem and a lack of belief in one’s abilities. Without a foundation of inner confidence, developed through childhood, many youth have difficulties finding direction, opting for a path of least resistance or quick fix solutions to life’s challenges which can lead into a cycle of self-destructive behaviours.
  • Most of us in our lives at one time or another will experience a crisis event, significant enough to alter the way we view life and our existence. Humans struggle and search for meaning when faced with tragedy. This is the origin of faith, spirituality and religion. We question the meaning of our life, our purpose and direction. With love and support, faith and a positive mental attitude we can bounce back, creating a new life and belief system incorporating these experiences. Without a life-line to other people, faith in ourselves or divinity we are prone to sink deeper into grief, blame and self-pity.
  • ‘The death of a parent, pet, friend or grandparent are the most common themes in calls about grief. However, family separation or divorce, changing neighbourhoods, relationship break-ups and exposure to traumatic events (such as those in America on September 11, 2001) are also significant causes of grief amongst young people. The need for young people to find meaning in loss cannot be understated with 66% of callers either wanting to talk about their experiences of grief or seeking information to help make sense of their loss. A further 24% of young people call in acute distress following a recent loss. The remaining 10% of callers are experiencing long term distress or are unable to resume their normal lifestyle as a result of grief.

Hopelessness, the Downward Spiral

  • The descent into hopelessness begins when events occur that we are powerless to change, engendering in us feelings of helplessness, confusion and depression. Our emotions and thoughts become unmanageable, we feel that no-one understands us, or that we are failing to meet our own or others expectations of us. In an attempt to maintain a façade that we are OK, we internalise our feelings and thoughts, creating inner anxiety, insecurity and a sense of feeling alienated from loved ones, friends and family.
  • Without connection to others, our mind turns in on itself, creating a negative thought pattern that reinforces the belief that there is no solution to our original problem. We may experience physical symptoms like headaches, eating disorders, poor concentration, sleep disturbances resulting in reduction of motivation.
  • The complex cycle deepens, where we become more confused and less able to articulate the source of frustration. As our grief and depression further internalises, we worry that something is wrong with us, then self-blame, guilt, fear and paralyses kicks in.
  • The stigma in society towards mental illness has made people less likely to reach out for help before escape through drugs or suicide seems to be the only solution. As parents it is imperative that we help establish within our children the capacity to understand their emotional reactions, validating their feelings and concerns through communication. By encouraging our children to make decisions, discussing the options available to them, and empowering their ability to make choices, we are instilling within them the power to create a positive outcome for them selves.

Current Youth Issues

  • Society today is more complex, more challenging, and more competitive than ever before. Our youth are bombarded from all sides by materialism, expectations of success‚ and conflict/ separation in the home. The media is full of fear, terror, and the dissolution of long standing paradigms. They are exposed to adult concepts, with x-rated Internet sites, television that is persuasive and violent, and explicit commercial music, all together influencing the rapid growth of pre-teens into adolescence.
  • With the future of our planet growing steadily uncertain as the wellsprings that provided comfort and sustenance, namely the family, job security, the environment and political stability dry up, it is not surprising that the part of the population most affected by this uncertainty is our teen-agers.
  • They are entering into a society in turmoil, many of whom have experienced the pain of family separation in their young formative years. Their inability to alter these conditions is creating a sense of hopelessness about their future.
  • The availability of drugs is truly frightening, with young people being offered and experimenting with narcotics as young as high school. For people having difficulties coping with life, drugs go beyond recreational fun‚ providing an escape from reality, and temporary relief from their perceived, insurmountable problems. Without intervention, this can lead into a cycle of long-term dependence, disassociating themselves from life, relationships and fulfilment. Denial of these difficult influences or attempting to shelter our children from this reality is not only impossible, it is a fundamental mistake of well-meaning parents. Today’s world requires children enter adolescence informed so they can make informed decisions relating to the use of these substances.
  • Schools‚ cannot solely educate our children on these difficult issues. It is their capacity to satisfy the individual’s need for personal, experiential understanding. As parents and guides we need to overcome our fears and moral judgments, educating ourselves about the issues facing young people today. For the times that we’re not around, we must educate, empower and equip our children with the skills to handle these challenges themselves in a positive manner.

Are we listening to our Youth?

  • Do they trust our capacity to listen to their fears? An average of 20,000 children and young people call Kids Help Line each week. Less than half of these calls are able to be answered. Females make almost three-quarters of calls and 60% of callers are younger than 15. All calls are treated with respect.
  • It is disconcerting to read how many young people are calling phone services to discuss their problems. Kids Help Line statistics highlight the reasons why children ring their service and emphasize the importance of family relationships to the health of our children, this voluntary service provides the lifeline for youth that want to talk, that need to talk and most significantly deserve to be heard! Where are their friends, family, mentors and role models to provide the vital communication, wisdom and compassion necessary to navigate adolescence? Why aren’t they talking to them?

What we can do as parents to empower our children

Our parental participation in our children’s transition from total dependence to self-reliance is a process of letting go. Though our fears for our children’s safety, and hopes for their happiness and success are natural, they can also limit and inhibit our child’s potential and self-confidence.

  • Adolescent behaviour is often seen as rebellious‚ when in reality a necessary part of discovering our autonomy involves the process of making our own decisions, getting frustrated, struggling, making mistakes and then succeeding. One of our primary roles as parents is to nurture and encourage our children’s self-confidence so they learn to make choices and decisions for themselves, learning in a safe environment the consequences of their actions. It is as important for them to learn through their mistakes and disappointments, as it is from their achievements. We need to support their process of elimination and deduction, even when we can see the folly in their endeavours. If we foster self-empowerment within our children from birth, they will enter adulthood with the ability to:
  • think for themselves
  • understand the long-term consequences of their actions o feel good about themselves
  • have a sense of humour
  • know they have a choice in how they react and respond

Reaching Communion through Communication

  • Some of the angst experienced by teenagers may be alleviated by families creating and maintaining a line of open communication with their children prior to the onset of adolescence, based on the key principal of respect of their child’s individuality, and as free from personal judgement as we can manage. In my experience of working hanging out with young people through youth centres I have found that simply being available to listen, to the problems they were facing, validating their thoughts and feelings and sharing a few alternative viewpoints can be all it takes to find a positive outcome to a problem in life. When they can talk about drugs, sexuality and mistakes they have made without judgment, punishment or denial, a bond of trust is created where we are granted permission to look inside their inner world containing their hopes, dreams, and fears. It is from this sense of relatedness, sharing and friendship that we have an opportunity to help to restore hope!

Of the 20,000 calls Kids Help Line receives each week:

Family Relationships 17.1%
Peer Relationships 16%
Partner Relationships 9.9%
Bullying 7.8%
Child Abuse 4.7%
Sexual Activity 3.8%
Pregnancy 3.8%
Mental Health 3.5%
Homelessness 3.3%
Drug & Alcohol Use 3.1%
Grief 3.1%
Developmental Issues 2.3%

How to empower our children

  • Answer their questions with the truth
  • Ask for their opinion
  • Give choices
  • Let them make decisions
  • Give them greater responsibilities
  • Encourage active participation in home agreements
  • Let them hold you accountable to agreements
  • Apologise when you are wrong or make a mistake
  • Unconditionally love them in all ways
  • Let them teach you things
  • Give them more opportunities to be valuable
  • Let them say "no" to you appropriately
  • Encourage creative expression of difficult emotions through art, music, writing etc.
  • Listen! Give them all the time they need to be heard
  • Accept all facets of them without judgement

With thanks from the Kids Help Line, for more information call 1800551800,
Kids Help Line is a confidential service where no problem is too small, too embarrassing or too "out of bounds" to talk about. The principle values underpinning counselling at KHL are empowerment and child centred practice. Empowerment involves assisting each caller to clarify their concerns, formulate options, develop strategies for positive change and to identify and understand the consequences of particular courses of action. Callers are encouraged to believe in themselves and to recognise their personal strengths. Respect is accorded to each caller’s individuality, feelings and the right to make personal decisions. At the same time productive relationships with parents, teachers, peers and other important people are encouraged.

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