Inspire! Topic: Teenagers
Saturday, May 18, 2019
I know we like to imagine childhood as carefree and innocent – and for some that may have been the case. But from my perspective, it’s never been particularly easy to be a kid. Growing up always comes with growing pains. Every kid will eventually learn about pain and grief and disappointment. But today the whole process between being born and becoming an adult seems to be more difficult than ever..
According to the American Psychological Association, the stress level of American teenagers today has reached a level equal to that of adults – except during the school year, when it’s higher than that of adults.
And stress is nothing to take lightly. Stress leads to illness and it can have a significant impact on a teenager’s developing brain.
In fact, mental illness is at a crisis level. Today, in Ottawa County in a classroom of 30 students, 5 of those students have seriously considered suicide and 2 have made an attempt. And the ACEs survey can help shed some light on root causes.
Last month we learned about ACES. ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences. An ACE score is a tally of different types of abuse, neglect, and other marks of a difficult childhood. According to the ACES study, the rougher your childhood, the higher your score is likely to be and the higher your risk for later health problems.
It makes sense that children who experience abuse would be at high risk. What might not be quite as obvious is how common child abuse really is. The National Children’s Alliance reports that early 700,000 children are abused in the United States every year.
Even if home is safe shelter, there seems to be more danger than ever out in the world.
When I was in school, we had drills for fire and tornadoes, and even for a nuclear attack. That was frightening – but it was a distant fear of a far away enemy. Today there are drills to survive a shooter coming into the school – a much closer and more imminent threat.
And the nature of school bullying has also changed since I was a kid. Back then, I often came home in tears – but once I was home, I found respite. The bullies in my life didn’t have the technology to follow me home or harass me at all hours of the day and the night. And they couldn’t hide behind anonymity. I knew who my friends were and who I wanted to avoid. And while social media can connect, it can also lead to greater isolation than ever.
All that being said, teenagers can build resilience that can protect them from the effects of stress and trauma. Psychologists say that having a grandparent who loves you, a teacher who understands and believes in you, or a trusted friend you can confide in may alleviate the long-term effects of early trauma.
Teenagers build resiliency when we trust them enough to make their own decisions and to manage their own lives. When we perpetually rescue our kids from the consequences of their own actions, we rob them of the opportunity to learn important lessons – including how to get back up after you’ve fallen down. When kids learn early on when the stakes are low how to manage loss and failure, then they are far more likely to have the tools they need to survive when life goes to hell (and life always eventually goes to hell) -and the stakes are higher. Rather than trying to protect our kids from feeling pain or trying to simply make the pain go away, we need to be willing to sit with them IN their pain.
What else can we do? Chris Nelson has worked with young people for over 20 years. He says what we really need to do if we want to help young people is listen to them. “… for too long as a society we’ve not empowered young people enough to give us their voice and tell us what they need, and if we listen to young people, they’ll tell us how to help them.”
That’s what we have the opportunity to do today as we listen to our panelists tell us about their experiences as teenagers today and what they need from the adults in their lives.
Thank you to our Panelists and Guest Speakers for sharing their stories with us! (We’ll have a video to post soon, if you were unable to attend this Inspire! Event-so stay tuned!)
Many thanks to…