For the past few years, through my organization Youth Wellness Network, I have had the privilege of empowering thousands of teenagers across North America. Combined with my own personal experience as a teenager not too long ago, I would say I have a pretty good understanding of what makes the teenage years some of the most challenging of our lives.
The more that my work with youth has grown, the more I have realized how disconnected parents and adults are from teenagers in our society. The reality is that the teenagers of today are the leaders of tomorrow. As we begin to understand what today’s teenagers are actually going through, we will then be able to empower them to fulfill their true potential and ultimately change this world for the better.
I have laid out what I feel are the biggest challenges that teenagers face in our society today.
This in no way resembles ALL of what they are going through, but in my opinion, it identifies the biggest hurdles to overcome and uncovers the root causes of the more publicized issues.
1. Lack of Self-Love, Self-Worth, and Self-Respect
One of the biggest causes of challenge among teenagers is a lack of self-love, self-worth, and self-respect. Think back to when you were a teenager. If you really loved, valued, and respected yourself, would there have been a need to strive for approval or external validation, engage in hurtful and unkind behavior, or sacrifice your authenticity to fit into someone else’s mold? I don’t think so! Most of the external challenges that teenagers face revolve around bullying, uncertainty of self, and the inability to healthfully self-express. All of these are behavioral issues are rooted in a lack of confidence, self-esteem, and self-love.
I believe that we are all born with an infinite supply of confidence, self-love, and self-worth, and, over time as we are controlled by others, it begins to deteriorate. From the moment we are told our very first “no” or “don’t do that,” we begin to question ourselves and our own abilities. We are taught that in order to reclaim our confidence, worthiness, self-respect, and love, we need to get it from other people. We learn to put more value on how we are seen by others rather than how we see ourselves. By the time we reach our teenage years, this process has been deeply engrained in our psyche, creating an incredibly uncomfortable and vulnerable stage of our lives.
2. The Unfulfilling Search for Freedom and Independence
Deep beneath the surface we all long for more freedom and independence in our lives. I believe this longing begins and is most prominent during the teenage years. It is a time where self-exploration and self-discovery is desperately craved and sought after. It is a time where every individual has the intellectual and emotional capacity to think and feel for themselves.
This is why teenagers tend to pull away from their parents. They feel a deep desire to create their own identity.
The challenge, however, is that they most likely still depend on their parents to fulfill their essential needs. The desire for more space, freedom, and ultimate independence coupled with the reality that they can’t fully have it creates a massive challenge for many teenagers. As a result, many will rebel against rules, guidelines, or anything laid out for them that represents a certain way they “should” be living; all as a means to protect what they value the most.
Very few understand that in order to get more freedom and independence in their lives, they need to embrace their current external circumstances, instead of resisting them. This is what creates the unfulfilling search. They long to receive what they cannot truly have, within the means that they are searching to have it.
3. The Pressure to Succeed
In our society, many of us are taught from a young age that doing well academically will ultimately determine whether we are considered to be successful or not. We are taught that success is what you need to strive for and only when we achieve it will we be happy.
Nowadays, by the time you reach ninth grade, you are under an enormous amount of pressure to not only get good grades but, ultimately, determine what you want to do with the rest of your life—if you want any chance of succeeding, that is. Teenagers are faced with the pressure to not only live up to the expectations of their parents, but also their peers, communities, and society as a whole. The education system is focused so much on results that the most important part of the process—the learning—is often forgotten.
As the pressure continues to grow, their stress levels increase, their overall wellbeing diminishes, and mental, emotional, and physical imbalance becomes somewhat of a norm.
I believe the biggest reason why there is so much disconnection between parents and teenagers is because both parties don’t practice seeing one another’s perspective nearly enough. Parents often forget what it was like to be a teenager, and teenagers have no idea what it is like to be a parent. In order to bridge this gap, we all need to be more open about sharing our experiences.
If you are a parent, sharing your experiences of when you were a teenager allows your kids to truly relate to you on a whole other level. It was when my parents started sharing more stories and experiences, while still empowering me to make my own choices, that our relationship changed for the better.
Next time, I will provide suggestions on how you can interact and communicate with a teenager to build a more conscious, supportive, open, and loving relationship!
Michael Eisen is an inspirational speaker, author, and the founder of the Youth Wellness Network, an organization dedicated to inspiring and empowering youth across the globe to live happier and more positive lives. After positively transforming his own life at the age of nineteen, he is now on a lifelong crusade to share with other young people the principles, strategies, and practices that gave him the strength to start living a more joyful and healthier life. Michael’s first book, Empowered YOUth: A Father and Son’s Journey to Conscious Living, co-authored with his father Jeffrey Eisen, will be released fall of 2012 with Hay House. If you are looking for some summer inspiration, Michael will be running a four-week program in July on Living The Empowered YOU. To learn more about Michael and the Youth Wellness Network, visit www.youthwellnessnetwork.ca.
Photo by temporalata.