This article starts an ongoing series, titled “How To Save Our Kids”, in an attempt to support our teens and families more. Stay tuned-in to the Fuller Life Family Therapy Blog for more on this topic!
At any given point in our human history, our culture keeps no secrets as to its ailments. Rather, our culture mercifully shows us how it hurts through symptoms. To face the sometimes ugly wounds of our culture is uncomfortable, to say the least. However, if we are able to tolerate that discomfort long enough to listen, we can hear exactly where we are hurting in our societal family. In the wake of the most recent U.S. school shooting, we are at a staggering 74 shootings since the tragic Sandy Hook shooting in December of 2012. We, as a culture, are hurting; and our kids are taking the hit for us.
There is a rapidly growing body of literature on the shifting needs of a better state- and nation-wide mental health system, however the buck does not stop with policy makers and proper legislation. If we trace this state of unrest and violence to the source – where do we truly find ourselves? What drives a child or adolescent to become so angry, so alone, and so filled with fear? A young person who is driven to an act of violence that implicates their entire school must not feel supported, encouraged or cared for. The emotional and psychological needs of our children go by the wayside if our adults are unable to care for them. So the issue we have on our hands is not limited to our young people, but rather implicates our entire society at large: We, as a culture, are being called to boldly reprioritize our value system and place mental health at the top. Whether we are a parent, a relative, a teacher or simply a U.S. citizen – each of us comes into contact with adolescents and therefore bears a role. Here are a few self-reflective questions to help us get started in reprioritizing, and responding lovingly – yet boldly – to the state of things:
How is my own mental health? When is the last time I had a mental health check-up? Dr. Amy Fuller, founder of Fuller Life Family Therapy, recommends routine mental health check-ups as frequent as every six months. Every human person requires physical care, mental care and emotional care. Can we properly support our young people if we, ourselves, are hurting? Mental Health America (MHA) offers free initial screenings online for four of the most common pitfalls in mental health. Check out the following ten tips from MHA on how to take care of ourselves holistically! [Click each tip for more information.]
- Connect with others
- Stay positive
- Get physically active
- Help others
- Get enough sleep
- Create joy and satisfaction
- Eat well
- Take care of your spirit
- Deal better with hard times
- Get professional help if you need it
Do I know what the typical teenager is struggling with in contemporary culture? We, as adults, are working hard and doing what is necessary to provide for ourselves and our families. It stands to reason that we might see this as top-priority! However, our teenagers are busy waging wars in their social circles and within themselves. They are learning new, and often troubling things, as they cross the bridge from childhood to adolescence. It can be traumatic, scary and incredibly confusing. We cannot forget to be there for our adolescents as they experience this jarring transition; this is our new priority. Issues like suicide, sex, drugs, alcohol, and social media concerns are bombarding our kid’s minds and hearts through every channel on a daily basis. Our role as adults is to stay connected with our young people to help them feel supported and safe as they learn and grow. Though we can only go so far to protect the minds and hearts of our young people, we can stay current with their culture and learn how it affects them. If we are unfamiliar with what is out there – why not start boning up on pop culture and learning what is important to our kids? The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding is a brilliant resource to begin familiarizing ourselves with what is trending in youth culture. Though it is geared towards parents, this website has something for each of us to learn about youth culture.
How do I communicate with the young people I come into contact with? If we want our young people to feel supported, we must learn to keep open lines of honest communication with adolescents. Statistically speaking, roughly 20 to 40 percent of teens will experience more than one episode of depression, lasting an average of eight months within a period of two years; 70 percent of troubled teens will experience another episode before adulthood (Source: Parent Resources). What this means to us is that – at any given time – our teens have at least one thing on their minds and hearts that has potential to bring them down. Perhaps our teens desperately need to talk, but need the adults in their lives to be the ones to reach out. So how do we reach out in a way that can truly reach our young ones? We can start with these initial tips, borrowed from adolescent expert Dr. Michele Borba:
1. Rather than multitask, give your full attention to teens when they speak to you.
2. Practice empathy rather than advice-giving.
3. Routinely ask if there is anything on a teens mind or heart. If you get a wall, you can gently ask again. Then simply let them know you are there for them.
4. Empower teens by asking questions about their thoughts and opinions.
5. Respect young people and the journey they are on. Practice patient compassion for the developmental challenges teens are undergoing.
These things, though simple, can help a teen feel a sense of belonging, importance and worth – which naturally and effectively wards off lonely down-spirals of anger and frustration. With the support of a loving and attentive adult, there is no issue that a teen cannot handle. We are living in a time when mental health needs can no longer be on the back burner, and our teens are reminding each of us of our role in helping to heal our culture. Stay tuned into the Fuller Life Family Therapy Blog for more on how to show up for our teens!
Lesley Anne Mendonça
M.A., LMFT-Associate, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Dr. Amy Fuller, LMFT-S, LPC-S
A Note on School Shootings:
For more information on school shootings and how to get involved, visit Stop The Shootings. Looking for some tips on how to talk about school shootings with children? Read up on what Dr. Gregory L. Jantz writes in Hope for Relationships for some great tools. We, as a societal family, have an obligation to persevere in caring for one another – and that care must include emotional and psychological well-being. We are called to make an ongoing commitment to lasting change.