I have been working as a middle school teacher for over fifteen years now, and in the last four years, I have observed an increase in the number of students who struggle with motivation, stress, and depression. There are, of course, varied reasons for this, but there is one thing I have been thinking a lot about lately: lack of clarity. I am not an expert in teenage psychology, so I wonder to which extent, it is possible to lead teenagers to create their own clarity.
Clarity of mind is something that is difficult for everyone, and often, the lack of it can be the root of our stress. When we lack clarity, we run like headless chickens from one thing to another, everything is important, everything is our priority, and we end up stressed and exhausted. We are like this plastic bag being blown around depending on the wind. Therefore, it is often a good idea, when we feel overwhelmed with stress, to take the time to stop and get our priorities clear, know what we actually want, what our assets are, and decide our own direction.
Of course, as a teenager, it is not expected to have life figured out, but I think we should talk about clarity with kids and teenagers. The big challenge here, I think, is that we live in a society that often sends contradicting messages to kids and teenagers. On one hand, many parents give more freedom to kids to do what they want at home, we struggle to keep routines in place, and protect our kids as much as we can from unpleasant situations. On the other, there is this underlying expectation that kids and teenagers have to succeed at school and have one or more afterschool activities where they also should do their best.
I have very talented students who excel in other areas than schoolwork, that already have a passion, but that have very low self-esteem because they don’t get high grades at school, and no matter how much I talk with them, they won’t believe me when I tell them that they are great. They want to do perfectly everywhere, they are very afraid of making mistakes or failing, so they often give up before they even try.
How about sitting down with our teenagers and making a list of what they do and how much time they invest in it? Then make another list of goals, and our own expectations towards them, and try to merge these into a priority list? Maybe such a conversation can also help us create some clarity for ourselves of what is really important for our children to learn in life and which expectations we can let go of.
I also feel that often, we allow teenagers to make choices they are not ready to make. This is also some sort of clarity. Since there is no clear framework for them, they can get lost in bad habits. I can see that at home with our fifteen-year-old son. Until he was around fourteen, going on a hike or a skiing trip with the family during the weekends was an expectation, but since he turned fifteen, we stopped insisting. This has resulted in him doing much less physical activity now, and I am not comfortable with it. I think we made a mistake by not pushing him to at least one trip with the family a week. It might be annoying for him, but it won’t hurt him, and it will definitely be good for him to get out, get some fresh air, and do some exercise. Not to mention spending time with his family.
Getting enough sleep is also a challenge at home. We gave in for some time during the weekends and holidays, but we realized we needed to go back to having strict routines and sticking to them with our son…Writing this, I wonder if this is where part of the confusion is.
On one side, we are not teaching our kids and teenagers anymore the importance of having routines and taking care of themselves, and on the other, we keep telling them that they need to succeed in life by doing well at school and everything else they engage in but we are not giving them the tools to do so.
I also think that although it is good to listen to our children and teens and respect their opinions, we sometimes need to make some unpopular decisions for them that we know will benefit them in the longrun. This only teaches them that they are stronger than they beieve. I saw that with one of our daughters. She hadn’t been thriving at school since she was in fifth school, but she didn’t want to change shools and my husband and I didn’t want to push her, until last year. We finially decided that it would be good for her to change environment and meet new people. It was a bit tough to begin with, but she’s doing great and I think this was a boost in her self-esteem. Not only she managed to adapt to a new school, she even made new friends! Sometimes, our kids can’t find their clarity, and we as adults, need to find one for them.