Young People Grow In Confidence Through Risks And Responsibilities, Says Expert On Adolescent Behavior
It’s no secret that adolescence is a time of high stress for many teens.
Although some young people navigate these difficult years with reasonable aplomb, many struggle and are unable to cope as they run into troubles in school, at home or in their neighborhoods.
That’s where adults can step in and aid them in cultivating the mental tools they need to bounce back from life’s most trying moments.
“It’s our job as parents and educators to help our young people develop the flexibility and resiliency to withstand the challenges they face on their path to adulthood,” says Linda Mornell (www.Lindamornell.com), an adolescent therapist and author of the book “Forever Changed: How Summer Programs and Insight Mentoring Challenge Adolescents and Transform Lives.”
Mornell has worked with teenagers for almost 45 years, both through her private counseling practice and as founder of the highly effective nonprofit organization Summer Search, which provides disadvantaged young people with challenging and even life changing mentoring and summer opportunities.
She says that encouraging the following five behaviors can help teens learn to bounce back rather than fold under the stresses of the adolescent years.
• Reach out rather than retreat. According recent research, the adolescent brain is flexible and highly sensitive to stress. Teens who isolate, withdraw into themselves, when stressed rather than reach out to others miss the opportunity of learning different ways of handling and relieving those stresses as well as diffusing intense feelings in a more positive ways. “Adolescents routinely say the opposite of what they feel,” Mornell says. “Go away often means please stay. Sit down and wait.”
• Tell their story. The ability to put one’s story into coherent words is the chance to see it from a distance and gain perspective as well as compare it with others, which creates a sense of community. Everyone has a story to tell. Avoid interrupting when your adolescent suddenly feels like talking. Listen longer.
• Separate from home and parents. In order to gain autonomy and confidence in themselves as individuals it is essential that adolescents find appropriate ways to separate physically and psychologically from their parents. This is increasingly hard in today’s world of constant connection through telecommunication. For teenagers this over communication often creates dependency and reinforces that the world is a challenging and even dangerous place and that they are not capable of learning to handle those challenges and dangers on their own. Mornell advises parents to, “Avoid constant texting and other forms of telecommunication. Give your teen room to make their own decisions and choices.”
• Engage in exploration and positive risk-taking. It is hard to learn to bounce back from challenges if there have been no significant difficulties, no walls to hit to bounce back from. Encourage your teen to reach out of familiar and safe comfort zones and take positive risks like meeting new people, exploring different activities, and participating in scary sounding summer opportunities like wilderness expeditions. Research opportunities for independent activities and challenging programs.
• Take responsibility for others. Caretaking whether it’s babysitting, volunteering in a home for elders, or standing up for kids who are bullied in school is one of the very best ways to increase resiliency. When teenagers lend their hand and their strengths to help, empower, protect, and care for others they experience and support eternal values as well as enhance the sense of their own worth. “Make talking about family values a part of dinner table conversation,” Mornell advises. “Remember, it’s our job as parents and educators to help our young people develop the flexibility and resiliency to withstand the inevitable challenges they will face on their path to adulthood and… learn how to bounce, bounce, b-o-u-n-c-e!”
About Linda Mornell
Linda Mornell (www.Lindamornell.com) is the founder of Summer Search, a nonprofit organization that provides disadvantaged young people with challenging summer opportunities and life-changing mentoring. She is also the author of the book “Forever Changed: How Summer Programs and Insight Mentoring Challenge Adolescents and Transform Lives.” Mornell was born on a farm in Muncie, Ind. After getting her RN and bachelor’s degrees from Methodist Hospital and DePauw University, she headed west on a Greyhound bus. She received psychiatric training from Langley Porter at the University of California in San Francisco and married a psychiatric resident, Pierre Mornell. She has three adult children and seven grandchildren. Mornell divides her time among family, writing and consulting. In 2014, she was blessed by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama for her efforts to empower disadvantaged youth.