As much as I have grown to love empowering women nothing could ever replace my love for children's mental health. I have always loved children and been working with children since I started babysitting at age 12 then going to work in daycares and in summer programs at age 15. I just see such a problem with the way that children are viewed as these little creatures that don't have thoughts or feelings to be valued by adults. I actually chose social work as a major for this very reason...to advocate for children's mental health...teaching them to find their voice and being their voice until that happens.
We talk about adult mental health but what can we do for young people now so that it is not so much of a struggle for them later?
Let's jump right in!
1. Teach them how to make choices
I hear a lot of adults (especially in the Black community 😫) say that children do not have opinions or a right to make choices and it makes me cringe so much! The number one thing to remember in this post is that children grow up to be adults! Each one of these tips will aid them in growing to be healthy, well-rounded adults.
This step can begin as young as one or two years old. A two year old doesn't really understand the concept of needing to wear a sweater opposed to a tank top in the winter, right? However, she can pick between the pink sweater and the blue one. As they get older allow them more choices. This is so empowering for a child, also it prevents them from growing up like me and my sisters where making decisions literally causes anxiety.
Always being afraid of making the wrong choice is crippling, but learning that it is okay to make a choice and maybe learn later that another choice would have been better is life changing!
2. Talk through reasoning
How often as a child were you given the explanation, "because I said so". And how many times as an adult do you do things in a certain way just because "that's the way we've always done it"? What is that teaching them?!
I believe in teachable moments. Having taught and counseled children in various arenas I truly understand how frustrating it can be sometimes, however, you have to be able to take yourself out of your own frustration and think about how your answer can impact them later. Maybe you come back later with a different answer but they deserve to learn reasoning. I've been told that as a child I didn't really take too kindly to "because I said so" and I believe that because I am still the same way! I am always questioning why things are the way they are, not out of rebellion but out of wanting to do things the most efficient way possible with the least amount of work (my time is valuable). Sometimes it results in me learning that this is the best way to do it or that it has to be done this way because of other conditions, and sometimes the other person is able to adopt my way. This is learned though.
3. Listen to them!
I was going to save this for last but I need you to get this!
You can say that young people do not have opinions all you want but that doesn't make it true.
It's all about empowerment, people! Just as I said for you to talk through your reasoning with them...it is important to listen to their reasoning also! Sometimes they don't even know what the reason is but a huge part of growing up is challenging them to think about that. I have a lot of teenagers that I talk to and mentor and counsel and whenever they talk about a decision I can see as an adult is not very smart I always ask them why and how will this impact you? It is important for them to learn to think ahead and think for themselves.
I had a client that got into a fight with another student, I asked him why and he responded with, "he talked about my dad". So I asked him why again, why did you feel the need to fight him over that and to my surprise he gave an answer that was more than, "you don't talk about people's parents". He was able to verbalize that if he doesn't fight about it now and defend himself and his family they will continue doing the same thing. Now of course we talked about alternative options and ways of thinking but I also praised him for thinking it through and having a reason! Critical thinking is a skill that too many adults lack because no one would talk through reasoning with them.
Listen to the issues they are having with their friends. I hate when adults tell youth, "it doesn't matter" or how small an issue is. It is not small to them. Yes, later it may be, but right now it's not, and they don't need you to be condescending; they need you to help them problem solve (or just listen). These things go beyond 18 years old!
Stop bashing their social media use. Have you ever asked a teenager why social media is so important to them and why they feel they need to be on it? Try it. Be open.
4. Stop avoiding the hard topics
Listen, with google and social media there is no information that is off limits to today's youth. So, you choose, they either learn things (typically the wrong information) through their friends and the internet or you can teach them why your family believes the way you do. This is especially true for teenagers and making them avoid the internet is not an option...it's everywhere! But, you have to be open!
Talk to them about world issues and ask what they think about what is going on in the world and their community. It shows them a world outside of social media.
5. Let them talk to a therapist
I have met a lot of parents that are scared that their child seeing a therapist makes them a bad parent. It doesn't! Do you remember when you were young and there were certain things you didn't want to talk to your parents about but you needed to talk to someone about it besides your friends who didn't know anything? Same thing. It actually makes you a better parent because you are equipping them with tools that will help them FOREVER!
Parenting is not about your ego. Parenting is about guiding a young person into adulthood. They are not there to compete with you or challenge how much you know but to learn from you.
Bonus: Let them be themselves and praise them for it
There are a lot of things that as an adult I have struggled with how they can fit into my life beneficially because they were punished in childhood. For instance, I have what I was raised to know as "a smart mouth". I am outspoken, opinionated, and independent. More time was spent punishing me when I gave a rebuttal, asked questions, or tried to make my point, and less time being listened to, and taught how I could change the way I was making my point. At 29, I am learning how to make those things work for me rather than against me but it has been a painful process and I have learned hard lessons. I tried to just silence it but it is a part of who I am and that only frustrated me and caused me to explode later. I wish so much that I was taught how to turn that into a strength rather than it being made out to be a weakness.
Kids express themselves differently because they have yet to learn to mute their true selves to please others...it doesn't last long...let them live. If it isn't killing them...why stress?
Thank you so much for taking your time to read this. I know, it's uncomfortable and a lot of people won't like it but it has to be said.
Please comment with your thoughts and share!