means understanding their fragility and their need to grow, and knowing their world so they trust you and consider your advice.
Print this article and read it. Then come back and find out how you can help your youth, either to be above their confusing reality or to restore and repair themselves if they are already feeling the pain. But for goodness sake, don’t pull the wool over your eyes. The problem is epidemic.
No one can solve a problem without first understanding it. Or else, we`d be shooting in the dark, and either succeeding without consistency, or failing and wondering why. Therefore, the first thing we have to know is that an unhealthy behaviour, any unhealthy mood or behaviour displayed by a youth in our care – self-doubt, rejection, not fitting in, lack of motivation, using drugs or alcohol liberally, irresponsible partying, attachment to computer games, chat, porn, antisocial or even acts of self-harm – are simply revelations of how they feel inside or their attempts to suppress those feelings they can neither understand nor fix. It is the same with mood swings, self-doubt, bullying, or submissiveness. These are the unprotected feelings of insecurity that come simply because they do not fit in with their world. It is their world that stresses them – their world of fast paced technology, social unrest, job insecurity, career uncertainty, environmental and health hazards, family disruptions. And what is more, the problems their friends have to face cause them to release actions that create and impose more problems, more turmoil and more rejection on each other than are natural even in their already tough world.
So the problem is that they do not feel good enough, and they show it. Or they find a way to feel strong that may not always be logical or intelligent. In other words, they are simply going through the normal task of looking for their own identity and cannot appreciate what they discover. So they hate what they see, find a way to avoid having to face it, or they build it up artificially.
So, our youth use drugs, not just as a treat, pernicious though it is, but as one of the many ways of acting out an inner turmoil they do not know how to fix. And that inner turmoil is hidden, even from the most caring or discerning parent. So, as a caring parent, we cannot just stop our children from using drugs, abusing alcohol, or acting out. These are the outward manifestation of an inner turmoil. If we succeed in stifling the behaviour without also or primarily helping them to identify and fix the inner turmoil, all we accomplish is a child with pent-up fears and frustrations he/she cannot reveal. These feelings will burst out another way or much more severely when they get too big for the child to endure. Therefore, the real problem we have to help them to identify and address is the inner turmoil.
A child does not always identify an inner turmoil as an abnormal event. It is quite common to externalize it and see the external association as the cause. For example, a child may say that he is unhappy because he cannot stay out late with his friends. This is not the problem. The real problem is what generates the need to be out late. It may be boredom, a need for acceptability, feeling lost or confused in their own skin, an established attachment to friends to whom they feel they have to prove allegiance, or the singular activity they find relaxing, pleasurable, or forgiving in a life of strife and turmoil.
Understanding The Problem
Youth are still green to the real challenges of life. They see the ideal and want it. They naturally presume that, if everything stayed the same; if families always stayed together; if friends always stayed loyal, or kept the same ideas; if they weren’t pushed to do unnecessary chores and studies; if they did not have to get sick, or injured… life could be so easy, so pleasant, so uncomplicated. And they believe that it should be. So they react to change with intolerance, retreat to a more forgiving reality of virtual networking, computer gaming, or social isolation, or soothe themselves with drugs and the free use of alcohol.
But LIFE CHANGES… at its own whim and usually so imperceptibly that we only see the change when it builds to a huge or insurmountable challenge. For young people this presents a dilemma.
- Parents get separated, emigrate, die, or move the whole family to another place with new people who are already established in their own cliques
Old friends have their own problems and do not always stay loyal, they simply don’t know how to help, or they move away just when a friendship gets established
- Puberty comes with a bang or so it seems, bringing new hormones that swing their moods in ways that befuddle them; and change their appearance to make them seem different from their peers… from acne to growth spurts that often seem to make them feel gangly and strange; it introduces new feelings they really do not understand. They easily experience a tiredness they can neither understand nor explain because there is so much going on in their bodies, and in their minds.
- School gets more demanding. If they work hard to pass grade nine, they get “promoted” to grade ten with more new challenges, new responsibilities. Yet, if they do not work hard, they simply have to do it again and still have grade ten to ponder. And that keeps getting worse as they progress either to college or to work.
- The increased communication and rapid transportation of today’s reality make everything and everyone immediately accessible, but that brings more impositions, more diversity, more confusion and unpredictability than can be managed even with great insight.
Life gets more difficult every step of the way.
Added to these troubles, almost every young person also starts having doubts about their own identity, who they are, what is their sexual orientation, what makes them tick. It is a period when they are supposed to break free from the support systems that once defined them and forge an identity that is their own. What a frightening thought. And while they have these doubts, they find that others either cannot understand or are so engrossed in their own issues that they don’t seem to care.
Then, it is just difficult to fit in to the society that is now theirs.
Then, it can seem easier to do things their peers do even if it is unhealthy, like drugs, sex, passive hanging out. They get angry and irritable or lonely and depressed when things go wrong. They create an identity that is different from what they had, just to be unique, but often find themselves simply accepting value systems that are no less stringent, no more reassuring.
Is it fair? No! But it is real. Yet, as soon as they feel they have conquered what is ahead, they often get sidelined by new problems, new responsibilities that start the fear and pain all over again. And you cannot shelter them from the challenges they have to face. Work WILL get harder. Bullies WILL always target whomever they think is weaker. The young, healthy bodies WILL succumb to injury, disease, and aging. They WILL have to take on new responsibilities of relationships, career development, financial struggles, parenting, social unrest, and the list goes on.
Understanding The Solution
This is change. It seems like stress. But change does not have to bring stress. What they really need, what anyone needs in order to tackle change BEFORE allowing it to grow to an insurmountable stress is to face it with confidence that is driven by understanding. In short, it is to be able to develop a STRONG SENSE OF SELF (a thick skin, so to speak) that allows them to be immune to the vagaries of change. A ship in a storm cannot be tethered but must be allowed to ride the waves. And life is a storm, a very powerful one.
Understanding, however, has to be built, developed personally. It cannot be transferred, bought, or stolen. It is the strength that differentiates the human being from the lower life forms, the more capable from the ordinary. And everyone has the goods to become that more capable person. They just need to be challenged, guided, and stimulated.
We have to realize and share with them that, no matter how tough things may appear, life will only get more challenging. But that is just on the OUTSIDE… more demands, more disruption and more turmoil. They do not have to be the same INSIDE. It is not only possible but realistic to be calm and happy INSIDE even when life is disrupted or tough and demanding OUTSIDE.
The only way to do this is to untether the self from the measures or support systems that are apparently more secure on the surface but are easily destroyed when change is too harsh, destabilized when change is too frequent and impotent when change requires their courage. These are: physical strength and stamina, social power, financial strength, or the accumulation of information that is not supported by understanding.
Then, it is necessary to tether it to a definition of self as an intelligent mind capable of creating insight and new solutions and enjoying the process, not as fragile bodies with a need to survive.
Therefore, waiting only delays the inevitable. Treating the coping strategies does not fix the real problem. Fixating your focus on the behaviour or the feelings will never allow you or them to solve the real problem. You have to help them discover and appreciate themselves. And that means getting them to realize that their world is tough, not only for them, but also for others. It also means getting them to appreciate themselves for more than what they can show or what they can see, but for how they think. They must be encouraged to stimulate their most powerful asset, the self – learn to like the self as the essence of their nature. Whether it is done through discussions at home, through social challenges at school, or through a church-based discussion of soul or self, that discovery of the invisible power of the human being is essential to the wellbeing and self-management of everyone.
You help your child manage a drug habit, a social dependence, social fear, or a personal insecurity, not by minimizing the problem, but by accepting its seriousness and helping the child focus on strengthening the power that can overcome it. Minimizing the problem only sends the message that the child is as foolish as he/she already believes. Criticizing or punishing a behaviour only confuses them more as they never intended to be bad. They are simply working within their limitations. They have to know that they are simply trying to face a tough reality as a new adult but with the resources of the child. It is okay to fail or feel inadequately prepared most of the time. It is not okay to stay that way. But they must learn to face their world by developing and relying on their most powerful asset, their rational mind. It is a tough task but one that can help you give your child something that is more precious than money or prolonged guardianship.
Now, let us help your child before it is too late.