“The power of youth is the commonwealth for the entire world. The faces of young people are the faces of our past, our present and our future. No segment in society can match with the power, idealism, enthusiasm, and courage of young people.”
- Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian children's activist, and Nobel Peace Prize Winner
In our co-relational model at The Calgary Therapy Institute, we recognize the importance of our young people. They carry the hope for our future, and they need us to understand how the burden and potential prosperity of our current times has shaped out their psychological well-being. Our monthly blog is focused on our young, and their well-being.
According to the lifespan perspective, and Psychology Today (n.d.), adolescence is defined as the time in an individual’s life when they are between the ages of 12 and 19.
According to psychologist Jean Piaget, adolescence is a time when individuals are in, what he called, the formal operational stage (Cherry, 2023). That is, the stage where individuals are learning to reason logically to abstract concepts.
Physically, there are many changes throughout adolescence such as: postnatal brain development, and growth spurts (muscular system, and heart and lungs). Due to postnatal brain development, adolescents make extreme advances in their information-processing capabilities compared to elementary children. This includes increases in their meta- cognition, memory, and strategy use (“Adolescent Development,” n.d.).
Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory of development states that individuals encounter 8 stages, or crises throughout their life. He posited, whether an individual progresses through each crisis, positively or negatively, impacts their social development throughout their lifespan. According to Erikson, the crisis of an adolescent is identity vs. role confusion. That is, adolescence go through a period where they are troubled by their lack of identity, and therefore, protect themselves by merging individual identities with groups. This is a time when an adolescent begins to obtain their own pattern of beliefs, occupational goals, and relationships. In short, this is a time where an individual is developing an idea of who they are and where they belong in culture (Mcleod, 2023).
According to Sigmund Freud, these years are characterized by the challenge of forming emotional bonds with peers, both romantically and non-romantically. These bonds were to exceed the relationships that were developed with parents from earlier years (Tantry, 2020).
Needless to say, no matter what psychologist you resonate with most, ages 12-19 is a big period of growth both physically and mentally, and emotionally.
Figure 1: [Photograph of Diversity Art Print]. (n.d.). edieart. Retrieved May 08, 2023, from Diversity Art Print Art for Classroom Art for Equality - Etsy Canada
Common Stressors in the Adolescent's, modern world
We talk about stress all the time like we should all know what it is, but do we? Stress is a response, mental or physical, to external challenges, pressures, or events. Stress can show up in all ages via tense muscles, headaches, teeth-grinding, increased heart rate, sweating, trouble sleeping, low energy, irritability, difficulty focusing, loss of motivation, or being easily overwhelmed (“stress and stress”, 2022).
What Kinds of Stressors are Prominent in Pre-teens and Teenagers in Today's Modern World?
According to “Stress and Anxiety…” the following are the most common stressors in young pre-teens:
Around 12 years of age, kids exposure to social awareness sky rockets; therefore, social, academic, and extracurriculars tend to be the pinpoint of their stressors.
a 13 year-old's body, and the changes associated with puberty alongside their increasing desire to feel independent, and figure out their identity, leaves them feeling highly sensitive.
14-year-olds are balancing the stressors of first crush-relationships, and their academic performance. They are balancing: enjoying these new experiences and the feelings of being unprepared and incompetent. At this stage, our pre-teens can be especially vulnerable to body dysmorphia (the inability to stop thinking about one's perceived flaws in their appearance (Mayo Clinic, 2022)), and sexual exploitation.
According to Divecha (2019), there is increased blame for teen stress on social media. There is no doubt that increased exposure to social media corresponds to increased exposure to social comparison; this leaves our teens with a false idea of how they’re supposed to look, what they should be eating, and how happy / carefree everyone else lives. Divecha’s (2019) article includes research support for this claim broadcasting the correlation between smart phone sales in 2012 and increasing teen mental health problems, as well as a correlation between in-person connections and lower rates of mental health issues.
Stressors acknowledged above are, what seem to be, the most common stressors in pre-teen and teens, and as a parent it can be hard to watch them go through these things. We know that it is a part of life, and necessary for them, but it can leave us feeling helpless.
So, What can parents and the Community do to help?
It is often underestimated how the basics (food, water, and exercise) impact an individual. When we are stressed out, these can often be the first things we forget to keep track of and ensure we are getting proper amounts of. If you are noticing your child is becoming stressed, it is so important to check in on the basics, and ensure that they are fueling their body in a way that is necessary for it to function properly.
The next best thing a parent can do for their kids is to be the model they need. Your child is always looking up to you, if you’re able to show them what proper self-care looks like, they often will try to imitate what you do. You can demonstrate this by: getting consistent exercise and fresh air, remembering to breath and take deep breaths, create quiet time where you can relax, prioritize family connection time like daily evening dinner together, or creating a safe space to be honest about how you’re feeling rather than saying “you’re fine” when you’re visibly not fine.
Utilizing this emotionally intelligent safe-space, create a plan with your child for when they’re feeling the onset of their stress. If a plan is in place - what will they say to those around them? Where will they go? – this creates space cognitively for them to process their stress and emotions, rather than focusing on what they need to do. In short, helps navigate the child into a state of emotional intelligence rather than fight vs. flight.
A recent idea came to me when discussing with a colleague; introducing “the best and worst part of your day” at dinner time. This
creates an open/ safe space to discuss times in your day when you felt good and bad
making this habit can decrease any pressure that may be associated to bringing up the bad parts of your day
helps you, as a parent, have a deeper understanding of what is going on in your child's life
Some Stress is Good!
It is important to remember, that stress is a part of our every day lives and is a part of becoming an adult. A healthy amount of stress is an important part of neural development, it can enhance performance, and can be used as a motivation tactic for your child to strive to be the best version of themselves. While we always want to help our kids, it is also important to give them a healthy amount of independence to figure out their situation. This will help to build their resiliency in the face of future stress, as well as their confidence in what they’re able to accomplish on their own.
In an effort to help the children of our community self-determine their mental health needs, and help them through times of stress, we are opening up an option for “playroom therapy.” This is a new therapeutic method that takes place in a comfortable and colorful playroom, with little rules, where a child can engage in free and spontaneous expressions of their feelings, and enables the practitioners to healthy stress navigation tools, specific to your child. If this is something that interests you, and you would like to hear more about it, please call us at our office (403)-640-7667 and one of our administrative team members would be happy to provide you with further information on some of these services!
Lastly, we are not alone in this process. Parents feel unsure, and sometimes unprepared for this turbulent time in their family. Young people can thrive with knowing there are grandparents, aunts / uncles, and other good people that you can rely on. Neighbors, coaches, teachers, therapists, and mentors are all a part of the support community that tweens, teens, and their parents need.
The future lies in the strength of the relational support we bu8ild in for our young and their caregivers.
Adolescence. (n.d). Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/adolescence#:~:text=Adolescence%20is%20the%20transitional%20stage%20from%20childhood%20to,or%20%22tween%22%20years%3A%20between%20ages%209%20and%2012.
Adolescent Development. (n.d.) Cleaveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/7060-adolescent-development#:~:text=During%20cognitive%20development%20in%20adolescence%2C%20large%20numbers%20of,connect.%20This%20allows%20for%20more%20complex%2C%20sophisticated%20thinking.
Cherry, K. (2023, March 02). The Formal Operational Stage of Cognitive Development. Verywellmind. https://www.verywellmind.com/formal-operational-stage-of-cognitive-development-2795459#:~:text=The%20formal%20operational%20stage%20is%20the%20fourth%20and,children%27s%20thinking%20becomes%20much%20more%20sophisticated%20and%20advanced.
Divecha, D. (2019, May 09). Our Teens Are More Stressed Than Ever: Why, and What Can You Do About It?.
Mayo Clinic Staff (2022, December 13). Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/body-dysmorphic-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20353938
Mcleod, S. (2023, May 01). Erik Erikson’s 8 Stages of Psychosocial Development. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/erik-erikson.html
Stress and Anxiety for Your 12-Year-Old. (2021, September 29). ParentingMontana.org Website. https://parentingmontana.org/stress-and-anxiety-for-your-12-year-old/#:~:text=Twelve%2Dyear%2Dolds%20may%20be,%2C%20academic%2C%20and%20extracurricular%20pressures.
Stress and stress management: pre-teens and teenagers. (2022, October 19). The Australian Parenting Website. https://raisingchildren.net.au/pre-teens/mental-health-physical-health/stress-anxiety-depression/stress-in-teens#:~:text=relationships%20with%20friends%20and%20romantic,like%20trying%20a%20new%20sport