What do you have to be stressed about? – Part Three
In part one of this series, I provided this list of actions that will help you identify with a teen’s perception of stress and then help them move toward better stress coping skills.
When a teen says they are stressed out: Believe them and act like you believe them
Explore what they see as the sources of stress by asking insightful questions
Refrain from making minimizing comments or giving over-simplified advice
Be content to act as a ventilation source – practice empathy without fixing
When they say “you wouldn’t understand” agree with them and ask them to help you understand
Encourage their connection to groups where they can discuss common stressors with peers and discover better coping mechanisms
Let’s dig into actions 3 and 4 on this list and explore why those actions are important and what they would look like in practice.
Action – Refrain from making minimizing comments or giving over-simplified advice
I’m currently writing a chapter in a book that I’ll publish later this year. The chapter title is “Fixers and Other Trouble-Makers.” There’s not too many things that are less helpful than people who offer quick solutions to complex problems. The fixers intentions can be genuine. They want to help minimize someone’s pain or provide a more positive way for someone to look at their troubles. But when that’s done with minimizing language, “Come on, you know it’s not that bad…” “This is just a bump in the road… nothing to get all worked up about,” it invalidates the emotional weight teens are feeling and challenges their perception.
You might also do yourself a favor by admitting that much of our over-simplified advice is based on convenience. Platitudes don’t really help anything, but they are generally nodded at and accepted by people as your attempt at being helpful. Any form of reception to advice-giving can work to satisfy you, that you showed concern and did your part, but minimizing comments and oversimplified advice leave teens exactly where they are in their pain or perceptions. Helping them understand the causes of stress and discover better ways to perceive and respond to them will take time and patience.
Action – Be content to act as a ventilation source – practice empathy without fixing
One of the things we’ve discovered through our group-coaching interventions is that teens don’t have trusting relationships with adults who will let them talk openly about the real subjects that matter to them. We’ve helped teens work on action plans to decrease the amount of weed they are smoking every week. In many of those situations, the parents use drugs and may have even introduced their child to weed as a way to help them with their anxiety or calm them down. Who can they talk to about that? We don’t warn them about the dangers of drug use, try to convince them that the best thing to do is quit, or offer suggestions on what they can do to stop. We let them say what they need to say out loud, show empathy, “I get how difficult this is for you,” and guide them to the actions they are ready and willing to take to move forward on what they want to do.
If you are a parent (who did not encourage them to use drugs) you’ll need to get your teenager connected to groups where they can freely talk about things that they’ll never share with you (more on that in the next blog). If you are a youth-work professional, you’ll need to create a non-judgmental, non-reactive space for teens to vent about the causes of their stress and what they are doing to cope with it.
Your selective perception bias is probably kicking in about now because you are running the situations I’ve described here through the filters of your personal history, cultural expectations, and morality. Keeping that bias in check will help you to be someone who can hear what a teen is thinking, validate their perceptions and retain a place to help guide and influence them.
Okay, that’s it for now. I’ve got one more blog in this series to unpack the last two actions on this subject of responding as a helping adult to a teen’s perception of stress. You can go to the ElevateYouthSolutions.com website and subscribe to our email list if you want to be notified about future posts. As usual, I’m super interested in your thoughts and ideas on what I’ve shared, so please jump in with a comment.
Jack brings a Master’s level education in strategic leadership along with a successful training/consulting track record to the Elevate team. His skills include coaching services with a special emphasis on conflict resolution and improving social/emotional intelligence; creating personal development plans for individuals.
His training as a certified academic coach and work within for-profit and non-profit corporations has given him a unique and valuable perspective which he contributed to the development and deployment of the EYS program.