Biggest takeaway from Phyllis Fagell’s thoughtful piece about stressed-out middle schoolers: “If we can honor what makes them unique and help them develop self-awareness, we will lower their stress level.”
The typical parent reaction to our kids’ stress and anxiety is to seek OUT for help — what tutor, which therapist, what drug, which distraction will swoop in and help? Not knocking any of these options, as they are all fine choices, but in my opinion it’s most important that when our kids feel like they gotta get OUT to deal with stress/anxiety (and parents frantically join in on the search)… that’s when we need to teach them to go IN. They must learn to trust, respect and believe in themselves. Accept themselves 100% no matter what. When they establish that relationship with themselves, they are building resilience and forming a foundation for self-reliance they will need for their entire lives. Although tweens and teens are constantly in flux and their brains are still developing and emotions are all over the place, working on building this BFFness with themselves is critical because while doing so, they discover that it’s not a straight and smooth path. And that it’s never going to be, throughout their lives.
Instead of becoming “unmoored” when things don’t go their way, kids must learn to literally go with the flow. (Yes I just said “literally” which kinda pains me, but at least I used it the correct way). They must trust that their path is unfolding and opening up for them. It’s always there; they need only to learn to shine a light on it so they can see as they go along.
Sometimes the straight path feels more like an oval track of bumper cars. And that’s ok, too. When things go awry (didn’t make the team or get a part in the school musical or your group of friends suddenly dump you), it’s like being bumped by another car and being told by the universe to go a different way. Kids can choose to grumble at the temporary pain of the bump and move away in anger, or laugh and accept the bump and find another route with an open mind and eagerness to discover what’s next.
So how can our tweens and teens discover and appreciate their uniqueness, and develop self-awareness as Fagell suggests? By creating the space and time to be whoever they are, in a non-competitive environment, with no judging, no devices to power on or off, no social media. Just themselves and a journal and a pen. And their creativity and willingness to LET GO and release expectations. Not worry about what anyone else is doing, or thinking about them, or what they might be missing. Forget FOMO. Let’s help them replace it with JOGI…the Joy Of Going In.