It’s no secret that adolescence is a time of high stress for many teens.
Although some young people navigate these difficult years with reasonable aplomb, many struggle and are unable to cope as they run into troubles in school, at home or in their neighborhoods.
That’s where adults can step in and aid them in cultivating the mental tools they need to bounce back from life’s most trying moments.
“It’s our job as parents and educators to help our young people develop the flexibility and resiliency to withstand the challenges they face on their path to adulthood,” says Linda Mornell (www.Lindamornell.com), an adolescent therapist and author of the book “Forever Changed: How Summer Programs and Insight Mentoring Challenge Adolescents and Transform Lives.”
Mornell has worked with teenagers for almost 45 years, both through her private counseling practice and as founder of the highly effective nonprofit organization Summer Search, which provides disadvantaged young people with challenging and even life changing mentoring and summer opportunities.
She says that encouraging the following five behaviors can help teens learn to bounce back rather than fold under the stresses of the adolescent years.
• Reach out rather than retreat. Recent research tells us that the adolescent brain is flexible and highly sensitive to stress, Mornell says. “Many teens withdraw into themselves when they are stressed, rather than reaching out to others,” she says. “When they do that, they miss out on learning different ways of handling and relieving those stresses, as well as diffusing intense feeling in more positive ways.” As parents try to address this, they need to understand that adolescents routinely say the opposite of what they feel. “‘Go away’ often means ‘please stay,’ ” Mornell says. “Parents should not leave but sit down and wait.”
• Tell their story. The ability to put their story into coherent words gives teens the chance to see it from a distance and gain perspective, Mornell says. They also can compare their story to the stories of others, and that creates a sense of community. She says parents should avoid interrupting and be willing to listen when an adolescent feels like talking.
• Separate from home and parents. For adolescents to gain autonomy and confidence, it’s essential that they sometimes separate themselves physically and psychologically from their parents, Mornell says. That’s becoming harder and harder to do in today’s world where cell phones give people instant and constant communication. “For teenagers, this over communication reinforces the idea that the world is a challenging and even dangerous place, and that they aren’t capable of learning to handle those challenges and dangers on their own.” Mornell suggests that parents avoid constant texting and connection, and give their teens room to make their own decisions.”
• Engage in exploration and positive risk-taking. It’s hard for teens to learn how to bounce back from challenges if they’ve been protected from encountering any significant difficulties to bounce back from. “Parents should encourage teens to reach out of their familiar and safe comfort zones and take positive risks like meeting new people, exploring different activities and participating in scary sounding summer opportunities like wilderness expeditions,” Mornell says.
• Take responsibility for others. Caretaking is one of the best ways to increase resiliency, whether you are babysitting, volunteering in a home for elders, or standing up for kids who are bullied, Mornell says. “When teens lend a hand to help others, they experience and support eternal values and enhance the sense of their own worth. Parents should spend time talking with teens about their family values for helping others.”
About Linda Mornell
Linda Mornell (www.Lindamornell.com) is the founder of Summer Search, a nonprofit organization that provides disadvantaged young people with challenging summer opportunities and life-changing mentoring. She is also the author of the book “Forever Changed: How Summer Programs and Insight Mentoring Challenge Adolescents and Transform Lives.” Mornell was born on a farm in Muncie, Ind. After getting her RN and bachelor’s degrees from Methodist Hospital and DePauw University, she headed west on a Greyhound bus. She received psychiatric training from Langley Porter at the University of California in San Francisco and married a psychiatric resident, Pierre Mornell. She has three adult children and seven grandchildren. Mornell divides her time among family, writing and consulting. In 2014, she was blessed by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama for her efforts to empower disadvantaged youth.