Loving Teens From The Inside, Out!

I have the amazing luck to work with a group of teens every summer who come together weekly and create the content for the We're Talking Teen Health sites at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.

This year is different in many ways - the teens are all older than 14, there are 22 teens and our community has struggled to cope with two teen suicides in the last few months, so things are a little raw and everyone is willing to talk more about the things we usually do not mention.

Those things include how much academic, social and emotional pressure our children live with, what little connection teens feel with adults sometimes, and how precious little time teens and parents actually spend together.

My heart just aches to hear these things - especially from this amazingly talented, articulate and high functioning group of teenagers. A few weeks ago I asked them to describe an emotionally challenging time in their lives recently and how they coped, and here are some of their experiences:
  • What I have come to realize about scars, suicide, and, at the heart of it all, depression, is that even when you are honest with people about your feelings, sometimes they just can’t comprehend it. Their minds try and make up every excuse in the book about it, because they just don’t get what you are going through.
  • I had been up until 3AM studying ... I was sleep deprived, and ready to explode at any minor annoyance that crossed my path. Unfortunately for her, my sister happened to be what set me off... basically, all of my feelings of stress and worry about my grades and schoolwork that I had bottled up inside of me all year all came out on that morning, and ... I really did feel better. In the future though, I’ll try my best to deal with my stress gradually, instead of letting it fester inside of me until I can no longer control it ... upon innocent bystanders.
  • I didn’t get the score I wanted, I felt completely depressed. It wasn’t so much the score itself, but my idea that I would never be able to succeed at anything at all. I felt that something I had spent so much time on should be perfect, and since there were much harder things to come, how could I possibly succeed at those? ... Finally, I broke the news to my dad, which I feared would be the end of whatever pride they felt about me. Surprisingly, we had a talk about my accomplishments, and told me that a score, a simple number, isn’t the most important thing.
What I took away from hearing them talk about these experiences was that teens really need adults to be there for them emotionally - and that requires time, focus, and a commitment to our children as our priority. We have to love them from the inside, out! They need to know that we love them, value them, and care enough to listen to them talk - even if they talk for a long time before they get to their feelings!

They need to understand that it is not their SAT scores, grades, rank in their sport, musical talent, college of choice, or any other accomplishment that matters - we love them anyway - but how would they know that if all we ever talk about is what they are achieving?

Please, take the time to listen to your teen, spend time doing nothing with them, just because you like their company, and make sure they know that they matter more than anything else in your world!
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