Sometimes it feels crazy being young these days!
With increasing cut-throat competition, a non-directional rat race and socio-cultural shift in paradigm, the focus for today’s young people today needs to be on how to thrive, not just how to survive.
It has been observed in the recent years that the rates of depression and anxiety among youth has increased manifold. The underlying reason behind this could be the implicit messages that we inculcate in our children from a very young age. These subtle messages include the need to compete and excel in all spheres of life, thereby creating an embedded power driven dynamics in our sub-conscious minds. This creates a lens or a world-view in them that approaches every task with the intent of winning instead of learning or experiencing. It is no secret now, with the increased debates on the subject that adolescence is a transition period between childhood and adulthood, marked by rapid physical, hormonal, cognitive, social and neurological changes. These simultaneous changes can often become overwhelming and challenging to cope with for the adolescents.
Apart from “mental health” there are quite a few changes which are usually observed in most young people’s years of transition during adolescence … and also a few clues as to how we can counter them and build a healthier mental state :
Physical Changes- They incorporate the changes in the body of adolescents due to growth spurt and development of the primary & secondary sexual characteristics. These changes often become confusing to understand and even lead to low self-esteem due to extreme consciousness.
Way forward- Normalizing these bodily changes for them by having open channels of communication in order to enable the understanding that these changes are normal and merely a part of the growing up process.
Emotional Changes- Due to the activated hormonal system, experiencing mood swings and shifts in emotional balance is a common observation in individuals undergoing this transition phase.
Way forward- Do not trivialize their feelings or concerns by labelling them as ‘unimportant’ or merely their own creation. Discuss the issues concerning them and try to come up with common solutions that are led by logic and rationality. Adolescents relate very well to logical and rational explanations! Reinforce them positively and build on their already existing ideas.
Cognitive Changes- Their thinking becomes more abstract, complex and adult-like. This means they constantly try to make sense of the world around them and build their own ideas, opinions and understanding on various themes. This gets exacerbated by the conflicting messages from the adults around with regard to them being an adult or still immature to make independent choices.
Way Forward- Their achievements in terms of the growing understanding on various themes needs positive reinforcement and acknowledgement to build self-esteem and confidence. If some concepts need rectification, they must be modified in a sensitive manner. This means that it has to be a constructive feedback rather than nit-picking. And they are perceptive enough to read in between the lines to decipher the kind of feedback given!
Social Changes- From being under the wings of parents/caregivers, their attention shifts to the peer group. Socializing becomes more about a need to belong or fit in groups. The self-esteem too greatly becomes dependent on the same! Bullying or other peer related issues can leave a life long impact on their psyche, even as adults. Feedback/stimulation from the environment plays a vital role in developing the way in which they perceive themselves.
Way forward- Care needs to be taken regarding the tone and intent of communication. All interactions need to be conducted in an emotionally enabling manner, yet firm boundaries need to be built. The delicate balance between the two needs to be conducted with careful explanation so that the adolescent understands why certain behaviors are expected of them. Social support systems and networks are to be created around them in order to make help easily accessible.
Neurological Changes- It has been discerned through recent studies that adolescent brains are still under construction! The pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with logical reasoning and decision making is still undergoing changes. This also explains the risk-taking behavior that they often indulge in. The brain changes and re-structuring continues till they turn 25.
Way forward- Being sensitive towards their needs and concerns and assisting them in the process of decision making and problem solving is imperative. When the adolescents deeply develop the faith that you and them are on the same team, their cooperation and receptivity increases automatically.
It is my firm belief as a practicing psychologist catering to this age group that with an emotionally enabling environment and a little bit of hand holding, they cannot just survive this overbearing stage, but also thrive and reach their full potential in the process. However, if we continue to impart these subtle ideas about developing the ‘need for achievement’, instead of focusing on the growth and experience, this can manifest in a whole new different way in them during adulthood. Other than this, this will add the already ongoing misery in their minds. Why I use the term misery is because this is a time when the adolescents are struggling with forming a permanent lens or an outlook towards the world, building on their own individuality, ideas and opinions on various themes. Thus this need towards excelling can create not only an added pressure on the already existing confusion and chaos in their fragile minds, but also create citizens of tomorrow who are more focused on the gains that follow the achievement, than the process or journey that leads to it. At workplaces, this shows up in the form of insecurity in individuals who have grown up with the core beliefs suggesting that delivering the best is the only way forward. This compromises on their work-life balance and creates additional stress. What we need to cultivate in them is the confidence to choose responsibly with regard to all the domains of their life without a constant need to try and prove themselves at every step of the way! It’s high time we create a world that enables people to live fully and focuses on just ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’ and ‘proving’.
Niharika is an RCI certified rehabilitation counselor and has an experience of working in different settings like schools, NGOs and clinics. She aims at imparting awareness on mental health issues through different platforms. Her educational background in psychology has given her a broad base from which she approaches these mental health issues. Her interest is now in increasing her outreach so that more people can benefit from her services.
Niharika can be booked for online consultation on Therappo.