Having a teenager in the house (or a group of them in a classroom) inevitably means conflict and tension. Frankly, they’re annoying. They’re desperate to carve their own path, do things for themselves in their own way, and most of them haven’t developed the social sensitivity to care for the needs of others. Like a bull in a china shop, teenagers will test the patience of every adult who cares for them.
Over time, the frequent affection and “I love you’s” we shared when they were little can turn into a lot of annoyance, irritation, and conflict. On their side and from their perspective, it’s pretty normal for teenagers to feel unloved by the adults in their life, especially their parents. Again, in fairness, they can be tough to love!
But in the larger perspective of mental health and their primary adolescent task of defining a well-formed identity, teenagers need consistent messages regarding their worth and value.
Every kid needs to know why they matter specifically.
In a recent Wall Street Journal essay, Jennifer Breheny Wallace directly quotes U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy as saying, “People want to know that they matter to those around them, and that their work makes a difference in the lives of others.” Why is the U.S. Surgeon General talking about the workplace? Wallace cites a recent study of the phenomenon called anti-mattering, where people feel constantly devalued and insignificant to the people around them. The study reports, “anti-mattering is a strong predictor of anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and substance abuse.” Although the essay addresses the workplace and overall wellness for adults, it’s easy to see the same truths applicable to teenagers before they reach adulthood.
It’s one challenge for companies and supervising managers to develop systems to acknowledge employee contributions, and it’s another for teachers, coaches, and parents with their kids. What could it look like for us to find consistent ways to communicate to a kid their value—the contributions they make are substantial and appreciated?
Kids who feel valued won’t develop a big head and become narcissistic. Rather, they’ll feel like they have inherent value, which they do. They’ll also feel seen, known, and affirmed—key antidotes to loneliness and other mental health issues.
Guide | The YouSchool
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For years we’ve been studying what a young person needs in order to transition into a healthy, thriving adulthood.
They're uncommon sense ideas, really.
Download this checklist and use it with your students (or kids).