“Mom, what would you do if there was a shooting at school?” Were you asked this question by one of your children? We were. We have talked about such tragedies and felt both sadness and collective grief for the victims and their families. However, contemplating the devastation and feelings of personal loss is another thing entirely and something we are not be able to prepare for. What would we do? How would we react? How do we support our kids through their own anxieties and fears?
We have read plenty about how today’s teenagers are plagued by more distress (anxiety, stress and depression) than any generation on record. As adults, we know to put our oxygen masks on first and to practice self-care. “Self-love” is what we’re calling it in our homes. This can seem like a foreign concept to teens, for as one responded, “So, you want me to be nice to myself when I mess up?” Yes, that’s exactly what we hope for! We want to learn (and model for others) how to be nice to ourselves when we mess up. A 2017 study from The University of Edinburgh found that “teens with high levels of self-compassion were most likely to report lower levels of distress caused by anxiety and depression — especially when facing chronic academic stress.” Furthermore, “research shows that self-compassion does not diminish integrity or standards of accountability. Instead, it lets you own up to a tough moment without paying for it with your self-worth. This new logic teaches students that they don’t have to be perfect to be worthy.”
Research is showing that no developmental age needs self-compassion more than our youth.
“Adolescence is a developmental moment of peak stress, and a teen’s heightened self-consciousness (“Do I look weird? Did I just sound stupid in class?”) cranks up the volume of the inner critic. Self-compassion encourages mindfulness, or noticing your feelings without judgment; self-kindness, or talking to yourself in a soothing way; and common humanity, or thinking about how others might be suffering similarly. This last step is particularly salubrious (healthy or beneficial) for adolescents: Many believe that ‘I’m the only one going through this,’ which exacerbates feelings of isolation and shame.” (The Promise of Self-Compassion for Stressed Out Teens, New York Times, February 20, 2018)
Given last week’s tragedy, we can not think of a more important time to be modeling, practicing, and teaching self-compassion. We’re going to all make mistakes. We will make some every day. Some mistakes will be bigger or more costly than others. Yes, we do want to learn how to be nice to ourselves when we mess up. And, we see how important it is for us as parents to teach our children how to be nice to themselves. As humans, we all need to learn from them and find our own ways to move on. The Case for the “Self-Driven Child” (Scientific American, February 13, 2018)
We can not think of wiser words for parents of teens than Gareth Cook’s advice to “nurture habits and a lifestyle that support healthy minds: Above all, promote rest. Encourage sleep, meditation if they’re interested, and downtime… Rest is not laziness. It is the basis of all activity…. Lastly, make it your highest priority to simply enjoy your kids. As they are. Right now. Flaws and all.”
Celebrating being perfectly imperfect,