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Quieting Your Teen’s Negative Thoughts
I think, therefore I am. – Rene Descartes
Each of us has a voice in our head. It comments on our life: the things that are going on around us, the way we react, and on our thoughts (conscious or sub-conscious). This little voice is our internal dialogue. It’s true, we all have an internal dialogue. However, some of us pay more attention to it than others.
Our internal dialogue is part of what makes us human – most importantly it is what helps us reason through situations. Oftentimes though, our inner voice is skewed by our own emotions. This can cause the messages we communicate to ourselves to be very unhelpful. Those unskilled at manipulating their internal voice and directing it into helpful channels can find themselves spiralling and dragged down by their own thoughts.
Examples of negative internal dialogue in teens:
One shift many parents notice as their kid transitions from childhood to adolescence is a major attitude change. Their once bright and cheerful child becomes a mopey and often angry teenager. This habit of thinking negatively translates into low self-esteem, and low motivation. For parents or teens, maybe some of these sound familiar:
I don’t know why, but I’m just mad. Sometimes I even wake up mad. I don’t like it, and I wish I wasn’t, but I’m just mad.
I feel like my whole life is made up of things I have to do. All I ever do is go to school, where I have to hang out with people that are just as messed up as me.
I don’t want to do anything. There’s literally nothing I want to do — except sleep. That’s the only time I can escape these feelings of worry, stress, and frustration.
Sometimes I engage in mindless activities just to distract myself from my own thoughts. It’s like I’m trying to hide from me.
Helping your teen silence their negative voice:
As adults, we know how hard a habit can be to break. This is why it is so important you help your teen develop a positive internal dialogue before they get set in a pessimistic worldview.
1: Give them a little space.
When they are in a mopey mood, it might be your first reaction to get all up in their face and try to make them ‘happy’ or at least ‘grateful’. You’re not helping.
2: Don’t yell.
Yelling won’t make them hear you better. Most likely they’ll end up tuning you out faster. When you yell, they feel worse about themselves, like they’re your biggest disappointment.
3: Set boundaries on technology.
They might know that their phone is taking over their life, but they’re powerless to put that thing down. They won’t thank you at the time, and they’ll fight you, but do it anyway.
4: Busier isn’t always better.
When you think of spending time with your teen, you may want to take them somewhere ‘fun’, like the mall. Instead, take them somewhere quiet. Go on a nature walk instead. This way you’ll have a quiet place to talk. Even if you don’t talk, they’ll have space to just breathe.
5: Don’t spoil them.
You might think that if you placate them by giving them everything their heart desires, you’re making them happy. And you’d be right, for a moment. That happiness is fleeting, and it only gives way to a desire for more and more stuff. Give them some independence by teaching them to save, spend, and give away their earnings.
6: Help them find someone to talk to, who isn’t you.
You love your kid, and they love you. But you’re their parent. And they will always fear letting you down. Help them find a good role model, mentor, counsellor, or even therapist.
7: Keep saying “I love you”.
They might pretend they don’t care, they might not say it back, but they need to know. They need to be reminded, daily, that your love for them is not dependant on what they do, say or think. Chances are, that they don’t love themselves very much, so it’s important that they know that someone does.
A couple more things…
- When your teen is in a cycle of negative thinking, challenge those negative thoughts. For example, if they believe that new people don’t like them very much — ask them what that conclusion is based on.
- Teach them that failure is not a failure. Our society places a huge emphasis on success or failure, rather than success or learning opportunity. This fear of failure or feeling like a failure can really hold your teen back.
- Challenge your teen to step outside their comfort zone. When they aren’t so afraid of failure, they might be willing to try something that they normally wouldn’t.
- Check yourself. Kids learn by watching. Do you speak to yourself negatively? Your thinking and speaking patterns will often be impressed on your kids, and they will mimic you.
The Negative Voices in Your Teenager’s Head
Managing Your Internal Dialogue (Self-Dialogue)
Parents: Correct Your Teen’s Negative Thinking
Early Adolescence and the Negative Mindset