Encouragement is vital, if we want to develop children that will achieve their true potential. Today the shifting sands of social media brings instability, slights and a level of comparison that we did not have to deal with when we were children.
Apart from the information overload and uncertainty social media adds to our child’s lives as adolescents, a majority of us as a adolescent struggled with negative feelings about ourselves and the feeling of acceptance. Then adding in all the social media avenues that our children are exposed to has even more negatively affected that sense of belonging. Studies have linked social media to a greater sense of loneliness.
This is the reason that encouragement is more important than ever for 9 to 18 year olds. Encouragement draws our children closer to us and lessens their need to make connections elsewhere.
In my work with Revive Family, I found that the children whom were happier, motivated, and moving in positive directions had better relationships with their parents than is typically believed possible with adolescents today. These parents somehow figured out that a positive, supportive and encouraging relationship was the best deterrent to their children going off track resulting in less conflict, more openness and children that actually sought their advice.
For encouragement to be accepted, it needs to be thoughtful, meaningful and relevant. During events and coaching sessions with families I often hear parents comment, “I try to encourage them, but my child either does not hear or accept the encouragement I offer.” This stems from two possible sources:
- The way we seek to encourage does not align with what is important to them.
- Our child’s negativity about themselves causes them to reject the positive things we point out in them.
1. Sometimes the positive comments/encouragement parents extend come across to adolescents as either superficial, clueless or containing what they perceive to be expectations.
Superficial comments are those that focus more on ‘what’, rather than ‘who’ they are! Post-modern adolescents are looking for validation of who they are, of their thought process and nature more so than even their performance. When we issue more surface compliments, they need to align with the reality they experience. Saying you are beautiful is more ‘what’ rather than ‘who’ and if it is not readily validated by others view of them, may be seen as false or clueless and thus be dismissed.
I have found cases where parents are saying things like you are going to be more successful than me or you are going to be such a better person than me, that children take it as an expectation by their parents. Often these types of comments become more of a negative to them, than encouraging, as the adolescent brain becomes very sensitive to expectations. As a result, they hear, you should be or need to be more successful than me, which ads pressure and often kicks off the self-doubt they carry. They feel like this is unlikely or an impossible goal for them given how they see themselves.
Great encouragement is found when we see them making a good decision, or having a sensitive heart towards a friend, brother or sister. When they work hard at something and you let them know how proud you are of how hard they worked and who they are becoming in the character trait you observed. The word that best describes this action is “notice.” We notice so many incredible characteristic in our child’s lives. We’ll see the impact it makes when we take time to reflect and actually tell them the wonderful characteristics you notice about them. Lets see some examples:
- The generosity your child has for their family
- The patience they have with their siblings
- The maturity of how they handle conflict
- These speak deeply to the emotional nature of the adolescent brain.
2. When children reject positive comments and encouragement from parents as well as others it is a sign that they have developed negative beliefs about themselves.
When this occurs, they do not hear, acknowledge, or accept positive things about themselves, because it is not consistent with what they have concluded deep within.
The problem this creates is that they accept negative comments and things said about them because they align with their beliefs. As a result, by the teen years it is not uncommon for children to grow to be so negative about themselves they either adopt a numb I do not care attitude or a defensive posture, as they attempt to block negative things from impacting them. They have reached a threshold where they can not take anymore.
If your child has adopted a set of negative self-beliefs, it requires time, self-control, open ears and an open heart to help them untangle the mess within. To accomplish this it means we must look past the negative behavior that can stem from the negative internal beliefs of our children. More negative will only add to the problem and result in conflict, which children tell me confirms even more deeply that there must be something wrong with them, because they cannot seem to get along with their family anymore.
This is where learning to ask open ended self-reflective question is so important. Questions get them talking and hearing themselves. Questions force them to access the front lobe of their brains and evaluate what they are thinking much more so than statements we make.
- What do I believe about you? (If you get a bunch of negativity, evaluate if those messages have been sent and apologize if they have been).
- Have you ever made good decisions? What? When?
- Do you do nice things for friends and or family? Like what?
- What have you succeeded at in your life?
- When you hear yourself say those things about yourself, does it bother you or make you mad? Why
- What lead you to believe ——–. (A specific negative thing they say about themselves.)
It is important that you do not take their answers and draw conclusions for them, like say, you are better than you realize. Even more important is not getting defensive if they answer questions like #6 with things you have done or said. Those things are real to them and need to be pondered and likely apologized for rather than supported or defended.
Obviously asking one set of questions will not counteract a lifetime of conclusions they have made, but as the door opens be ready with creative questions that will help them assess the reality of the conclusions they have come to.
For this to work, negative comments and frustration with their behavior needs to drop to being very rare and encouragement needs to be frequent. We need to dig to find the small decisions and positive things they do and ask them about them and encourage them in those decisions, actions and attitudes to a fault as we continue to help them identify the negative things they believe and their source.
Going back to the word “notice,” it’s imperative we notice how our child is responding after being on social media. A blog post to come is on “Cyber Bullying.” Children can be sent viciously hurtful messages anonymously by their peers. That goes right along with why our children have negative beliefs about themselves. This more times than not can be a source of why our children are shunning our encouraging words.
Today the discouragement I find in children age 9 to 18 is immense. Few have positive beliefs about themselves and as a result very few are internally motivated and energized to try new things and make a difference.
Learning to encourage our adolescents is vital of we are going to have children who achieve their potential! If you’d like to learn more join us for our free webinar on Revive Family website.
You are an excellent parent, Revive Family is here for you.