Teenagers need adults to help them understand that their emotional crises will pass.
Library, Tips for School & District Administrators

Helping Teens Manage Drama and Trauma of Adolescence

By Brian Gatens

You’ll rarely find an adult who would happily return to their teenage years. After all, memories of adolescent uncertainty, growth and hormones linger for decades.

Teens need the help of teachers who understand the unique nature of those years — you have to be prepared to help them navigate the sometimes rocky waters. Here are some commonsense and successful suggestions for anyone who has the chance to work with teenagers:

Remember the immediacy of the moment

Teenagers need adults to help them understand that their emotional crises will pass.Teenagers feel intense emotions that seem permanent. If they feel sad, they expect to feel that way forever. The flame of teen-age emotion burns bright and intense, but it soon fades and gets replaced by another emotion. Never downplay the emotions teens are feeling — they’ll react poorly if you minimize their struggles — but remember that the emotion will pass quickly.

Biology plays a role here, as brain research shows that the parts of the brain that control emotion and impulse are not yet fully developed in teenagers. Sometimes teens cry for no reason (even they don’t know why). Rest assured they are reacting exactly as their brain is telling them to.

Lighten the mood

When you’re helping a teen who is having a hard time, try to lighten the mood. A good laugh over the situation as you recount a similar experience during your childhood is a good way to remind the student that this too shall pass.

Don’t mock or make light of the emotion, no matter how trivial it may sound to your adult ears; it’ll just hurt the child’s feelings. Instead, take the chance to remind them that their feelings are appropriate to the time and situation.

You want them leaving your presence on an upbeat note and understanding that the pressing situation, for as serious as it feels, isn’t the end of the world. Students will quickly move onto something else to be bothered by. Trust me on that.

Be there for them

I have learned the most important thing for my students is to simply be present. Too many adults, myself included, move too quickly to tell students what to do and rely upon life experience to teach them a lesson.

But it’s best to focus on being there for the child while they talk out the details of their situation. Often they’ll come to a solution simply by having the chance to talk about it — all they needed was for you to be still and listen.

An added benefit to this approach is that you’re helping the teen develop the emotional skills they will call upon as they grow older. No one wants to see a child upset, but every situation they manage in your presence and under your guidance will be recalled as they age and deal with more serious matters.

Contrast insides and outsides

Teens look to their peers to see who they are. So they consistently compare what they feel inside to the outward appearance of their peers.

A child who is torn up inside over something may look across the cafeteria, see someone whose outward appearance looks like perfection, and feel even worse. Remind your students not to compare their insides to another person’s outsides. After all, many people are struggling but aren’t showing it.

Teenagers, for all their outward behavior and appearances, are truly delightful to work with. Extra patience, an appreciation for who they are at this stage in their lives, and a dose of good humor are great ways to help them (and enjoy yourself in the process.)

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