Tag Archives: teenage angst

Does social media show teenagers 2 worlds they can’t possibly reconcile?

Just back from a long walk with my good friend, Suzanne.

As usual we try to put the world to rights, or, more likely these days, accept there’s not much we can do to change things.

We both have teenage sons and frequently share the highs and lows including some hilarious moments not fit for print.

Today, though, we were comparing our own teenage years to those of our kids.

We went through the same search for identity and independence, but somehow it didn’t seem as complicated.

We concluded that the big difference for young people today is social media.

On the one hand it presents the impossibly perfect world of celebrities (accessible to young people in a way it never was 30 years ago). But on the other teenage angst with all its experimentation and heart-rending failures writ large.

Is it any wonder, then, that some overthinking, sensitive teenagers feel inadequate and see themselves in the numerous scare stories reflected back at them on Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram?

We look to our peers to help us make sense of the world, but that world can seem ugly and uncaring on social media. The classic teen problems of parental pressure, relentless homework and unrequited love can be magnified a million times over.

More worrying is the solution some kids come up with, whether it’s drink, drugs, self-harm and in the saddest of cases, suicide.

How can we help our children adapt to the relentless onslaught of information, which academics already say is having a detrimental effect on their mental health

I don’t have the answers, but think the way kids cope very much depends on their personalities.

Myers Briggs have made millions out of their type indicator tool, and I would never for a minute suggest which personality types are more prone to overthinking than others, but it’s something to consider.

Take a personality test based on the MB approach here



Mindfulness and Holden Caulfield

How the technique – now being taught in schools – could’ve been the saving of J. D. Salinger’s tortured teenager


Selling approximately 65 million copies worldwide and a staple for teaching English, ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ was revolutionary when it was first published in 1951.

It’s a tale of teenage angst, but sensationally at the time, told in the words of 17 year-old Holden Caulfield, with his frequent goddams, lousys and crummys!

It also, however, describes the protagonist’s deep depression triggered by the death of his younger brother, but also by his general inability to understand the adult world.

He’s in a no man’s land, described in his own words as a contradiction – six foot two, but sometimes acting about thirteen. There are lots of other hints at his struggle to mature – “In my mind, I’m probably the biggest sex maniac you ever saw.”/”Sex is something I just don’t understand. I swear to God I don’t.” – with the overall impression that he’s heading for a fall.

A meeting with a former teacher confirms exactly that with Mr. Antolini delivering the memorable passage: “This fall I think you’re riding for – it’s a special kind of fall, a horrible kind. The whole arrangement’s designed for men who, at some time or other, were looking for something their environment couldn’t supply them with. Or they thought their environment couldn’t supply them with. So they gave up looking.”

That loss of identity and purpose during the transition to adulthood is something my teenage sons have wrestled with at various stages, and still do.

Fortunately it hasn’t tipped into depression, but the concept of young people feeling aimless and unworthy is something teachers are now having to address lest an epidemic of self-harm continues unabated.

Cries for help are happening at an alarming rate, as teenagers grapple with the perennial questions of what will I do when I leave school and will anyone ever love me.

Holden’s teacher advises sticking in at school, “it’ll begin to give you an idea of what size mind you have”, but he could also have suggested mindfulness to overcome negative thinking.

So prevalent is the Buddhist practice nowadays, that some school guidance teachers are being trained to deliver mindfulness coaching to kids.

What would Holden have made of living in the now – neither thinking back to past events that he can’t change, nor worrying about the future?

I’m sure he would have found out much sooner that it’s good to talk! After complaining for 25 chapters that many of his schoolmates, most adults and quite a few girls were “phonies”, on the final page he says:

“I’m sorry I told so many people about it. About all I know is, I sort of miss everybody I told (you) about. Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”

For angsty teenagers and anyone who lives life at a lick, Jon Kabat-Zinn says the seven attitudes that form the foundation of mindfulness are nonjudging, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, nonstriving, acceptance and letting go.

He furthermore defines the practice as paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment nonjudgmentally.









Six things you should never say to your teenager

Act your age, grow up… Phrases that trip off the tongue in the heat of the moment that may only make the situation worse.

I love squirreling away snippets of information that might prove useful in the future, and that goes for my professional life as well as my personal one.

I’ve read ‘Raising Boys’ by Steve Biddulph and ‘Confident Teens’ by Gael Lindenfield and have a well-thumbed article by Dr. Richard Woolfson on the subject of teenagers from The Herald from years ago.

Apparently, the teenage years are characterised by an angst about becoming independent and making your own decisions. Angst on the other side of the coin – by parents – perhaps comes from failing to acknowledge this fundamental point.

Here are six things that you might be tempted to say to your teenager and the reasons why you shouldn’t. With thanks to Dr. Woolfson, Gael Lindenfield et al.

This is my house and while you’re under my roof you will follow my rules

This is right up there and I remember my own Mum saying this. Parents do this to let teenagers know who’s in charge and to lay down some boundaries – as, to be quite honest, what else do we have in our armory!

The temptation for the teenager will be to actually go somewhere else and that’s not ideal for anyone (I remember frantically searching for Ethan one Christmas morning. Can’t remember what we argued about now). What you might want to try instead is “I know you’re upset. Can we not just sit down over a cup of cocoa and talk this through?”

Young people have got it so good. It was different when I was your age…

The teenage world of today is light years away from what it was like even 20 years ago. Parents say this to try to put trivial complaints in perspective. If at all possible, you don’t want to highlight the generation gap. Something like “The world has changed since I was a teenager, but I understand why this is important to you…” is worth a shot.

Count yourself lucky that this is all you have to worry about

We say this in an attempt to put things in perspective whether our kids are having a moan about spots, or not having the latest designer gear/tech.

“Small” problems like these can be magnified in the mind of a confused and tentative teenager. Paying the mortgage, running a house and work problems are all beyond a teenager’s experience. Dr. Woolfson recommends: “I can see why you are worried. Maybe you and I can work together to find a solution.”

When you are older you’ll understand why I am saying this

A classic appeal to their better self, highlighting our greater life experience and maturity. Trouble is teenagers think they know it all, or want it to appear that way. A comment like this is patronising and belittling. “Because you are older and more mature now, I think you’re smart enough to understand what I’m saying.” might earn you some grudging respect.

Your brother didn’t behave this way when he was your age

We say this to make a sibling understand that their behaviour is unreasonable, and to use their older brother/sister as a benchmark. It’s never a good idea to draw unfavourable comparisons between siblings. It just increases resentment and makes the younger think you prefer the older. I’ve tried “You’re really upsetting me. Can we talk about what we could do differently so we can get along?” with some success.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Nothing strikes fear into a teenager like this question. Trying to find a career path can be hugely daunting and asking this only hammers that home. I’m going to cover this in other posts, but I used to work at Skills Development Scotland and www.myworldofwork.co.uk is a fantastic resource to help young people explore their strengths, skills and interests and how they relate to the world of work.