As a therapist, I work with strong, smart, capable adolescents who sometimes struggle with the desire to stay true to themselves while watching their peers succumb to drinking, vaping, and other forms of giving their power away to darkness.
During our conversations in session, we discuss strategies to stay the course, to maintain friendships with those who might not be doing what these kids want to do—their friends aren’t “bad kids,” they simply don’t have the tools to honor their highest self—and to stay and feel healthy as they navigate a phase in their life that doesn’t always reward authenticity.
Some strategies and tips are as follows:
- Feel good, no, feel incredibly proud of your choice to stay true to your values and goals, not judging those friends who give in to peer pressure, but instead, focus on the strength it takes to rise above the noise and honor what is important to you.
- Find one or two like-minded souls who support your ideas, your versions of fun, your interests and your humor. Schedule time with these people, older, younger or in the same peer group, and enjoy your time being yourself, and not having to try so hard in order to be appreciated.
- Take time to acknowledge when you feel you don’t fit in, when you don’t feel appreciated or as popular as “everyone else” (which is an illusion), so that you release those very normal feelings that come as a part of the teenage puzzle. Once you are done acknowledging in the form of journaling, talking to a trusted adult, or exercising out your negativity at the gym or on a run, let it go. Move forward in strength, knowing that releasing and sharing your stressful emotions is what contributes to stronger mental health.
- Look past the illusion that everyone is happy, popular and lives a perfect life. Most therapists can tell you that that is not the case and that those “perfect, popular, over-the-top happy teens” are also sitting on their couches comparing themselves to everyone else. Try to understand that perfection is not the goal, it is to feel joy in what you are doing, in being comfortable with yourself and to feel at the end of the day that you have truly lived the best life you are capable of living at this time.
- Help someone else. When you are feeling down, stressed, or worried about all you have to do, stop and think of someone else and how you might be able to help them. Maybe you ask your parents what help they need like carrying in groceries from the car, or clearing the dishes to show you are part of the team. Maybe you text a friend who you know is struggling in a certain subject, or socially. Maybe you think of how you can mentor younger kids who may be struggling with something you dealt with in middle school. What is something you can say, an act of service only you can offer, to show compassion to someone else and make it easier for their experience.
I know of a fantastic, strong-minded, talented teenage girl who often felt bullied by the older girls in her Chorus program at school. As she grew in the program, she went out of her way to make the freshman and sophomore girls feel accepted, comfortable and welcome. The way I see it, this girl had two choices—to bully the younger ones in order to experience that side of things, as people often do in order to feel powerful—or experience a different kind of power, one of turning her situation around and using it to help others so that they wouldn’t go through what she did. This example is one of living at your best, in the version of your highest self, navigating above negativity, emerging stronger and wiser as a result.
At the end of the day, you need to decide who you want to be and how you want to feel. Nobody gets to decide that for you. That is what your mind is for, that is what your voice is for, that is what your life experience is for.
Choose to paint your canvas the way you want to.
About the Author: Jill Sylvester is the author of Trust Your Intuition: 100 Ways to Transform Anxiety and Depression for Stronger Mental Health. She is a licensed mental health counselor who has worked with adults and children in private practice for nearly ten years. She has been quoted in Oprah Magazine and She Knows. Her first book, the novel The Land of Blue, is the recipient of a Mom’s Choice Award.
You can learn more about Jill and visit her website here.