I recently received this message from a concerned parent of a teen:
QUESTION: My teens (and a lot of their friends) are overwhelmed about what’s going on in the world right now: climate change, and lack of confidence in world leaders. It gives them a lot of anxiety and for some, a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness. Do you have any suggestions?
MY RESPONSE: This is the experience with so many of the teens I work with. The feeling of hopeless and being powerlessness to world events and the circumstances these events create tend to be overwhelming for many teens. As a result, I’ve seen many teens throw their hands in the air, give up, and shut down. That is such a normal reaction and I get it.
The way I deal with that is to give teens tools. In this situation AND if you are willing to work with your teens and their friends, I would propose a facilitated exercise that looks like these 6 steps:
6 STEPS TO HELP YOUR TEEN FEEL EMPOWERED IN SITUATIONS WHERE THEY PERCEIVE THEY DON’T HAVE POWER
1. On a piece of paper or white board, together list out all the things that your teens are concerned about. (I always like to be the scribe to allow the teens to think and throw out ideas freely without the added task of writing.) List these concerns out in a brainstorm fashion as quickly as they can think of them, allowing them to name their concerns, without editorial or commentary. List them out as many as they have. Get them all out there.
2. After all of their concerns are listed out, group the ones together that are similar in a “packet of concerns”.
3. Then let them rate the most important= #1 to the least important by placing numbers by each of the “packets”.
4. Then take the most important concern listed at #1 and create a sentence that describes the concern “packet” at the top of a page or a white board. Then create two columns below that.
4a. In the first column write the words “this is what it means to the world”
4b. In the second column write the words “this is meaning I give it, how it effects my life”
4c. Then brainstorm together the responses to both of those columns. In some cases they will be similar.
NOTE: It’s really important to focus on the outside world and perceived effects in the first column. Equally, it’s important that the teens focus on the inside worlds and the perceived effects on their lives in the second column. As the parent of facilitator of this exercise, make sure you ask questions to help them determine which of their concerns goes into each column.
5. After that is finished, take a new piece of paper or space on a white board. (Makes sure you transfer the initial sentence which describes the concern you are working with on the top of the paper or board to this exercise.)
Once again, create two columns. Above the first column, write the worlds:
5.a. “What I have control over” (Leave the second column blank for the time being)
Then facilitate the teen(s) to brainstorm all the things they actually have control over when it comes to addressing the problem.
NOTE: If they feel totally powerless and can’t come up with anything, ask leading questions about their feelings, attitude or perceptions. Question if they have control over those things, and if they agree they do, start writing “feeling like ____ about this_______” or “changing my attitude of about not having control”, etc. Whatever prompts you can think of which helps empower their thinking to considering that in every situation, they have some control. The key is finding those spaces. Exhaust this brainstorm until there are no other ideas.
5b. Now, above the second column which was blank with the words: Action Steps I Can Take Today.
6. After the brainstorm is done, as you did in the first brainstorm, please as your teen(s) to rate the most important action steps starting with 1 to the least important, and ask your teen what kind of help they need in order to execute those ideas.
After this process is done, the energy should shift and your teen will have a greater sense of being in control and feeling empowered to take steps that contribute to change and creating the world they want to be in. Understanding that they have control and that change comes from taking the steps to make change are both an act of empowerment. Right now, so many people need to have tools to keep them connected to their own ability to create and providing meaning in the greater world helps us all stay connected to our humanity.
NOTE: As a facilitator in this exercise, it’s important you don’t answer the questions for your teen(s) or tell them how to execute on their ideas. If you have thoughts, you can ask them if they want to hear your ideas, but be prepared for the answer to be “no”. As parents, of course we want to help our teens, but in this instance, helping will undo the feeling of empowerment you just worked so hard to facilitate. (I know this can be hard.)
Finally, after you’ve explored and brainstormed one of the problems or concerns, you can invite your teen(s) to repeat the process going back to their original list of concern “packets” for the first brainstorm. Ask them if they want to schedule a time to go through this again, or help them to realize they can do this on their own, and provide a reminder of the steps I’ve outlined above.
I hope this helps anyone whose teens are struggling! Please message me you have any questions about this tool and book a consultation if your teen is ready to work with a mentor: https://transformativementoringforteens.com/book-consult/