In the Wizard of Oz, it’s a wizard who is hiding the truth behind a curtain; that everything is not all right. Today it’s often young people hiding their truth behind the curtain.
That’s what we learned in our March 2022 Webinar: What are young people hiding from adults and how do we pull back the curtain? We also learned how and why young people can be so reluctant to tell parents and other adults who care about them when they are suffering.
This is what we found out:
Hiding can look like pushing parents away; from responding with “I’m fine” to being irritable.
Young people around the world are feeling this way. Michele Borba, Ed.D, an educational and child-development psychologist, shared that she’s seeing the same reaction in young people she talks to all over the world.
“Young people are feeling overwhelmed. They’re not focused the way they used to be and are more sleep deprived. But they also tell us that the best solution is parents who are calm and supportive.”
In addition to feeling overwhelmed, young people are comparing themselves to their peers and feeling like they aren’t good enough.
Why don’t they talk to us? How are they feeling? Here’s what our teen experts, Archi Jain and Lela Grant, teen advisors from Cultures of Dignity, said:
“We come into this world with this mindset that we need to be the perfect kids. We don’t want to disappoint our parents or make them feel like they’re doing something wrong. And then we don’t want to expose ourselves to the fact that we’re struggling.”
“It’s like you are a stone and then you just broke apart into pieces. I feel like if I told my friends about the situation I’m in, they would feel the pressure to help me build those broken pieces. And I don’t want them to feel that… It feels like I would fall apart and crumble and it would be really hard to put back together.”
“Kids just are like, I can handle it by myself without really engaging or trying to get help from people, especially parents.”
What can we do to encourage our children to pull back the curtain?
- When they tell us something that upsets us, take a three second pause before responding.
- Keep your face and body language neutral. When young people tell adults “bad” news, adults can make facial expressions that make young people shut down. So ask your child if you have had a facial expression or body language that makes it harder for them to talk to you and then ask them what would work better. Then do your best to make even a small change in your reactions?
- “Chunk it.” When our children experience failure, conflicts, or disappointments, break it down into small manageable segments for them so it’s easier for them to think through.
- Support the other adults in your child’s life. Counselors and educators are there to support your children; the best thing you can do is to support them!
Remember parenting young people is like teaching them to swim. First you held them and let their legs kick, then you held their hands so they had a little more freedom, and then you let them lean back in the water, supporting them, but also showing them that you had confidence that they would eventually swim on their own. The more confidence you show to your children the more likely they will feel confident to communicate with you. If we are there for our young people, they will thrive instead of hide.