Most people cringe when they think of their teenage years. It is a particularly harrowing phase for many, in one way or the other. There are so many changes happening – physical, mental, emotional – that we don’t know how to deal with it. And now, more than ever, with the explosion of gadgets and social media, we need to watch out for our teenagers. It’s a little unsettling, how they are so hungry for external validation: the more “likes”, retweets, or shares that they get on their photos/posts, they happier they seem to be. And this is dangerous. There have been so many cases of teenagers having 2000+ “friends” on Facebook, but who feel desperately lonely in real life, and this leads to a complex web of worrying mental health problems – feelings of isolation, hopelessness, alienation, and, in extreme cases, suicide. The risks of being so dependent on social media to lift your mood are countless, and have long since been talked about by psychologists as, in fact, detrimental.
Being in my teens was certainly no joyride (although it did have its positives every now and then). In my early adolescence, I had trouble with acne, which had a significant impact on my (still-fragile) self-worth and self-esteem. I wasn’t academically inclined, barring only two subjects at which I excelled. A big mistake that I made was link my self-esteem to the marks that I got in an exam. As a result, I felt hugely inadequate and inferior. In addition to this, ages eleven to fourteen were – in a word – messy. There were many questions that I had about body image, issues of confidence, the who-am-I identity crisis, and self-acceptance (to be honest, these are dilemmas that I struggle with even today).
Fortunately, as far as family is concerned, I’ve been exceptionally lucky. The channel of communication is always warm, available and open. However, having said that. I felt (as – I daresay – most teenagers are wont to feel) misunderstood and frustrated on many occasions. My way of dealing with the cocktail of negative emotions that fizzed in my brain was to retreat into myself, and write in my diary. It is a habit that I started at age eleven (the precursor to the Terrible Teens, haha) – and it is the one thing that firmly anchors me when I’m feeling lost.
Adolescence is a necessary evil. Undoubtedly, it’s a minefield. Despite that, I think it’s absolutely crucial to have someone older to confide in. Having supportive and understanding friends is important, too, of course – until you remember that they can’t impart the sound and gentle advice that you may not want…but definitely need. When I talk about having someone older to lean on, I speak from experience. It could be a parent, an aunt, a teacher. Believe me, I know what it’s like to feel all churned up inside and look around for someone to pour it all out to. There’s nothing more comforting and reassuring than a listening and non-judgemental ear.
And I believe that this one step – confiding in an adult – is the key to self-acceptance (slowly but surely, nonetheless). As someone so beautifully said: “Paying attention is the first and final act of love.” If there is one basic need that unites adolescents all over the world, it is the need to be listened to, understood, and unconditionally accepted. So, let’s listen to, and be there for, our teenagers – whether they want us to or not. Let’s start from today.