I have been a dance educator for over twenty years and have seen the times a changing and life ebb and flow. Each generation has their own views on the next and there are always areas to be appreciated and others to be maligned. Such is life. I will say that I am so glad that I grew up when I did and I would never want to be a teenager in today’s current world.
As a teen, we are so hard on ourselves. Fitting in is paramount and the mold is hard casted. Look at any photo of the 80s and you tell me how we were all convinced to tease our bangs that high and kill untold numbers of braincells via Aquanet fumes.
We wanted to fit in. Today’s teens are no different. However, in our day (yes, I really did just sound that old) the influence of our peers was finite.
It existed within the confines of school classrooms, cafeterias, football fields, and the occasional phone call at the kitchen counter with the egg timer counting down your minutes of contact. Beyond those constraints, our world was influenced primarily by our parents, our church, our community, our neighbors, our teachers, our extended family. Each of these places housed a wealth of experience, knowledge, and wisdom that led us in the right direction and balanced the impetuous nature of our friends.
No adult with a fully formed frontal lobe would allow a teen to determine their nutritional habits or fashion choices, let alone the direction of their life. However, our teens are swimming in a sea of peer influence that is far beyond what we ever faced. With the advent of social media, teens now have 24-7 access to information. Some of that is fabulous and enriching. However, along with that information, comes an avalanche of expectations and pressure. We can all remember the feeling of having to put on the best face for high school. Whether that was the right outfit, right hairstyle, right group to be in, right sport to play, right grades to get – there were expectations to be met that were driven by an invisible life force that is teen social pressure.
That pressure is now streaming to our children through the palms of their hands in a constant feed.
An increasing number of my students are struggling with stress and anxiety in what feels like record numbers. These teens need a soft place. While many of them have amazing connections with friends, I strongly believe that teens need a place away from peer influence — a place to connect to their own thoughts, their own beliefs, their own values. As parents, we need to be that place.
Put down the phone. Ignore the text. Turn off the TV. Build back the walls we used to have to separate our children from the outside world when they were home.
Let them escape the pressure and the expectations long enough to breathe. Allow them to be surrounded by people who love them unconditionally, and see their authentic selves. Your teens will never have a shortage of outside influence; it is readily available twenty four hours a day. What they need is less influence, and more love. Wrap them up in you, even when they protest. The phone will still be there tomorrow. Technology may be infinite, but your time with them is fleeting.