Friday, May 29, 2020

Leading Through Stress and Anxiety During COVID Times

Leading Through Stress and Anxiety During COVID Times

As a young leader, you may have felt more stress and anxiety than usual during the past eight weeks or so as limitations were placed on what you could and couldn’t do. Some of these feelings may have come on suddenly and some may have been brewing slowly over time, under the surface of your mind and body. Being a teen and being a leader means you may have felt conflicted sometimes as well, wondering how you can become stronger and also how you can positively influence others.

However you’ve been feeling, you are not alone! And understanding why your stress and anxiety happens can help you begin to cope in the best ways possible for your personal lifestyle and situation.

So where do stress and anxiety come from in the first place? These feelings tend to come from:

      Feeling isolated; lacking the ability to see your friends and be in their physical presence
      Seeing scarcity in the world, like when you’ve seen people searching for basic items like toilet paper and hand sanitizer (or you’ve experienced it at home)
      Having your routine disrupted, meaning the consistency you had in your schedule is no longer there or it has been altered
      Experiencing the cancellation of special events
      Seeing family members feel stressed, anxious, or upset
      Feeling fear of the unknown and not being able to get the answers you want, like having so many “what if’s” about school, activities, dance, graduation, prom, etc.

Anxiety can cause stress because of these reasons and more, and let’s face it, it can be difficult not to feel anxious when so much has changed in such a short period of time! But consider this too: Anxiety is oftentimes the result of your perspective. Perspective is the way you see things; the way YOU see the world. Your perspective is your reality and someone else’s perspective is their reality. Your perspective is shaped by what has happened to you in the past and how you feel about the present.

So how can you reshape your perspective in order to help yourself cope with stress and anxiety? There are a few ways to do this, in what we call the “3 Bucket Approach,” which was designed by Dr. Tim Elmore. He wrote a curriculum called Habitudes, which helps teens develop positive habits and resilience.

In the 3 Bucket Approach, your life and actions fit into three areas: 1) Things you can control, 2) Things you can’t control, and 3) Things you can influence. Let’s look at some examples of each one:

Bucket 1)     Things you can control
a)     Your attitude
b)     Your choices
c)     Your habits
d)     Your actions
e)     Your words

Bucket 2)     Things you can’t control
a)     The weather
b)     Government decisions
c)     Natural disasters
d)     COVID-19

Bucket 3)     Things you can influence
a)     A combination of the first two buckets, like the way you react to a government decision or the words you choose to say about the COVID situation
b)     The ways you lead by example
c)     Being in a good mood
d)     Helping others
e)     Leading others
f)      Spending time with people you care about

Did you notice that in Bucket 3, when it comes to influence, there is a lot you can do to lead others and have a positive impact on their perspective? Even though you can’t control their attitudes, actions, or behaviors, you do have the ability to influence them with your positivity.

In addition to the 3 Bucket Approach, there are a couple of other techniques you can use to ease your stress and anxiety and put your leadership skills to use.

One of those techniques is mindfulness. With more time on your hands right now, you have the opportunity to create margins in your life for mindfulness. What are margins? They are the intentional spaces of downtime you create between activities; the space in which you can give yourself a chance to get caught up on projects, develop stronger habits, rest your mind and body, tune in to your thoughts, or build new skills. You could learn a new language, download a meditation app, knock out some chores, try a free yoga class online, or put on some music and just veg out. The next time you create margins, ask yourself what the best use of your time might be!

Another technique is journaling. While you may already be familiar with it, journaling during a situation like COVID can be therapeutic and calming for your senses. You are living out history right now! Write out your specific feelings, express your fears, and note your successes. You may not remember all of these details in the future, and having them in a journal will remind you how far you’ve come.

There’s no “one size fits all” approach to coping with stress and anxiety, but taking a few of the suggestions here can make it possible for you to design what fits your life and your priorities. Try looking at how you could incorporate the 3 Bucket Approach into your day, or see if you can find ways to amp up your mindfulness practice or your journaling effort.

Each step you take brings you closer to the other side of this situation, however and whenever that may be. Each step is progress on your coping skills and your ability to influence others, and that’s something worth celebrating!

Monday, April 27, 2020

April - What Do You Do With Your Time?

April - What Do You Do With Your Time?

If time management seems like a daily challenge, you are not alone! Especially during this time of quarantine for COVID-19, it can seem like you are either so busy that you lose track of time, or that you’re so bored you don’t know what to do with yourself.

The key is to learn how to be more intentional with your time, using your intentions as reasons to take action. The actions you take become the habits you want to build, and great leaders are built from great habits. Although you are experiencing more time at home, you can still grow your leadership skills and come out of quarantine as a stronger person!

To be more intentional right now and develop your leadership muscles, try implementing these six ideas into your routine:

  1. Make time for yourself. 
Personal time is essential for your physical and mental well-being. Choose to exercise and eat right, for example. Read more books or start learning a new skill, either on your own or through an online class.
  1. Open yourself up to family time. 
You may have more of this than ever before, but resist the urge to close yourself off from your family. Instead, focus on the quality of your time together over activities, like games or bike rides, or meals or just simple conversation.
  1. Play catch up. 
Get intentional about what you may have forgotten or not had time for before quarantine. This is the perfect time to clean out your closet, study a challenging subject from school, or apply for a summer job.
  1. Tap into your faith. 
Whatever your beliefs, take the time for gratitude, reflection, and quietude. Channel your optimism and hope for the future with a meditation on what you believe in and how faith can carry you through.
  1. Connect with others. 
Reach out to people you haven’t seen in person lately, or even to those you’ve lost touch with … perhaps a family member or old pen pal. Write a card, send them a text, or set up a video chat. Take the lead on building a new conversation!
  1. Set aside “think time.” 

Make time in your day or your week to just think. Think about what opportunities may be ahead for you; think about your goals; think about new possibilities that may arise after quarantine. Remember this quote from Isaac Newton: “A big interruption becomes a big introduction to new possibilities and discoveries.”

Saturday, March 21, 2020

March - Growing a Strong Work Ethic

March - Growing a Strong Work Ethic

You’ve probably heard the term “work ethic” from your parents or teachers, but have you ever wondered what it REALLY means? Work ethic is defined as your values and beliefs about every job, responsibility, or task that you do. It is your internal view that the way you work reflects yourself to the rest of the world.

Think about that previous sentence for a moment. Work ethic is about your view of the way you work, and how that reflects back on you. Notice that it’s not about what you do, but the way you do it. Work ethic can apply to the way you do your homework or take a test, the way you work at your job, and the way you do your chores at home. Whether you are learning algebra at school, earning money bagging groceries, taking out the trash at home, or something in between, your work ethic is an important factor to living a successful life.

Through your work ethic, you have the opportunity to live a life of excellence as opposed to mediocrity. If you want to achieve your highest potential, you have to strive for excellence. And let’s be realistic: There may be times where you miss the mark—and that’s OK. As long as you are learning to do better. Excellence influences you to do your best and to try again when you fail. It’s part of life!

Here are five qualities you want to grow for a strong work ethic:

1)     Reliability
Being reliable means that others are able to count on you when you say you’re going to do something. It’s doing what you say you’re going to do, being early or on time, and completing tasks (not just starting them). Another way to think of this is that you are dependable.
2)     Dedication
Having dedication is when you will do anything that needs to be done, in order to perform the job well or take the responsibility seriously. It means you are committed to striving for above average work when completing a lesson, job, or task.
3)     Productivity
Being productive means that you are able to get more work done in less time and that you use your time well, without distractions. Having a high level of productivity doesn’t mean that you rush through your work! It means that you focus on one thing at a time and are mindful of the time needed for a job well done.
4)     Cooperation
Your ability to work as part of a team is where cooperation comes into play. Being a teammate, whether it’s at school, at work, or as part of an extracurricular activity, means that you are able to prioritize the collective goal of the group over any individual.
5)     Character
Strong values equal strong character, and they also influence your ability to grow a strong work ethic. Integrity, honesty, and trustworthiness, for example, are traits that have a positive impact on your character.

Striving to be excellent and holding up these qualities can be challenging. You might be faced with days or weeks where it feels like you’d rather settle for mediocrity or “good enough.” But instead of letting those feelings take over, lean into what you’re learning here. Give yourself a little mental push and encouragement that you can do it. Don’t stop when you get tired or things get hard. Taking the easy way out feels good in the moment, but it doesn’t help you achieve the excellence you’re after. And you will be a stronger person for every step you take in that direction!

The true secret to growing your work ethic is to build small, excellent habits over a long period of time. You won’t see immediate results—and that’s normal. You will notice a slow shift in the way you work, the way you feel about yourself, and the way others see you. Remember that every day, every task matters. A strong work ethic means you are doing a little extra above and beyond, at everything you do, and making it a habit.

Here are some examples of those small steps you can take:

      If you start a project, finish it. Aim for a “highly satisfied” result, not just “satisfactory.”
      Ask questions in class (when permitted) to make sure you understand what is being taught and can apply it to your homework or test.
      Never show up late; plan ahead for being early or on time.
      When asked to help clean up at home, don’t cut corners. Go for sparkle and shine!
      If you negotiate anything with your teachers or parents (such as extra credit or a later curfew), follow through on your commitment so they can see you are responsible.
      Be willing to be a team leader OR a team player, and use your role to help steer the team to success.

Growing a strong ethic means you are working hard for today and for your future. Excellence in your life spills over into every possible area: Being a student, a family member, an employee, a volunteer, and a member of your community. Your commitment means something to you personally, and it means something to those you influence. Remember that your work ethic is completely within your control—choose excellence and watch yourself grow!

Monday, February 17, 2020

Love Yourself! Live a Life of Less Stress!

There are certain qualities that everyone desires in themselves, whether they realize it or not: They want to be confident and happy, with a sense of belonging in their community. Anyone—including you—can achieve these qualities, regardless of your background, talent, income, or past struggles. But first you must realize the importance of creating a positive self-image; of surrounding yourself with positive core values. In order to love others, you must first love yourself!

A positive self-image affects every part of your life, and it gives your leadership ability a boost. Think about great leaders you’ve studied and the role models in your life. They most likely demonstrate a high level of confidence in themselves and respect from others, and when they make a mistake, they recover quickly and learn from it.

Now, think about yourself: What does a positive self-image feel like? It might be …

  • Seeing the good in yourself
  • Believing in yourself, even if you don’t do well at first (like in a new relationship or with a new subject at school)
  • Having a sense of pride in what you do
  • Feeling liked and accepted by others, who you also like and respect
  • Accepting yourself, even if you make a mistake

When you know what a positive self-image feels like, it’s much easier to build daily habits that support it! And in addition to habits, it’s important to recognize that the way you feel about yourself is also affected by your friends. Did you know that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with? Your friends are a powerful influence on you, just as you are to them. There is a great deal of impact to be considered when you think about the five people you profoundly influence plus the five people they influence, and so on!

One of the ways you can develop your own positive self-image and your impact on others is by adopting a “win-win” mentality. This is the attitude that everyone can benefit (or win) from a situation. It shows you care about people and want them to succeed, even though you want to succeed too. It also helps you understand the way others impact you. Win-win thinking is truly a way of life, and it starts with feeling secure in yourself, with the understanding that no one is superior to anyone else. We are all humans, and there is room for everyone’s success.

Because we live in a digital world, it’s also crucial to understand that social media plays a role in this mentality, your interactions with others, and your self-image. While social media has many benefits, like allowing us to share opinions, tell stories, connect with others, and innovate new technology, it can also have negative effects if it’s used too frequently or in the wrong way.  To keep social media from impacting your self-image in a negative way, try remembering these facts:

There’s plenty of happiness, beauty, and success to go around. Just because you see a great snapshot of someone else’s life, that doesn’t mean your life isn’t great. There’s room for everyone’s greatness, whether it’s posted on social media or not!
Inspiration will serve you better than self-criticism. Use what you see as fuel for your passions, instead of fuel for comparisons. Be inspired by someone else’s effort, style, skill, or kindness. Lift up your own goals and dreams by what you see on your feed.
Social media posts are the highlight reel, not the behind-the-scenes. Remember that people post what they want others to see; it’s not the whole picture of their lives. If you find yourself comparing or obsessing over a post, it’s time to take a break from your phone!

Another thing to keep in mind? You can use your own social media to project a positive, humble self-image of leadership: to encourage others around you and spread messages of kindness. As you develop your leadership skills, you will discover that the impact you have on others comes from every facet of your life—including your digital presence. That’s definitely win-win!

Creating a positive self-image takes intentional effort, and even with a win-win attitude, you won’t be surprised to know that many teens encounter anxiety as they grow this new “muscle” of confidence. Maybe you’ve even experienced some anxiety yourself, and the feelings produced by that anxiety have hindered your self-image because you are worried about what others think. You might have also felt fearful or nervous, or had trouble concentrating. 

One of the best ways to counteract those feelings is by reflecting on them, and choosing to be more mindful. By acknowledging how you feel, you are taking the first step to helping yourself through it. After you’ve recognized the feelings, then make a point to tap into these three skills:

  1. Be present. Be in the “now” with the people you are with. Listen to understand.
  2. Be selfless. Practice putting your ego aside to give time and energy to others.
  3. Be compassionate. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Show care and kindness.

In other words, your self-image is not just built from your thoughts about yourself or from your social media presence. It’s built from your feelings, and how you react to them—especially when those feelings are challenging. Your behavior influences your confidence, and your confidence influences your behavior!

Being a leader means that many times, you “go first” among your friends. You step forward, and with your words and your actions, you demonstrate what a positive self-image looks like. While this isn’t always easy, it is incredibly important. With positivity and confidence, you have the power to reach unlimited potential, and to empower those around you to do the same.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

December - Gratitude: It’s Healthy, Easy, and Totally Free to Give

Gratitude is a character quality that you build over time; it’s something you develop through daily, weekly, or monthly practice, just like other skills.  It is the act of showing thanks, demonstrating that you recognize the significance of someone or something in your life. Gratitude goes hand-in-hand with acts of kindness and giving back to others, whether they are people you know or strangers.  And gratitude is one of the hallmarks of being a great leader—it builds trust and connection in every kind of relationship.

It can be easy to get caught up in the busy parts of life, especially as a student, but giving back to show your gratitude brings you into the present and allows you to focus on just one thing at a time.  It is a way to be more mindful with your time and energy, and research has shown that people who actively express gratitude actually live happier and more fulfilled lives. Wow!

So what does it really mean to give gratitude, why is it good for you, and how can you do it in a meaningful way?  Some people think giving back to others means having to spend money, but that’s not true. Other people think that giving back needs to be elaborate and fancy—not true either.  Let’s explore why gratitude is important, and look at ways you can give back without having to spend any money or plan any grand gestures.

First, understand that gratitude shapes your mindset.  Approaching life with a grateful heart actually teaches you how to find peace of mind.  Because gratitude requires that you think about others before thinking about yourself, you’re not as easily distracted by your own questions, problems, of self-talk.  Instead, you are focused on someone else’s feelings and the positive influence you have by giving back to them. A positive mindset results from this positive impact, and the cycle continues as you continue to express gratitude!  This is why building habits around gratitude is so special; everyone reaps the benefits as the effects ripple outward.

It’s also important to recognize that gratitude is simple and free.  Gratitude is about your time and your energy, not your wallet.  It’s about quality. Being present in someone’s life—fully present—is just one example of demonstrating gratitude, and it’s something you can literally practice every day.  Here are 10 other ideas for expressing gratitude without ever spending a dime.  

  1. Start a gratitude journal, where you write down three things you are most grateful for in your life each day.
  2. Write thank you notes to teachers who have inspired you, even if it was a teacher you had several years ago.
  3. Write thank you notes to other people who have brought joy, comfort, or security into your life, such as a family member, clergyperson, neighbor, nurse, author, babysitter, bus driver, or counselor.
  4. Listen when someone in your family needs to talk.  Don’t feel the need to respond right away; just be there for them and listen with curiosity.
  5. Make plans with your friends in person, and ask if everyone will put their phones away so you can enjoy each other’s company without interruptions.
  6. Call your grandparents for a conversation, or visit them in person if you can.  Ask if they want to play a board game, listen to music, watch a movie, or look through old photo albums together.
  7. Forgive someone who wronged you and express gratitude for the life experience.  You don’t necessarily have to contact that person, but make the decision to be thankful that you learned something from what happened.
  8. Do some chores around the house without being asked and without expecting something in return.  This is taking initiative which is a great trait of being a respected leader! 
  9. Write a letter of appreciation to the servicemen and women in our armed forces or to the first responders in your neighborhood.
  10. Send an email or text message to say thank you to a friend who has been supportive of you in good and bad times; let them know what an important role they have in your life.

Many times, gratitude starts with kindness.  Acts of kindness are easy ways you can show appreciation in life, even among people you might not know.  This quality is at the core of volunteerism, and why so many people choose to dedicate their time to different causes.  They desire a way to influence change, to express empathy, and to bring kindness into other people’s lives. A gratitude for life begins with the choice to spread love!  Here are five ideas to demonstrate gratitude with gestures of kindness. Choose one or all of them to give back to others during your Winter Break!

  1. Visit a nursing home and offer to read, play games, or perform for residents.
  2. Volunteer at the local food pantry and help organize donations or assist shoppers with their items.
  3. Offer to help a neighbor or two with their chores, such as raking leaves, shoveling snow, or walking their dog.
  4. Entertain the young kids at a family gathering, so the adults know their children are safe and cared for.
  5. Ask a few friends to join you in picking up litter at the local park or playground.

As you think about how you will incorporate ways to give back into your life, know that gratitude is about intention. When you approach gratitude with purpose, you are being your authentic self.  Understanding why it’s important to you to show thanks in that moment is key; people will feel how genuine you are and will appreciate your openness!  Remember that when it comes to gratitude, you don’t have to do everything all at once—just take the first step. Your journey starts there.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Are We Setting our Kids Up For Success in the Workforce?

I read an “ah-ha” statistic the other day from one of my favorite experts on youth leadership, Tim Elmore. He states that Generation Z is the most educated generation of all times but they lack overall experience Here is an interesting statistic he reported, 53% of Baby Boomers had a job when they were in high school, 48% of Gen Xers had jobs when they were teenagers, 30% of the Millennials had previous work experience in high school but only 19% of Generation Z ages 15-18 has had a part time job, this is 1 in every 5 teenagers. One may think this is just the changing of our world and this is not a problem in the sense that kids absolutely have to have a job. The problem lies in that some of these kids are going into the workforce at 22 years old and are not having any type of work experience at all or the skill set on how to sustain a job . Many parents are bypassing asking or requiring their teenagers to get a job and instead are having them focus on their academics or extracurricular activities. There is a rise in major decisions by parents to just “give” their children money without incentives like doing chores or other responsibilities. We are hearing more parents say, “Your school is your full time job.” In a world now where kids are overextended and lead busy lifestyles, it also becomes difficult to have time for a job or even find one that will work around their busy schedules.
Part time jobs are just as much on learning how to work, as much as learning the value of money. It becomes a challenge when kids have no work experience until the age of 22 and they enter the workforce as an adult. Sometimes the habits are formed that they are entitled to receive money without working for it. Something good happens when your exchange your talent, time, energy for a paycheck. It teaches good stewardship of money and not just an entitlement of money being given to you. Having no experience in the workforce may cause a problem of artificial maturity amongst this generation. We are seeing maturity in the sense of education and knowledge, but a deficit of maturity in ability to problem solve, establishing relationships and work ethic due to not having experience in a job.
So what do we do with this generation who may not have the time to work a part time job or the parents who are wanting them to focus on school and activities rather than work? Here are some other alternatives to get that work experience under their belt during the busy teenage years .
  1. Summer or Holiday Time Jobs- many kids have summers and long holiday breaks where they can get a short term job. Holiday season is a time that many businesses hire extra employees and these jobs can be temporary. Also great summer jobs that are attractive to this generation are lifeguards, retail, green houses, farm hands, local recreational organizations such as YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, health and fitness studios.
  2. School/ Extracurricular Activity Job Opportunities- Several schools have programs for office and administrative assistants in their central offices. Some of these positions do offer compensation. Also, check with your child’s extra curricular activity. In my business, owner of local dance studios, I have a student assistant training program that works around students activity schedules. They start at a volunteer level and have the opportunity to be paid employees when reaching their high school year. Many of the school extracurricular activities may also have these opportunities.
  3. Odd Jobs- In our digital, social, mobile busy world there are more job opportunities than ever. These jobs can be one and done jobs such as pet walker, babysitter, housecleaner, drivers for elderly, ect. Also there are some legitimate online jobs that are conducive to teenagers where they can earn extra money and gain valuable work experience such as writing, tutoring and social postings for companies. It is our job as leaders of this next generation to equip them with the necessary tools to succeed. It is so optimistic knowing that these Gen Zers are trending to be the most educated and purposeful generation of all time. Now we need to equip them to be able to hold a job in the workforce so they can make a living. Tracey Wozny/ Executive Director and Founder Taking Shape

Friday, May 24, 2019

Teenage Stress and Anxiety- How Do We Help?

The relationship between teenagers and their parents, and perhaps more accurately, teenagers and the rest of the entire world, has always been contentious. As young people move through their teenage years they are changing dramatically physically and emotionally. While hormones are raging and bodies are morphing, teens also struggle to assert their independence and sort to their identity. They begin to recognize the realities of life and often get caught between their attachment to family and relationships with friends. In our STAR Leadership program, over the past few months, we've been focusing on positive self-image and living a life of excellence. Throughout conversations with our teens aged 13-18, several interesting, and sometimes troubling subjects have come to the forefront. Many teens comment on how much stress and anxiety they have in their life along with their close friends as well. They have often brought up the subject of anxiety, depression and even deep depression. As an educator and leader of this age group, it prompted me to dive deeper into the “why” of this phenomenon. What I found validated my concerns. In a Blue Cross Blue Shield Health of America Report for 2018, there was a reported 47% increase in diagnosed anxiety and depression in ages from 17-24 from 2013 to 2018. From ages 12-17, there was a 63% increase in diagnosed anxiety and depression, (47% for boys, 65% for girls). I was even more alarmed at stats from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that reported a 77% increase in suicides in the age group 10-18 in the period from 2008-2018. Why? I was further troubled after having discussions with my own students, dance students who I have had for over 10 years in my program. These are high academic achievers, huge leaders in their schools and community. They were eager to talk about the issue and wanted someone to listen, perhaps because I wasn't a parent. To paraphrase a common response, these students often said “Many kids in our schools are depressed and have anxiety. It is very common, and kids of this generation are more depressed than you think.” "Wow", I thought. It was stunning and more than a bit concerning to hear this from young people.. Upon asking the reasons, the teens had a seemingly endless list. I broke the list down into three general categories.
  1. Today's teens are spread too thin. Teenagers have over-committed schedules with not enough time to concentrate on one thing. There can be self-generated pressure to fill and exceed through these busy schedules.
  2. There's a fear of not meeting expectations. Many teenagers in the group had brought up the pressure of not living up to expectations of parents, other adults and their peers. This amounts to the classic fear of failure and they mentioned over and over again how they were afraid to disappoint the people they are close to. .
  3. Pressures of social media to have the “perfect” life. Alright, so this was new, at least to me, and to be fair, I hadn't given it much thought from their perspective. It prompted me to dive even deeper, doing further research. I found a report from Jamison Monroe, CEO and founder of Newport Academy. It validates teens are intelligent, tech-savvy and have many positive assets as a generation of a social, digital and mobile world. However, social media is a primary source of anxiety and pressure for adolescents. Teens become particularly depressed when they compare their lives unfavorably to the people they follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Not just neighbors and schoolmates or what we would call “peers”, but any and everyone on social media. Those are unreasonable expectations.
Monroe's report discussed how scientists have also found correlations between teen smartphone use and depression. It demonstrates how excessive use of technology damages relationships, education, and extracurricular activities. It also reaches other reasonable conclusions:

  • Many teens experience some degree of academic pressure. In addition, an uncertain economy and tough competition for college and graduate school make that pressure even worse.
  • Teens, of course, typically experience their first romantic relationships in high school or college. While this is an essential part of teen development, teen relationships can also be emotionally challenging.
  • Today’s teens have fewer coping skills. Parents try to shield them from experiencing failure and disappointment. That means they often have fewer opportunities to build resilience. They frequently don't know how to pick themselves up and dust themselves off. Thus, they don’t learn how to cope with challenges.
  • The adolescent brain is still growing. Hence, teens have an immature prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls self-regulation. Many decisions they seem to make are not real decisions they have made at all. They have a limited ability to exert control over their impulses. Consequently, this leads to teenage risk behaviors, such as substance abuse and unsafe sexual choices.
  • Today’s adolescents spend so much time on screens that they don’t get outside enough. This subjects them to “nature deficit disorder” a phrase coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book “Last Child in the Woods”. Because teens and children are spending less time outdoors, they experience a wide range of behavioral and mental health problems.
It was becoming apparent to me that while today's teens have the challenges of the past generations, they are less capable of coping. They also have the additional challenges of social media that has not been a factor previously. Add in school shootings, heightened ecological fears, increased political uncertainty, social injustice, and other factors, and I was getting a clearer and clearer picture.
Today's teenagers are under more pressure than ever and are less equipped to handle those pressures. The result? Frequently high anxiety and deep depression.
So, what can we do as parents, educators, and people of previous generations to combat this rise of depression in our teens? What should we be doing to help them through this critical period of their lives? I was able to break it down into three critical components.

  1. Create awareness and a framework to cope. Talking with family members, your team or faculty, and teens themselves to let them know this is a rising issue. Help them understand how to set structure around the feelings they are experiencing. (I developed a leadership curriculum program I use with my teens called Taking Shape STAR Leadership program where we discuss several current issues that teens face such as positive self image, bullying, ect).
  2. Set up guidelines and limits to social media usage. A CNN study of 13-year-olds and their relationship with social media found that participants who checked Instagram or other networking sites between 50 and 100 times a day were 37% more distressed than those who checked just a few times a day. Those who checked more than 100 times a day were 47% more distressed on average. The more checking, the more stress. I have a no cell phone policy at our studio. Teens come in and check phones in a basket on arrival and pick up at end of the day. This allows them to establish better personal relationships and talk among friends, problem solve and have fun!
  3. Limit overextended schedules, taking time for mindfulness and reflection. Have kids take an audit of all of their schedule. What do they really “love” to do and what are they doing that can be taken off their plates. My students now yearn for “yoga” class where they can get their mind off the grid. There's been an interesting trend in “mindfulness” classes in the school system in the past 3 years. This is telling us kids need to slow down.
I feel it is our purpose as leaders of this generation to find ways to establish these relationships with our teens. They don’t need information from us, they can get this in seconds on their devices. What they need is caring, listening ears, the experience of generations that have “been there, done that” to help them strengthen values of resilience, discipline, and building relationships.
We also need something too. We need to understand that things are in fact, different for this generation of teens. They grew up differently. They have almost unlimited access to technology and are more connected than ever. They are exposed to more real dangers in their young lives.
I have always felt these kids are worth the effort. It's why I've made them such a significant part of my daily life and career. If we can better understand these teens, we can better help them. That is a goal worth pursuing.