In the last week or so I’ve been seeing quite a lot of young people/teenagers who are struggling with anxiety and stress.
And one of the common denominators behind this is the way they think.
They’ll be thinking about all the stuff that can go wrong, like:
- “What if I don’t pass that exam?”
- “What if I’m not good enough?”
- “What if my friends hate me?”
And that’s a symptom of stress and anxiety – constantly thinking “What if? What if? What if?”
And you know what – as adults, we do exactly the same thing:
- “What if it’s Monday?”
- “What if there’s traffic?”
- “What if I’m late?”
- “What if I mess it up?”
- “What if I don’t look good?”
Why Thinking “What If” Negatively All The Time Can Is Dangerous
I remember when I did my sports science degree many years ago in Ireland.
We were lucky enough to have a tutorial with the manager of the Irish Rugby Union team. And the Irish Rugby Union team – it’s a pretty good team so we were kind of chuffed to have the honor of listening to him.
I’ll never forget one thing that he told us that day. He asked us the question,
“What if I told you not to think about the colour orange – what do you think about?”
And of course, you think about the colour orange.
Because your brain doesn’t process the NOT part. You just think about the colour orange.
Straight away, he’s introduced it into your heads so you think about it.
Your brain will process whatever you come up with. It doesn’t discriminate between good and bad, and it takes doesn’t separate “what if” from “what is.”
So if you keep thinking and repeating and incanting all this stuff like:
- “What if I can’t pass the exam?
- “What if my friends hate me?”
- “What if I won’t get that job?
- “What if there’s going to be heavy traffic?”
All your brain gets is:
- “I can’t pass the exam.”
- “My friends hate me.”
- “I won’t get that job.”
- “There’s going to be heavy traffic.”
It doesn’t separate between “what if” and “what is.”
3 Tips On Handling “What If” Thoughts To Help You Empower Your Teenager
Tip #1 – Reframe Your Language from Negative to Positive
As parents, try to reframe your internal language.
Catch yourself thinking negative statements.
Just stop yourself mid-sentence in your head – that voice in your head that we all talk to ourselves with. And try to change the sentence into a positive.
By continuing to do so, without even realizing it, your spoken sentences will also start to become more positive, which adds to your teenager becoming more receptive to what you actually have to say to them.
Tip #2 – Think “What If” About What’s Possible For Your Teenagers
Secondly, when you talk to your kids, try to talk to them in terms of possibilities. Not can’ts.
I know it’s hard after a day of work and kids can be a pain (I get it), but sometimes when you come back from work, you can say things like:
- “Why didn’t you do this?”
- “Why didn’t you do that?”
- “Do I have to do everything myself?”
I get it – you’ve had a long and likely stressful day, and you just don’t feel like you have the patience to do anything other than take a much-needed rest.
But by using statements like these, without realizing it, you’re actually putting the thoughts into their head that they’re incompetent.
And rather than just doing what you’d like them to do, or reflecting on why they didn’t do something (which is what we all secretly hope for), when you use statements like the above, their brains can only process these parts of your statements:
- “You didn’t do this.”
- “You didn’t do that.”
- “I have to do everything myself.”
Which of course, comes across as accusatory and over time, slowly builds a fear-based mindset around interacting with you.
This then results in negative reactionary behavior – either immediately, or later down the track.
Instead, what you might be able to say is, “Wouldn’t it be nice if I came home and we could all work on this?”
I know it’s not as simple as that – I get it.
But just even in your own head, as a small first step, start thinking about it, because we need to monitor ourselves for our kids to think “What if” about possibilities. For them to model us as parents, and to grow into healthy adults operating from a place of opportunity rather than fear.
Here are some suggestions to help you get started:
- “Wouldn’t it be nice if today was an awesome day?”
- “Wouldn’t it be nice if Monday was the start to the best day I’ve ever had for ages?!”
Just trying to re-frame stuff.
Because we are what we think.
“Our energy goes where our focus goes.”
— Tony Robbins
Tip #3 – Give Your Teenager Tasks That They Can Control
Being a teenager is a very disempowered stage of your life.
So as much as possible you want to give them things that they can control – in the present. In their everyday life.
So things like:
- Setting their own alarm
- Getting themselves out of bed
- Maybe making their own lunches.
Try not to constantly facilitate your kids. Try not to do everything for them.
Because by doing so, we teach them how to be victims.
They might whinge a little bit, but when they have responsibility, that’s how they develop a sense of control and empowerment. A sense of competency, and a sense of confidence.
That’s why it’s such a huge part of the CounterPunch program. True empowerment comes from taking responsibility.
You Are What You think
So try it. Just keep it in mind.
We are what we think and our energy goes where our focus goes. So focus where you want your energy to go.
I hope you found that a little bit helpful and continue to connect, relate and communicate.
Catch you next time,