I haven’t forgotten what it was like to be a teenager.
I know very personally the feelings of being stressed out by schoolwork, after-school jobs, fluctuating relationships, family issues, and the whole gamut of life experiences that sometimes felt way too tough to handle.
I remember the deep emotions associated with not feeling smart enough, good enough, pretty enough, funny enough; not feeling like I mattered or fit in.
I felt like I was on the outside of life, looking in much of the time.
For many teenagers, this is their reality.
Today’s technology has put all of this more out into the open, so teens today wind up feeling even more vulnerable, self-conscious, and exposed than ever before.
But that doesn’t mean these feelings are new. They have always been part of growing up. With social media, however, teens — as well as the rest of us — are more privy to the fear, injustices and frightening world events that are taking place in every corner of the globe. They feel powerless and overwhelmed by the uncertainty of life.
I am incredibly excited when I work with teens. I believe this generation will make a great, positive difference in the world. So in my work with them, I don’t hold back.
I acknowledge the chaos in the world, the fear they are experiencing and the negativity racing around in their minds as a result.
I share with them my own internal struggles as a girl and how I developed the eating disorder bulimia because I thought it would somehow alleviate the pain and unhappiness I felt inside.
I thought if I just could bury the feelings of sadness and insecurity, then everything might be okay. I felt that looking good on the outside would help me measure up, but all I was doing was feeding my internal struggles and making them much worse. I felt more and more isolated and alone.
Teenagers today get this. They understand it deeply. They appreciate the honesty, and somehow they see the real me — not the package that makes up this body, but who I am from within.
They share with me their concerns about life, about wanting to be happy, and as one boy put it, “to learn how to deal with the unbearable stress of being a teen.” Wow. Unbearable is such a hopeless word, and this is where I speak to them with an authentic message of hope. I have been there, and I have come out the other side — confident, strong, successful, and loving.
To read the rest of Barb’s essay, see the latest issue of Renew.
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