I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist or other mental health professional, even though I’ve researched and worked in the area of mental health my entire professional career. I am a sociologist and youth development researcher. Varied youth development research demonstrates time and time again, four distinctive pillars for positive youth development.
- A sense of belonging (teens have identified with a group and feel deeply connected and committed to it)
- A sense of power and influence (teens can exert choices and influence the world around them)
- A sense of competency (teens feel that they can do something well and contribute)
- A sense of contribution (teens feel that they have a role to play in the world, including service to others)
These youth developmental pillars can ONLY be reached in “community” with caring others.
Talk therapy at its best gives teens one caring, trained adult to relate to and this can be lifesaving if there is mental illness, but therapy does not provide the others, the supportive others that teens need to grow.
If there is no history of mental illness and even sometimes if there is, teens find mentors and coaching to be more effective for them, because mentors (formally and informally) and coaches (life coaches) offer the skills and the guideposts needed to help teens experiment successfully with the four developmental pillars they need to move through adolescence.
That’s why it takes a proverbial village to raise a teen and in this sociologist’s opinion that’s why teens are struggling with their mental health today. Our social institutions of family, church and school don’t provide the same opportunity for development as they did even a decade ago, much less post pandemic.
What do we do? Send all teens to therapy? (Even if therapy is normalized and affordable, how does it target the youth development pillars specifically)? Do we fall into worry and depression ourselves, ringing our hands about society failing our teens?
There is hope!
Parents CAN influence their teens to develop their own connection to others (in community) by…
- consciously communicating (specific skills) the inherent value to their teens directly and
- providing access to mentors that can provide opportunities to exercise healthy control, experiment with healthy choices and experience ways to contribute thereby developing in the areas of the four pillars.
That’s why my Back on Track Parent and Teen Communication Coaching Program, gives a pathway to fulfill the four youth development pillars with parents first, then with teens in family sessions.
Back on Track Teens: Later in private sessions with the teen only, I do “life-mapping,” which helps teens identify the others that they can connect with deeply, experiencing a sense of belonging. Then we talk about choice-making and practice it while experimenting with ways to contribute. The sessions utilize the conscious communication skills in real time to literally perform the four pillars of development. Teens like the practical, skills-based approach.
Teens tell me they feel empowered because they aren’t the identified patient, but they feel they have “healthy control” of their own lives and futures.
I know some teens stumble onto these youth development processes informally with mentors, teachers, older siblings and even healthy wise peers. But I dream of a day in the not-so-distant future where we do not leave teens to raise themselves or warehouse them, instead we intentionally, purposefully reflect to teens directly their value and demonstrate it with development opportunities to consciously co-create the planet all of us deserve.
For more information, visit, https://LauraLReagan.com