My Blog:

A Dose of Insight

  • Erika Bugbee, M.A.

Teens, just like us, often spend most of their waking hours fixated and consumed by certain problems, and yet have absolutely nothing to show for their efforts.

All that energy spent, yet they can't seem to move the dial even a single click the right.

So part of my role working with young adults is to give them a place where they can collect themselves, talk openly and unfiltered, and put it all out there.

That gives them a chance to look at things fresh, often for the first time, without all the insecurity and upset, and with someone that's truly in their corner.

It's also part of my role to help them understand WHY life at that particular age can get so overwhelming, uncomfortable, and out of control.

That it’s normal and explainable.

And that it's not because they're weird, broken, or doomed for a life of mental health issues.

To give them a level of hope that things do get better and show them why I say that.

And that in the meantime they can influence things right now in a way that will calm things down.

For a lot of young adults, their daily lives are generally filled with tension and angst. Sometimes in tolerable amounts. Sometimes intolerable.

There’s a few reasons behind this.

For one, at any given moment, there’s pressure to handle things the right way.

Because there's a lot at stake - their grades, their future, their friends, how they come across to other people, just to name a few.

In addition, when they’re not handling things well, it can feel like they’re seeing a sample of how they’re going to be for the rest of their lives.

So if they’re indecisive for example, it feels like they’re going to be one of those scared indecisive people. So that’s another fear they now carry around.

On top of that, for young adults, there’s often more questions than answers: Should I be working harder in school? Do I care? Will I care later? Is this person really my friend? Is there something wrong with me?.

And while all of that’s happening, their emotional life has giant swings.

When they like something - a song, a friend, a boyfriend, a video game, their level of enthusiasm is much higher than what adults get. They get into things 100%. (Which is a huge asset that adults don’t often have, but that’s a topic for another day).

But that also means their negative emotions are big too. When they get insecure, sad, awkward, anxious, or angry, the levels are 10 times higher than ours.

So that’s a sampling of what’s often happening inside the young adult mind that creates so much instability and chaos.

But there’s more under the hood that’s harder to see.

Along with the instability, young adults also have equal levels of strengths and abilities that are less visible and less loud, but are always there.

And with a little bit of insight into the resources they have, they can actually influence how bad things get in their minds. With a bit of understanding, young adults can find more moments of relief, order and peace of mind to offset a bunch of the crazy.

For example, there’s a way teens and young adults will sometimes show up when their friends or family struggle or need their help. They’re calm, focused and confident.

And as a result they’re connected to their sensibility, common sense, and wisdom. And they show up that way on purpose. They know it’s time to drop everything and do that. To get present and open.

Which means that’s an ability they walk around with. It’s a skill they only bring out in certain situations, and it might not look like a big deal to them.

But it doesn’t matter how often they do it. It matters THAT they do it. That there’s an asset right there, double-parked, that they can connect to.

And it’s generally under-used in young adults.

And my job is to show young adults how to understand and tap into some of the survival skills that are built into them more often and more on-purpose.

That’s what today’s video focuses on.

This interview was hosted by my colleague Dr. Anne Curtis as part of a video series.

For more videos from Dr. Curtis, click here.

When I started my private practice and decided to put more energy into helping teens and young adults, I assumed all my sessions would be with young clients.

But what surprised me is that I spend an equal amount of time working with parents.

And stepping back, that makes perfect sense. Here’s why.

In many cases, young people that are struggling are too overwhelmed to put energy into getting help. It takes effort and time to talk to someone like me.

I’m a stranger, and an adult, which most young people avoid talking to at all costs because I could be weird, awkward, judgy or intrusive.

For most young people, talking to any stranger guarantees them some degree of nervousness, anxiety, and self-consciousness. Maybe a HUGE amount. So there’s a risk, and the experience could end up being unpleasant, uncomfortable, and sucky at best, distressing and destabilizing at worst.

For a young person who is troubled enough for parents to have to Google someone like me, they’re just trying to keep it together as it is. They may need help, and often really want help, but can’t handle another layer of tension involved in GETTING the help.

I get it.

When I had two kids in diapers, plus working and running a household, I was exhausted. I was fortunate in that I had family and friends offering to help. But to their frustration, I rarely asked for help simply because it was too hard and complicated to make it happen. It required extra thinking. Extra figuring out. Extra energy.

So if you’re a parent that sees that your kid suffering, yet is unreceptive to professional help, what do you do? Are they help-able from the sidelines?

Yes, they are. When we struggle, the people in our immediate circle can make all the difference in the world. For better or worse.

Here’s what it looks like.

I worked with the mom that had become consumed by fear about her struggling teen, became overbearing, intrusive, and hyper-vigilant (actually the daughter’s term was “uptight.”)

The teen didn’t want help. But I did a few sessions with the mom. The results were immediate.

The mom got her bearings back, and as a result she got more open, warm, and thoughtful. She gave the daughter more space which she realized was needed.

She did little things like let her daughter listen to her music on the car stereo and asked about the show she’d been binge-watching.

Not only did the mom change, but the culture of their house changed. And that created a level of change in the daughter.

In these scenarios, which happen fairly often in my practice, the young people always change as a result of the parent changing, but may still struggle or need help down the line.

But what I’m pointing out here is that the mom in this example went from bringing more tension and upset to her daughter and her parenting, to bringing more clarity and presence of mind.

That kind of shift can turn things around and open new doors.

Ultimately, parents are in a leadership role. The best leaders in our lives have been the ones that can keep their own composure during difficult times. When parents calm down, and become a little more reflective and strategic, the kids inevitably calm down.

That’s the focus of today’s recording. This is a podcast episode.

In this recording, I’m interviewed by my friend and colleague Dr. Amy Johnson.

Click here to listen.

To learn more about the amazing work Dr. Johnson is doing, click here. I highly recommend her podcast and her programs.

I recently had a therapist who’s worried about her teen client. This client spends most waking hours under her covers. She dropped out of the school play, two sports, and stopped going out with friends.

She mentioned another young client that gets so angry playing video games he’s broken two Xbox controllers, a tv, and 4 iphone screens.

I could tell she was intimidated and insecure about the behaviors she saw in them, in part because those behaviors don’t often show up in her adult clients or friends.

And nervous that maybe she’s not experienced enough to help them.

At first glance, teens can look like an entirely different species than adults. In fact most teens worry that they're broken, they’re weird, they’re from another planet.

But the truth is, teens are EXACTLY like adults.

If you’re a practitioner that works with teens (or you live with them) chances are you see some form of extreme behaviors on a regular basis.

What I’m calling extreme behaviors are things like instant rage, debilitating social anxiety, obsessive thoughts or behaviors, sadness that stretches over days at a time, often with no explanation. Emotional outbursts that are giant, frequent, and sudden, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, above-average wreckless or risky behavior, and chronic or excessive drug-use. Just to name a few.

Since I spend most of my days working with teens and parents, extreme behaviors are part of the normal landscape of my conversations. In the world of tweens, teens, and young adults, some form of extreme behavior is so common it’s normal.

If you slow things down and look behind, or before, human behavior, you see a mood or a feeling. When people get tense, they tend to get hostile. When they feel overwhelmed, they get scattered and distracted.

The more extreme the mood, the more extreme the behavior.

Teens experience more growth and change than any other age group besides infants. Their chemistry and hormones are all over the place. As a result, their mood states often become chaotic and unpredictable.

So when they get upset, they don’t just get a little upset, they get REALLY upset.

And just like adults, they find a way to let off steam that’s built up. Adults build tension, then explode by snapping at their spouse. When adults get overwhelmed, they’ll have a melt-down or fall apart.

That’s exactly what teens do, but because they have bigger, louder mood states, and no life experience handling them, they let off steam through extreme behaviors.

This may sound obvious to some of you.

But if you’re a therapist, practitioner, or personal development coach, seeing extreme behavior in a young client might be unsettling or catch you off-guard. Especially if you’re in charge of helping them and feeling like you’re on the spot.

But having some understanding around the fact that teens are normal and work the same way adults do, just with more intensity, will put your mind at ease and give you your confidence back.

And that’s all they need -- a little reassurance. Teens get scared of themselves too. If you’re scared, that comes across. Teens are intuitive. They pick up on those things.

Fortunately, because they’re intuitive, they also pick up on my certainty that they’re perfectly healthy, normal and intact. That they get lost in the heat of the moment of their moods, just like adults, and that extreme behavior is the human mind’s best attempt to survive and reset.

If you work with teens, today’s video gives a little extra insight around extreme behavior in a way that will give you a level of hope and confidence that will find its way into the hearts of all your struggling young clients.

'Working with Teens: A 4-month Virtual Mentoring Program for Practitioners’ is starting January 2022, and I can't wait to share more details with you - look out for more info via my newsletter.

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