Did you know that one of the top causes of teen stress is negative thoughts and feelings about themselves? Neurological, biological and social changes during adolescence make teens more self-conscious, and that can quickly lead to self-judgment and self-criticism. To stop the cycle, teach your teen how to practice self-compassion. “Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to others,” says clinical psychologist Christopher Gerner. Here are five strategies to try with your teen:
1. Take a 90-second pause.
Self-criticism is often accompanied by anxiety, anger or other strong emotions. This technique from Harvard neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor helps teens identify and self-regulate those feelings, then choose a more compassionate approach. Intense emotions cause a cascade of chemical changes in the amygdala that dissipates after only about 90 seconds. Instead of getting stuck in a negativity loop, teens can set a timer on their phones and take slow, deep breaths, just allowing their feelings to be what they are without judgment. When the timer goes off, they can notice what’s shifted and ask themselves if they are able to see the situation with more self-compassion.
2. Notice and change self-talk.
Self-talk is our habitual internal monologue. It reflects unconscious beliefs and biases about ourselves and the world, and a lot of our self-talk is critical. To break the habit of negative self-talk, first teach teens to pay attention to the voice in their heads, especially when it’s self-focused. What words and tone do they use? How does their self-talk make them feel? Since self-talk is a habit, it can be changed. To do that, teens can acknowledge any worries or fears they’re feeling, then talk back to that inner voice from a more compassionate place: “I know it’s scary to put yourself out there, but I’m proud of you and I want you to succeed. You’ve worked hard and I know you’ve got this.” \\
3. Treat yourself like your own best friend.
We all want friends who see us as we really are, love us unconditionally, and forgive us when we make mistakes. When teens are being hard on themselves, teach them to imagine how they would talk to a friend who has the same strengths and challenges. They would never tell a good friend to toughen up and work harder to be perfect, and it won’t help to say that to themselves, either. Remind teens that support and understanding are always more motivating than judgment and criticism. The acceptance of our friends helps us become the best version of ourselves, so let’s treat ourselves with the same outlook.
4. Zoom out and zoom in.
Teens face a lot of pressure from peers, social media and society to look and act a certain way, and external pressures can easily be internalized as self-criticism. Zooming out helps teens shift their perspective to the big picture and ask what else – or who else – is making them feel “less than”. Did they see something that triggered feelings of self-doubt or shame? Are they putting the opinions of others – real or imagined – above their own? Do the voices making them feel bad deserve to take up space inside their heads? Zooming in then shifts the perspective back to their own inner experience: What really matters to them? What do the people who love and care about them think? And can they choose to put their own feelings and well-being first?
5. Curate a self-compassionate social feed.
Whether you’re a teen or an adult, social media can make you feel great or terrible about yourself. It all depends on which messages and images you’re taking in every day. So why not curate your feed to help you level up on your own self-compassion skills? A few of our favorites to follow are artist and author Morgan Harper Nichols, clinical psychologist Kristin Neff, Ph.D., writer Yung Pueblo, and researcher and author Brené Brown. Positive posts remind you to make self-compassion a family priority and can start great conversations between you and your teen. If your teen is on social media, encourage them to make their own feed more feel-good, too. Try our own @meetlucero and @teenselfcompassion to start.