Hitting puberty or entering the teen years has always known to be tumultuous. This is a time in one’s life where they are not a child any more but aren’t even an adult. Teen years are full of questions and struggle to figure out one’s identity, experimenting to understanding one self, what we like or dislike, what we believe in, who our friends are, and so on and so forth. This is also a time when the person is the most vulnerable, especially emotionally. Changes in these years are not only biological but also psychological. They struggle with issues of self-esteem, need to be understood and accepted, having a sense of worth, wanting to matter. Self-harm is used as a way to momentarily release this distress; experiencing physical pain helps numb the emotional pain. The desire is not to end one’s life but to put an end to the emotional distress that they feel.
Teenagers have always come in with issues of being bullied, peer-pressure, parental and school expectations, and behavioral issues. However, now with them having access to the world-wide-web at the tap of a finger, they not only have to learn how to behave in the real world but also struggle to maintain an ideal image in the virtual world. The way we teach our children to not speak to strangers in the real world in order to protect them; we need to teach them how to behave in the virtual world too. It is a popular phrase that ‘Knowledge is power’; however it is also well known that ‘With great power comes great responsibility’. We need to educate children to assume responsibility with the power that we hand them. Today, a child as young as two years accesses YouTube videos on phones and tablets. Yes it can be monitored, but let’s take a look at what really happens. In earlier times, kids’ watching TV had to be monitored because screens were supposed to harm them. Now, screens have become almost a part of ones anatomy as we hardly see anyone without their phones. When a child spends more time staring at a screen, their brain is being highly stimulated as opposed to when they read a book. From a young age children are getting used to this kind of stimulation which wires their brain to always crave this activity. This leads them to have attention deficits or hyperactivity. They get bored with things quickly and are constantly searching for the same kind of high. Hence, they do not really learn to value any form of knowledge or information because now they don’t have to work hard to obtain it, rather just Google it. They have access to information which they might not even be equipped to understand. Using a screen to communicate with everyone has led the kids to have issues with making real friends as the only way they are confident to communicate is via a screen. Now, along with the magazines, television, and media influencing young minds, internet has become another source. When we put this equation together, we realize that children today are being deprived of learning to work hard, or value things. With so much ease introduced into their lives, they are trained to look for the easy way out. Instead of learning responsibility and being in charge, they resort to escaping reality and using self-harm and suicide as ways to combat their emotional distress. We need to teach the young to strive to be better than their own self and not someone else.
Low self-esteem, disconnecting with friends, wanting to be alone, withdrawal from family members, reluctance to leave their electronic gadgets unattended, avoiding school, changes in personality (anger, sadness, crying), drastic change in appearance or weight, fresh marks on the skin or wearing clothes that hide these marks even in summers, are a few signs that may help a caregiver, friend, or family to identify a need for help.
In such cases, it becomes important to make the person feel that help is available without judgment. Encouraging expressing one’s feelings either in spoken words, a letter or a journal helps in releasing the amped up emotions. Reinforcing to them that they are brave and have done nothing wrong, to challenge their belief that they deserve the pain by showing them compassion and support, will help the person move a step away from harm. We need to let them know that it is okay to be confused, or scared. To help them understand that they are loved and are worthy.
Parents and caregivers can help boost children’s self-esteem by taking a pledge with them:
From this moment, I choose to love and accept myself even with my flaws and shortcomings.
When I feel confused, lost or scared I will close my eyes, take a deep breath and remind myself that in this present moment everything is fine.
I pledge that every day I will appreciate myself rather than being critical. Remind myself that I deserve love and understanding first from my own self.
I am important and significant.