Out of Whack Adolescents – Why? What to do?
By Aaron Welch –
Have you ever lost your balance? You know, you are walking along, singing the few words you actually know from the song you just heard on the radio when, suddenly, a clever square of sidewalk instantly raises its corner, catches your shoe, and hurtles you forward, out of control!
You desperately try to regain your equilibrium or, at least, try to catch yourself as you skid onto the unforgiving concrete. What is your first reaction? To check your wounds? To make sure your clothes are intact? No! You do what any conscientious American would do—–make sure nobody saw you! That response is quickly followed by looking back in disgust at that vindictive portion of sidewalk, which was obviously at fault!
Haven’t we all lost our balance at one time or another? We can all relate to that weird feeling we get in our stomachs, the fear of the unexpected, and the pain that can result. Most of us can also relate to the same feelings of fear and anxiety when life gets out of balance. We overspend one month and, consequently, don’t know how we’re going to pay our bills. We spend so much time at work that our spouse and kids have filed a “missing persons” report with the police. Or, we spend so much time with our family that we don’t do satisfactory work at our jobs. Really, each of you can plug in your own personal example at this point.
Can’t we all relate? We live in a world where technology allows us to get so much more done in a shorter period of time than ever before. Theoretically, this should free up our time to do things like spend quality time with our families, refocus on prayer and devotions, or just…well,..dare I say it,,,,,..relax!?! Unfortunately, instead of balancing our time properly, we often fill up that extra time with more work, or more addictions, or more of the same things we were trying to get away from.
This lack of balance is a serious issue in our culture. In fact, when the balance is lost in MOST areas, it is a cause of concern:
A chemical imbalance can cause severe emotional and behavioral problems. When the insulin levels in your body lack balance, it can lead to diabetes or hypoglycemia. If a fireman loses his balance at the wrong time, the results can be deadly.
Balance is key to our emotional, relational, physical, and spiritual health. Since so many adults in our culture struggle to achieve balance in life, is it any wonder that our adolescents have the same problem? Balance in the life of a teenager is often the exception, rather than the rule. The adolescent years are primes targets for imbalance; hormones are kicking in, self-esteem is low, pressure rises, and teens are not prepared to balance all of life on their own. Allow me to make a list of the areas where I see a lack of balance in many adolescents:
1. Physically: The lack of physical health and well-being in our teenagers is alarming. Obesity is at an all-time high. Most teens do not eat healthily or in a balanced way. We are a culture that encourages teens to indulge in fast food, fried food, junk food, and processed food. On top of that, teens seem to be more sedentary than ever before. Instead of running and exercising outside until being forced to come in for dinner, many teens have little desire to leave the couch, where the hallowed X-BOX resides. It is appalling to me that many schools are removing gym class from the curriculum and replacing that with an online PE class. This would actually be hysterical to me if it weren’t so sad. Just think, one can sit at the computer and be prompted, “Go and run one mile”. So, the teen has the choice to go and run a mile and come back and report it to the computer OR he can play a few more video games, make a snack, and then report that they ran a mile…all in the comfort of their Sponge Bob Squarepants pajamas. Which option do you think gets chosen most often?
2. Emotionally: So many adolescents today have trouble in finding the emotional balance to be self-disciplined in schoolwork, stay motivated in important areas of life, or maintain a positive outlook when life gets difficult. Some of these emotional struggles are the result of circumstances beyond the teens’ control. An unstable home life, divorce of parents, or sexual abuse cannot be blamed on the teen. However, overindulgence, bad choices in friends, and dangerous appetites for unhealthy thrills can also lead to emotional imbalance.
3. Intellectually: For most of us, school was not always our favorite place to be. We have all resisted efforts of teachers or parents to get us to work harder at homework or to read more on our own. However, in my experience as a counselor and public school teacher, the apathy towards learning and especially towards reading, right now, in our schools is scary to witness. The flippant attitude of many students towards the idea of dropping out of high school is alarming. Many teens today are definitely out of balance intellectually. Many would rather use their brain power on thinking of how to defy the teachers or administration instead of how to learn and grow as a person. This imbalance is particularly frightening as we look ahead to the near future when these students will have to face the harsh reality of life. If this balance is not achieved, the teen will have a more difficult time adapting.
4. Relationally: The imbalance in this area for many teens is that relationships, oftentimes, are about 98% of their focus. This is also out of balance. Now, learning to develop healthy relationships is extremely important in the emotional and social development of every teen. However, with the additions of cell phones, email, and chat rooms, the development of relationships has become more distant and not always healthy. Meeting people online can be a fantastic way to meet wonderful people from all over the world. This method expands the horizons of the teen and exposes them to incredible cultures. Unfortunately, the internet is also a perfect place for anyone who wants to hide who they really are; sexual predators, emotionally disturbed individuals, and the violence-prone are all potential suitors and the internet allows for a great hiding place.
Also, the attitudes of adolescents towards casual sex continue to be an issue. Sex is promoted as a way to build a relationship instead of being portrayed as a natural expression of an already healthy marital relationship.
The main point here is that many teens are out of balance relationally because it is often the only thing they really focus on.
5. Spiritually: Many adolescents today are exposed to radically different views on what it means to be “spiritual”. One of the major philosophies being pushed on teens now is that any faith that teaches exclusivity (like Christianity) is wrong. The idea is that one’s beliefs in God should be based on each individual’s feelings about God. The problem is that this offers no anchor for what is true or false. Also, the feelings and emotions of adolescents change almost constantly; based on their moods or experiences. This means that, if they subscribe to this theory of faith, that God must change constantly; that right and wrong change constantly. Talk about imbalance! What an unstable spiritual world that many teens live in; a world full of questions but few answers.
The truth is that teens need assistance in achieving balance in their lives. They need parents who are strong enough to set healthy boundaries on how much time is spent in each of these areas. They need parents who are not afraid of facing the anger or wrath of their teen; parents who are willing to set limits because that is what is BEST for their teenager, even if it is nowhere near popular. Our teens desperately need adult mentors who are willing to model what it means to be a godly man or woman of balance.
Balance. It is a goal that is a mystery to many. However, it is essential to healthy living. Here are some tips in solving the “balance” mystery in the life of your teen:
1. Physical: Insist that your teen exercise regularly,.even if it is only 30 minutes a day. This can relieve stress, burn calories, and assist them with mental focus. Also, try to replace the junk food in your house with healthy alternatives. Teens may resist at first but, once they get hungry, they’ll eat.
2. Emotionally: Evaluate the relationships in your home. Is it a stable environment? If not, search for resources to improve the peacefulness of your home. If the problems are more severe, seek the help of a counselor or pastor who can help. If your teen seems emotionally out of balance, seek professional help.
3. Intellectually: Set boundaries around grades at school. Insist on a certain amount of time, daily, that your teen must focus on feeding their brains in healthy ways. It can be reading a book, writing in a journal, using educational software, or just having a healthy discussion with you about what they are learning at school. And remember, don’t just set boundaries; enforce them. If you don’t, your teen will quickly realize that your bark is worse than your bite.
4. Relationally: Encourage the healthy relationships in your teen’s life. Talk to them about their relationships and help them in the tough moments. However, set limits on phone use, internet use, and make sure your teen is focused on things other than relationships as well.
5. Spiritually: You cannot control what goes on between God and your teen. Each of us must deal with the Lord on our own. However, you can make sure that your teen is exposed to healthy spiritual environments and teachings. Insist that your teen attend church with you. After all, you make them attend school, don’t you? You don’t have to shove religion down their throats. Just make it clear that going to church is a requirement for the household. Tell your teen that what they do with this is up to them. Try to encourage them to join a healthy youth group. If possible, have family devotions or prayer time, other than at meals. Most of all, be a model for how important it is to have a relationship with Christ.
I know that your teenager will initially resist your efforts to bring balance to his/her life. Helping them to reorganize priorities will not be easy. If you need help, seek a professional who can come along beside you and give you strategies and support. Whatever it takes, work to bring balance into the life of your teen. Remember, a balanced teenager is more likely to become a balanced, healthy, productive adult. And, maybe…they won’t trip over so many sidewalks.
About the Author:
Aaron has devoted his life to reaching out and helping people grow and mature through difficult life situations. He has over twenty years of experience in assisting people through life struggles to grow stronger emotionally and spiritually as they put the pieces of their life back together. Aaron has invested in the lives of others through clinical counseling, pastoral ministry, public speaking, leadership training, educational instruction, youth camps, student conventions, athletic coaching and small group ministry to equip and empower others. He combines a genuine love for people along with an outgoing personality to create a safe and caring environment to make a positive difference in the lives of the individuals, families, and organizations he serves within our community. Aaron lives in Orlando with his wife, Michelle, and their three children, Eddie, Joshua, and Emmalee.
Michelle is an active member of the nanny community. She is the founder and president of Boston Area Nannies, Inc., a local non-profit educational organization and has served on the International Nanny Association Board of Directors.
She is called on by the media as a nanny and parenting expert and has been affectionately dubbed America's Nanny. Michelle has appeared on television and has been featured in print.
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