"I can't believe she didn't text me back yet. Either she's mad at me or just doesn't like me anymore!"
"It's not fair that I can't go out with my friends tomorrow! I hate you!"
"There's no way I'm going to pass my math test. I suck at math and my teacher hates me."
Sound familiar? Probably. As a parent of a tween or teen, you're probably used to these types of statements and chalk them up to your tween or teen being...well... a tween or teen. And while it is normal for them to experience moodiness and irritability, we really do need to look at patterns of negative thinking and how they actually negatively impact academic and social success, happiness, self-esteem, and confidence.
Our thoughts are powerful. If we think we are going to fail our math test, or get stuck in the judgment of something being unfair, or are convinced that our friend no longer likes us - we can actually create that outcome. The good news? We also have the power to control our thoughts and change to positive outcomes!
Why do tweens and teens tend to struggle with negative self-talk?
As they are going through the typical developmental changes and transitions, they are more likely to be vulnerable to insecurities and believing the worst. Research suggests this is one of the reasons why teens experience high levels of anxiety, depression, anger, and relationship struggles.
How can you as parents help your tween or teen with these negative thought patterns?
Don't start by telling them that they are wrong! This actually tends to make the thought stick harder. Parents can start by recognizing the negative self-talk, validate the emotions behind the self-talk, and then challenge it.
Here's the first helpful hint on what to look for as parents and how to help your teen:
1. Catastrophizing is one of the most common negative thought patterns in which we tend to get stuck. This means jumping to the worst case scenario. "I'm going to fail my math test because I suck at math. And then I'm going to fail math this year, which will mean that I don't make honor roll, which will mean that I'm definitely not getting into college!" This type of thinking can very quickly lead to anxious thoughts and feelings.
*TIP: when you hear your teen catastrophizing, ask them to consider the worst possible outcome (I actually do fail my math test), the best outcome (I get an A on my math test), and the likely outcome (I do just fine on my test).
Then ask them to imagine that the worst outcome comes true (I fail my math test). Does it still matter: one week from now? One month from now? One year from now?
This will now make them more likely to distinguish between the irrational thought (I'm not getting into college) and the rational thought (I will most likely do just fine on my test).
Stay tuned for more helpful hints on the way!
*Could your daughter benefit from learning ways to challenge and reframe these negative thoughts? If so, she might be a great fit for our Girls Empowered groups. More info here.
*Do you find that your teen has a tendency to think negatively or catastrophize, especially related to school? If so, they might be a great fit for our upcoming workshop on managing school stress and anxiety and challenging our negative thoughts! More info here.
Have questions or need support for your teen? Contact us using the form below.