Health & Harmony
By Dr. Nancy Gahles
The teenage years are fraught with angst. In existentialist philosophy, this is defined as a feeling of dread arising from an awareness of free choice. Freedom looms large as the school year comes to a close and the endless summer begins. Teenagers reel with the prospects of independence. For some, independence means the choice to go to a summer camp or start a job of their choice. For others, independence means the right to choose to do nothing. Truly, we all have the inherent right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. How do we, as parents, guide our teenagers to appropriate use of freedom?
An awareness of free choice can be coupled with the anxiety of uncertainty for the teen. How do I know what is right for me? Often the tension of choosing a path unknown is fraught with doubt and concerns. These feelings may be well masked by false bravado, disturbances in sleep patterns and eating habits. Mood changes especially irritability and snappish behaviors are clues that your teen needs some parental advice. Often the behaviors are so off-putting and surly that the parent does back off and leave them alone. My advice is to monitor your teen closely and be ready at a moment's notice to seize the opportunity to talk. Meet them on their own terms. If your teen is going off to summer camp, help them pack and chat about their expectations while working together. Offer to drive to the mall and use car time for conversations. Free choices are best made after consultation with peers and adults who know you and have your best interest at heart.
A feeling of dread arises when we are attached to the outcome. Give your teen the assurance that adulthood is all about making choices. Choices provide us information in the form of feedback. What did I learn from this choice I made? Where did it lead me? Where do I go from here knowing what I now know? The only outcome that is relevant from making a considered choice is the information that you have learned from it. There is no fixed end point of a choice. There is no right or wrong. It is all about learning, gathering information and applying it to the next step you take.
Angst can be dissipated when we understand that life is all about change and the opportunities that change presents.
Teens who are preparing for the transition from one school to another and who are leaving home and their secure circle of friends can experience angst of another kind. Loss of comfortable, well known social and educational situations can provoke feelings of anxiety. Prepare your teen by discussing their strengths and accomplishments so that they are aware of which ones to bring forth in their new environment. Review with them situations in the past where they made transitions and how they negotiated them. Give them strategies for success, books to read, mentors to call upon. Give them a safety net for success that they are able to access when away from home. When they have a road map and a destination and are aware of the hazards that can appear along the way, teens who are equipped with the bag of tools will be more confident to tackle the journey.
Teens who are staying at home for the summer have the least angst. The parents of these teens have the most angst. Where are they going? Who are they with? And what are they doing? "Idle hands are the devil's workshop", my mother was fond of saying. She always kept us busy. And she was right. It is a well-known fact that our teens are drinking and doing other things that are not appropriate to their age.
The feeling of dread from freedom of choice does not seem to touch this group. They are 'care free". In instances like this, I think it is necessary for the parents to set rules of conduct and give them a 'menu of choices' to select from. Conditioning teens to make responsible choices is part of the summer program in my world. Identify job opportunities and take your teen to fill out an application and arrange for an interview. We have a wonderful community of merchants and organizations here in Rockaway. Consider the talents and interests of your teen. If there is not a job in that area, consider offering to do community service. Volunteering in an area that interests you is rich in experience and networking that can lead to other areas opening up to you. Find a business that you love and develop a mentor relationship with the person in charge. Many people who are passionate about their work will be glad to share their knowledge and experience with you.
The summer is the time for relaxation and freedom of choice. As parents, I ask that you direct your teens to forms of relaxation that are wholesome and nurturing. Empower them with the tools to make right decisions and to exercise their freedom of choice in areas that will sustain them and give them self-confidence. Vigilance on the part of the parent will ultimately fine tune the personality traits of your teen and enable you to have an ongoing, meaningful relationship. This begets health and harmony.
In the words of William Blake, If one is to do good, it must be done in the minute particulars. General good is the plea of the hypocrite, the flatterer, and the scoundrel.
For advice on healthy nutrition, common teen ailments, or questions about angst, please e-mail me at AskDrnancy @aol.com