Doing more one-off talks at schools, there’s been some themes that have come up and seem to show what’s going on in the teenage mind. This usually happens at the Q&A session part of the talk.
When talking to schools about what they would want from the talk it’s been, naturally, ideas on dealing with exam anxiety and stress; these are very potent topics and incredibly important to schools. But recently it’s also included a recurring theme about how students are increasingly unhappy with some of the choices they feel pressured to make. The pupils are sharing they feel their lives or passions lie in a different directions.
A lot of the questions I get are, How can I have those conversations with my parents? How do I start those conversations? How do they explain that this isn’t what they want to do in the future and that they would prefer to follow some alternatives.
And there have been some real struggles in having those conversations.
Because it’s not an easy one to have. If you take yourself back to 15 or 16, having a conversation with your parents about how you want to change your direction is not particularly appealing.
I try and get across that it is so essential to have that conversation. We must be empowered to live the life that we want and to have it on our terms and not someone else’s.
When faced with these types of situations, I explain that it’s better to have a difficult conversation now than to carry on down a path that makes them unhappy. Because it will, ultimately, make them resentful, creating long term damage.
So I offer that it’s better to get that conversation done now rather than never explain your feelings.
Other themes that come up are about what happens if they don’t achieve the grades that are expected of them. Or that their parents are asking them to choose a college course, however they don’t know what they want to do.
Again these are difficult but important conversations to have.
Therefore it’s about having an open, honest and respectful conversation where the child can say, “I’m unhappy.”
And I don’t want to be unhappy. And the expectations of these exams. I don’t know if this what I want to do, but I’m feeling a lot of pressure to achieve it.
It’s often amazing the transformation that can occur when this is heard. All of a sudden they begin to de-escalate their need for the child to perform and the child feels more confident to explain how they feel. Many parents only ever want their child to be happy. And to hear that something is making their child unhappy can be enough for them to begin to revaluate their priorities.
I’ve found the best way of doing that is asking: what will cost you if you don’t do anything? Ask them to go into the future to see what the outcome of not sharing will have. Many times the answers are that they will be unhappy, that they won’t know who they are because they’ll be living a life for someone else.
This awareness is a big motivator to start those difficult conversations. Because at the end of the day, what other choice is there? Have the difficult talk now or live in unhappiness or resentment?
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Ben Jackson is a registered counsellor, coach, and lecturer with nearly 10 years of professional experience. He helps clients with stress and anxiety, anger management, self esteem, confidence, and depression.
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