In a given 24 hours in the U.S., 1,439 teens will attempt suicide, 2,795 teenage girls will become pregnant, 15,006 teens will use drugs for the first time, and 3,506 teens will run away, according to a report by www.verywellmind.com.
Health and education professionals cite socio-economic factors for these youth problems, but some say adults could make a difference if they connected better with teenagers.
“America is unintentionally betraying the emotional and social needs of its adolescents – ages 11 to 21,” says Kim Metcalfe, an educational developmental psychologist and author of “Let’s Build ExtraOrdinary Youth Together.” “We have parents, guardians, school teachers, administrators, coaches and volunteers working with youth every day who have no idea how to use meaningful connections or even how significant they are.”
Metcalfe notes five ways to make meaningful connections with teenagers that can help them navigate the journey to adulthood:
• Be sensitive. “The road map to their life journey starts with teen questions like, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What is my purpose?’ ” Metcalfe says. “Adults need to listen thoroughly and then take the time to guide or advise, and this starts with being sensitive to their intellectual, creative and emotional aspects.”
• Offer encouragement. “Youth who are encouraged by adults will act in connected and cooperative ways,” Metcalfe says. “Encouragement helps youth feel capable and appreciated, but when youth are discouraged, they act in unhealthy ways. The idea is to encourage the development of the whole young person.”
• Elicit their creativity. An adult can empower a young person and give them self-confidence by making them feel important. “One way to do that is by asking them for ideas and possible solutions to problems outside of their own,” Metcalfe says. “You let them take the lead in something. Getting them to think outside the box expedites growth.”
• Let them know you care. “Tell kids that we are on their side, that we love and care about them unconditionally and that we are there to support them despite their mistakes,” she says.
About Kim Metcalfe
Kim Metcalfe, a retired professor of early childhood education and psychology, is the author of “Let’s Build ExtraOrdinary Youth Together.” She is a member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the American Psychological Association. Visit www.xtraordinaryyouth.com for details.