Teenagers are a Lightning Rod to Show us How we Are as a Society

Adam Simon, Odyssey Teen Camp Director With Teen

If teenagers are truly a lightning rod or a barometer to show us how our society is doing, then we know we have plenty of work to do, but we knew that anyway. Doesn’t it feel like our society is more polarized and maybe angrier than we have been in a long time? It feels like so many of us feel alienated and are hurting. One thing I am pretty certain of is that we cannot wait for our society to get its act together before we help the teenagers in our lives.

I’ve never been all that interested in politics (although I am glad that many of my friends are). I don’t have a great plan for how to fix our society, but I am very interested in trying to help the teens in our lives who are struggling, and I have a feeling that you are too.

We need to try and understand what our teens are experiencing and do everything we can to help them relax and feel safe, loved, and less alone (even if they act like they want us to leave them alone). I think the pandemic hit teens particularly hard. We know teens have always had to deal with so many changes physically and emotionally, and I think the pandemic somehow magnified all of that.

What can we do to help the teens in our lives besides loving them up the best we can?

Here are a few ideas.

1) Let’s try to put less pressure on them, particularly academically.

I know we think they need to do good in school, get into a good college, get a great job, etc., but I think we can relax around a lot of that. I’m sure it can feel overwhelming, especially for those kids who are not great at sitting in a classroom all day. I’m not even sure how great that pressure is for teens who are geared to succeed in our school systems.

There is a very smart 15-year-old who lives on my block; She is one of those kids who is self-motivated to be the best at everything. Her mom once told me that she comes right home from school and spends hours doing her homework and reading way ahead of where the rest of the class is (and this was when she was in second grade). I saw her walking home from middle school this September. She was carrying this huge backpack (she is short for her age) and looking pretty stressed. I asked her how school was going, and she told me it was rough. I asked her why, and she told me they don’t give her enough time to get to classes.  I thought, if this girl is having such a tough time, what chance do kids who are less driven or less organized have? I don’t think we need to put this kind of pressure on teenagers, or any kids for that matter.

2) Let’s try to normalize feelings like anxiety and depression so the teens in our lives don’t feel like they are the only ones struggling.

We know that teenagers feel their emotions very strongly, and they can think they are the only ones feeling whatever they are feeling. Let’s help them to understand that uncomfortable feelings and emotions are universal and part of the human condition, let’s help them feel safe to express all of their feelings, particularly the ones they think are unacceptable, and try to push aside or project on to others.

3) I know everyone says this, but we need to try and get our kids off their screens for at least half the time they are on them today.

Many summer camps are eliminating their “no cell phones” policies, and I think they are doing it because they can’t get enough kids to come to camp without their phones. No one knows more about struggling to get teenagers to come to camp than I do, but I also know that we need to get teens talking to each other face to face, reading, looking at clouds, or doing anything other than staring at their phones. I have not done a great job of that with my daughter; she knows way too much about how many followers certain people have on Instagram or about the most expensive car ever built (I think she told me that it’s a Maserati made with real diamonds).

4) While it is important for teens to have friends, I don’t think we want to be in a position of relying on our kid’s friends to help them feel good about themselves, do the right things, etc.

We know how teenage friendships can quickly shift and how friends can turn from being helpful to hurtful based on next to nothing. My dear friend Amy Frisch, a wonderful teen therapist, once told me that parents need to “stay in the game” when parenting their teens. Friends are great, but we also need plenty of kind and compassionate adults to help us raise happy and healthy teenagers.

I imagine that when many teenagers look out at the world, the options available to them do not look very exciting. We know each one of our teens came into this life with unique gifts and talents to share. Parents and other adults can often see those gifts clearly. Let’s find ways to help our teens recognize their unique gifts, and then let’s help them find ways to put those gifts out into the world.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope I’m not coming off as too “preachy” or like I am blaming parents. I am one myself. I know we are doing our best to support and help our kids, and if teenagers are a barometer for how we are as a society, maybe by helping the teens in our lives, we will help ourselves along the way.

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Adam Simon, Odyssey Teen Camp Director

Adam Simon

I'm Adam Simon. I started teen camp eighteen years ago with the vision of creating a space where teenagers would know they are safe from bullying or negative judgments and would feel free to show who they really are and to become their best selves. Let's connect, discuss, and engage...
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Find Out About Odyssey Teen Camp

A Non-Profit Overnight Summer Camp For Teens Ages 13-18
Located in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts.