Who's been there?
Middle schools and high schools seem like breeding grounds for hurt feelings, and the popularity of social media sites and constant connections to each other via the Internet doesn't help our students walk away from it.
Well, let's first begin with why teenage drama is so much more intense than other age groups' relations. The answer to this lies in the complex developmental processes of teenagers' brains. Because their brains' pre-frontal cortexes are still developing, it has been shown that adolescents engage in more risk-taking behavior, often being more impulsive or lacking self-control. Sometimes, you might think your teenager is overreacting to a situation: "They're just so dramatic!": This could be credited to the fact that the adolescent brain is more vulnerable to stress than the adult brain. Because of this, something "small" can be perceived as a major disaster to a teenager. Additionally, they may not have coping mechanisms to work through stress productively like older mentors or parents do.
So what can we do to help them?
For parents, mentors, & role models:
-Listen without judgement or interrupting. This shows your child or student that you have their attention. Sometimes, they might be looking to vent to you. Unless they ask for a solution, understand that might be looking to just get out their frustrations.
-Pay attention to mood swings or other warning signs of larger psychological issues. Take threats or so-called jokes about harming themselves or others seriously. If necessary, sit down and really talk to the child you are concerned about. Ask them how they are feeling, and be sure to equip them with appropriate coping skills and mental health resources.
-Stay calm. It is likely that your teenager understands that their actions may have not been the right thing to do. It may be best to offer your constructive criticisms at a later time, when emotions and tensions are not running so high within your teenager. Most of the time, teenagers feel like this...
-Validate their feelings. Use phrases like "I understand why you feel that way" or "I can see how that may have hurt your feelings". This is a way to relate to them, and can even help you both bridge the gap between you.
-Encourage solution-oriented, empathetic problem solving. Help your student identify their short and long term goals in the context of the situation. Ask questions such as "Who's feelings have been hurt?", "How can we/you make them feel better?", "Can you describe to me what would be the best outcome of this situation, not just for you, but for everyone involved?". This last question can be difficult to answer, but it helps your student envision an empathetic view of the situation.
For the students themselves:
-Ask yourself if this problem actually involves/impacts you. At times, we feel the need to jump into a situation to defend our friend. However, it is okay to prioritize your own emotional health. Drama is stressful, and it can even be negative for your mental and physical health. In other words, worry about yourself and your business. You don't always need to get involved, and it may even be more helpful to a stressed out friend to avoid taking sides.
-Communicate your feelings. If you begin to feel excluded or hurt by a friend or classmate, it can help to address it sooner rather than later. It doesn't help us to bottle up our feelings. Instead, nip the issues in the bud! Use these sentence starters to keep the interaction calm and productive.
"It makes me feel _____ when you ______."
"My concern is ________."
"I would like to talk about ________."
"When you say/said _______, I feel/felt ________."
"I like it when you ______, but I don't like it when you _______."
-Time or distance can heal. Sometimes, I like to excuse myself from an upsetting situation to close my eyes and slowly count to ten. Even ten short seconds can act like a restart button for your feelings. Most times, I find that after the ten seconds, I don't even care about what was majorly affecting my mood earlier. If ten seconds isn't enough, take more time. There's a reason we advise loved ones to "sleep on it" in regard to big decisions! You may also be able to physically remove yourself from a space or group of people if you're outside of school. (If you are in a class, always ask the teacher before leaving class! You can also privately ask your teacher to move your seat.)
- Log off. Technology can be a highway for mean posts or hurtful messages, so turn it off! Take a break from social media for a few days, you'll find that you have less stress and more free time to do offline activities like spending time with family or picking up a new hobby! In addition, be sure to check out the safety/privacy functions on different apps or websites. Mostly every social media app has a blocking function and/or a muting function! A block can be placed so that a certain account or person cannot send you messages or view your profile. If a block feels extreme, you might be able to mute someone. This means you still follow them, but you won't see their posts and they won't know that you have muted them. Finally, Instagram and Twitter both have functions allowing you to place your account on private, meaning that you have to approve any new followers and people who aren't approved cannot see your posts. Basically, don't be afraid to be Peppa Pig in this gif.
-Evaluate your friendships often. Here is quick exercise you can do for each of your close friends.
1. How do you feel when you're around this friend?
2. How do you feel AFTER being around them?
3. How do you act around this person compared to how you act around other people?
4. What do you like/dislike about the relationship?
These questions might help you discover which friendships to channel your effort into. Friendships should be balanced. You and your friend should equally support each other. If you feel like your friend doesn't listen to you and help you as much as you help them, the relationship may need some work. By no means does this mean to ditch or cut out your friend(s)! Communicate and try to find a plan to improve!
-Seek out a trusted adult. If a situation is making you or someone else extremely stressed, anxious, or upset, find an adult. Especially if you think the drama may turn into a physical fight or it doesn't seem to get better after a few days. Sometimes, your friends or classmates might even be so distraught that they could hurt themselves or others. If you are worried about anyone, whether they are your friend or not, tell an adult. In the end, it is better for that person to be mad that you "told" than have them endanger themselves or others.
Drama is not always easy to avoid, but teenagers can at least partially blame their biological development for the chaos in their daily lives. The more that students, parents, educators, and mentors explore cognitive and cultural influences that contribute to "drama". We, as mentors, have to continually adapt strategies to meet the new developments of technology among other generational changes. The more we listen and observe, the sharper these skills will become.
So basically, when drama comes your way, be like Grumpy Cat and say...