During adolescence, teenagers try to figure out their identity and where they belong in the world. Doing so involves moments of introspection when they might not see themselves in a positive light. Negative thoughts take over, with doubts replacing their childhood innocence. As it would seem, self-loathing is the new norm when children set foot in their formative years. Perfectionism and ideals plague them so much that they measure their worth based on unrealistic standards. Thus, it is essential to cultivate positive thinking to prevent teens from developing mental health issues.
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The “Broaden-and-Build” Theory of Positive Emotions
Human beings need to maintain a steady stream of happy feelings and good experiences to flourish in life. This idea is the concept behind Barbara Fredrickson’s “broaden-and-build” theory.
As one of the leading researchers in positive psychology, Fredrickson states that positive emotions expand a person’s thought-action range, whereas negative emotions narrow it. Such positivity allows people to go through life with creativity, curiosity, playfulness, and experimentation. Moreover, these behaviors encourage people to gain new physical, intellectual, and social resources.
Simply put, someone does something good for themselves, and they enjoy it because they feel happy. The theory is a loop that works by:
- Feeling positive emotions incites a stronger desire to explore the world and savor its experiences.
- Exploring leads to discovering new ideas and strengthening social bonds.
- Discoveries help build healthier relationships and better problem-solving skills.
- When personal growth thanks to the above are achieved, more positive emotions are produced, thus continuing the cycle.
Gratitude and Mental Health Recovery
Gratitude is when a person notices and appreciates things often taken for granted. It is when a person focuses on being thankful for what they have.
Research has shown that gratitude can enhance mental health. The simple act of savoring what’s good in life induces positive emotions such as happiness. It can even prevent or reduce some of the adverse effects caused by childhood experiences and trauma.
However, being grateful can sometimes be challenging since teens still lack the life experiences that nurture gratitude. As such, here are some ways for teens to practice gratitude:
- Writing it down
- Teens can start a gratitude journal or calendar to help them plan when and how to practice gratitude. They can make a list of what they are looking forward to in a day. During the nighttime, teens can list what they appreciate during the day. After a while, expressing gratitude will not only be limited to their scheduled times.
- Sharing with family and friends
- Dinner can be an excellent time to share what family members are thankful for. Practicing gratitude can be a way of building peer support. When teens appreciate one another, it creates a ripple effect that makes everyone feel more connected.
- Allotting time for self-appreciation
- Before teens can show gratitude towards others, they must first learn to appreciate themselves. An act of self-love can be as simple as staying at home during weekends and just pampering oneself.
- Writing reviews for favorite artists and creators
- Showing appreciation for somebody’s work is easy now that the digital age is here. Teens can leave comments on social media platforms that show why they love an artist’s work. They can also share enjoyable content with their family and friends.
- Telling people when they do something heartwarming
- It does not take more than a few seconds to say “Thank you” and “I appreciate what you did for me.” These simple phrases can brighten up another person’s day.
- Reflecting on an overwhelming situation
- Trying not to let stress or negativity rule every situation can be eye-opening. Teens can take a moment to reflect for a while. This awareness can give them the strength to face other stressful situations. This, in turn, will let them appreciate their coping abilities.
When faced with difficulties, people often turn to themselves. Their inner voices dictate how they perceive a situation and how to resolve it. This voice is known as self-talk and is influenced by both conscious and subconscious beliefs.
Negative Self Talk
This type of self-talk is a voice that causes teens to feel negative feelings, such as hurt, anger, frustration, anxiety, and even depression. Once these feelings make themselves known, teens may even exhibit self-defeating behavior.
Some forms of negative self-talk manifest as:
- Convincing themselves not to study because they are going to fail regardless
- Making assumptions that are only based on perceptions
- Being hard on themselves
- Criticizing and judging themselves unfairly
Some teens perceive passing thoughts to be factual when the reality is entirely different. The worse they feel about themselves, the more negative self-talk becomes. Moreover, when negative self-talk persists for a long time, it affects their self-esteem and can cause serious mental health problems.
In contrast to negative self-talk, positive self-talk challenges teenagers’ unhelpful thinking and replaces it with rational thoughts. This is a powerful way for teens to feel better about themselves and their situation. However, their negative inner voice often returns automatically, and before they know it, they are back on an endless cycle of self-loathing and criticism.
Recognizing their thinking patterns can help teens in preventing negative self-talk from doing any mental damage. They can do this by asking themselves these questions:
- Is there any evidence that supports my thinking? If so, what is it?
- Am I basing my thoughts on facts?
- How could I verify if my thoughts are true?
- Is there another way of thinking about this situation?
- What’s the worst, best, and most likely thing that could happen?
- Is this going to matter in five or ten years?
- What can I control that will help me solve this?
- What can I learn from this situation?
5 Rs of Positive Thinking
- Teens should try to recognize what triggers their negative thinking. Knowing the situations or relationships that set them off can prevent them from subjecting themselves to an onslaught of negativity.
- Out with the negative habits and in with the good ones. Breaking a bad habit will require teens to establish a healthier substitute.
- Teens could write down a list of why they want to overcome a bad habit. This list will remind them why they are on the path to a new routine when they feel dissuaded.
- Teens are likely to follow through with a new habit when a reward system is in place. A prize is an excellent way of motivating themselves to be consistent and fully adapt to the new habit.
- Reach out
- Partnering up with a family member or friend who wants to break a similar habit increases the chances of success. A support system is a great idea to cultivate self-will.
Positive Thinking: Four Ways to Help Your Teen
When teens are in negative self-talk mode, their mood reflects everything they feel. This is often apparent and felt by their parents. Helping your teen adapt to a positive self-concept can make them more confident in themselves and effectively address their problems.
Here are four ways to influence your child into thinking more positively:
- Be your child’s role model
Keep in mind that your teen learns a great deal from you, so remaining positive will encourage them to adopt the same attitude towards life. It may not be instant, but your teen will gradually follow your thinking habits and beliefs.
- Prevent yourself from comparing your child to others
Your teen has their own strengths and weaknesses. Learn to accept that what other teens can do may not be something your teen is capable of. When you outspokenly compare them to others, they get flooded with negative thoughts. Children have an innate need to please their parents to win over their love and attention. Avoid judging them and instead shower them with affirmations. Additionally, when it comes to social media, encourage them to follow people who promote positivity and are in tune with their authentic selves.
- Encourage physical exercise
When negative thoughts become overwhelming, teens can let out frustrations and ground themselves by exercising. Have your teen exercise regularly to keep negativity at bay and improve their wellbeing. You can even join these sessions and make it a bonding activity. Furthermore, since most teenagers’ self-concept is linked to physical attributes, exercising can help them feel more at ease with their bodies.
- Incentivize doing charitable work
Reaching out to others can help teens feel better about themselves. Encourage your teen to take up charity work that aligns with their beliefs. By doing so, they can share their generosity with others while also fostering their self-esteem. Having a purpose and belonging to a group that advocates for humanitarian work can incite positive emotions. Talk to your teen about their passions and movements that they would want to participate in, and help them choose a cause to support. Consider signing yourself up as well to join them in their endeavor.
Many teenagers struggle with negative perceptions of themselves or their situations. Harsh thinking patterns create a derogatory self-concept, and it also prevents teens from becoming the best and most authentic version of themselves. Helping them break out of such unhealthy thinking habits can make them see the world from a different perspective, preferably with childlike wonder again. Adopting more positive thinking habits will ensure that your teen will have a well-rounded mental state.