Worries Teens Have About Themselves
Many teens’ concerns can be alleviated by recognizing that they will mature.
Posted December 10, 2022 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan
- Teens can sometimes struggle from a limited perspective of their life.
- Teens can learn that being different from others can represent a major strength.
- A key to a rewarding life journey is the ability to persevere when faced with challenging situations.
Adolescence is a time when teenagers become more self-aware, as their brain becomes more developed and they deal with new and intensified feelings associated with hormonal changes that take place during puberty (Arain, 2013).
Given their newfound awareness, teenagers work at understanding who they are and what they believe in. Because of their limited experience, they often make the mistake of assuming that their characteristics during early adolescence represent permanent traits.
Parents sometimes make the same mistake when they spot their teenagers' worrisome behaviors and become very concerned that these represent flaws that likely will affect their children throughout their lives.
Thus, while young teenagers and their parents anticipate their upcoming physical growth, they often fail to appreciate that they will also continue to intellectually and emotionally mature and change a great deal for several years.
This post discusses common worries that teens have about themselves, which can be addressed in large part through recognition that they are only in the midst of their rapid developmental process. My next post will discuss common worries that parents have about their teens, which can be addressed similarly.
How do I figure out who I am?
Since teens often do not yet have a good sense of who they are, they look to others for help in defining themselves. Typically, teens discount their parents’ assessments because they think their parents want them to feel good about themselves and/or to fulfill the parents’ own hope and dreams for them.
Therefore, teens think their parents may not be truthful. Instead, they rely frequently on their peers’ evaluations. Unfortunately, their peers may also suffer from a limited perspective.
I explain to teens that the process of developing better self-understanding should be a lifelong endeavor. In the case of teens who are undergoing rapid growth, their character will naturally change a great deal by the time they become young adults. Further, character also changes as a result of how people react to various life circumstances.
For example, children who have dealt with difficult circumstances such as a serious illness or loss of a loved one tend to become emotionally mature more quickly.
In this age of increasing acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community and online interactions through social media, some teens have felt more pressure at an early age to define their sexual orientation as well as their gender identity. However, in a recent survey, nearly 20% of high school students report changing their sexual orientation during their high school years (Stewart, 2019).
Therefore, I counsel teens to be patient with themselves as they mature, and suggest that their sexuality may become better defined when they are older. Further, I tell them that no matter how they ultimately express themselves sexually, they can be emotionally happy and secure.
I suggest to teens that rather than seeking to figure themselves out, they might ask themselves about their long-term goals in life and whether they are on a path to reach these goals. Some respond with specific goals.
Infrequently, their stated goal is destructive or unrealistic. In that event, we review the thinking process that led to their answer, which sometimes leads them to offer another goal. If they do not change their minds, I suggest that their goals can change over time, as they learn more.
If they state they do not know what they would like to do, I ask them if they would like to become successful and/or happy. They usually agree with that suggestion, with the rare exception of teens who are very depressed. (In that case, I work to help them through their depression.)
I then suggest that one way to know if they are on a good path is to ask about each of their activities, “Does this activity bring me closer or further away from my goal?” I explain that if the activity appears to be neutral, e.g., playing video games for long periods of time, it can actually move them away from success as they could have used their time more constructively.
On the other hand, playing video games for short periods, as a way of resting the mind, can bring them closer to success, since a refreshed mind is more ready to engage in empowering endeavors.
Finally, I teach teens how to interact with their subconscious, which helps them realize that a part of them can be very knowledgeable and wise. I have seen this awareness serve as an empowering tool, which helps teens become more comfortable with and more tolerant of the uncertainties of adolescence.
Adolescence Essential Reads
Is something wrong with me?
Some of the teens who seek counseling from me for their anxiety have a similar profile. They tend to be gifted intellectually, sensitive, mature, and have different interests than most of their peers. They often find it easier to relate to adults than to their peers, or to lead activities with younger children with whom they do not expect to share interests. As a result, they feel different and conclude that something must be wrong with them, which contributes to exacerbating their anxiety.
Many other teens worry that sharing their true opinions or feelings that differ from those of their peers will cause them to be teased or ostracized.
I reassure teens who feel different that their differences represent a major strength because they can contribute independent and important ideas and actions to our society. I explain that a big reason that I want to help them is that I recognize their potential for making a major difference in the world. I suggest that in time they also will learn to appreciate themselves.
For those who plan to attend college, I add that by then they should be able to find friends with personal characteristics similar to their own because they will be able to choose from a large student population.
Do I need to excel in order to succeed in life?
Some teens work very hard to excel in all arenas of their life (e.g., academically, athletically, and socially) because they believe this is essential in order to become successful in life. Other teens give up on themselves and become depressed and disengaged with life because they feel that they can never measure up to their more successful peers.
I suggest that a key to a rewarding life journey is the ability to persevere when faced with challenging situations. This is more important than academic or athletic achievements, for example, because even the smartest or most talented people will not get very far in life if they do not work hard. Also, I explain that there are many paths in life that can lead to success. Excelling in many arenas is only one such path.
Therefore, I recommend that the teens move forward with determination and optimism along a path they think is reasonable, secure in the knowledge that they can choose to change their path, if necessary.
Do I have to figure out my career while I'm in high school?
Some teens are so consumed by their inability to choose a career that they feel they cannot move forward in life. They lament that many of their peers already are in pursuit of their careers and feel that they will fall further behind the longer they take to decide on a career.
I suggest to teens that since they have a lot more to learn, it is fine that they have not yet chosen a career because they do not even know of all the possible life ventures that might be of interest to them. I explain that people who pick a career while in high school often neglect to take a broad educational curriculum or fail to explore a lot of different career options. Thus, they never end up finding out about topics that could prove to be of great interest.
Finally, I tell them that the average person changes careers five times, and thus they do not need to be so worried about their first career choice. This is yet another reason that a broad-based college curriculum or taking on different kinds of beginner jobs after high school can help develop a solid foundation from which to pick one or more good career paths.
Teens should be coached to remain patient and calm with themselves as they mature. They should be reassured that there are many paths to success in life.
Arain, M., et al. 2013. “Maturation of the adolescent brain.” Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. 9:449–461.
Stewart, J. L., et al. 2019. “Developmental patterns of sexual identity, romantic attraction, and sexual behavior among adolescents over three years.” Journal of Adolescence. 77:90-97.
More information about the subconscious and its use in helping teenagers is available in the 2021 book "Changing Children’s Lives with Hypnosis: A Journey to the Center," by Ran D. Anbar. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.