Being a teen today may be harder than ever before. Between a rapidly changing world, constant stimulation on social media and rampant cyber-bullying on top of the normal challenges of adolescence, it’s no surprise that rates of depression among teens are rising.
Whereas self-esteem used to be all the rage in treating common teen concerns like fitting in, doing well in school, body image, safe sex and dating, contemporary approaches to teen mental health are increasingly relying on self-compassion instead.
So what exactly is self-compassion?
According to Dr. Kristen Neff, self-compassion consists of three parts: self-kindness, mindfulness and common humanity. These three parts work together to make self-compassion an effective skill for teens to use in difficult times.
In her new book, “The Self-Compassion Workbook for Teens,” Karen Bluth, Ph.D offers practices and exercises to help teens learn self-compassion skills to navigate, cope with and overcome self-criticism, self-doubt and difficult emotions.
The following tips for helping teens learn self-compassion have been adapted from her work.
1.Normalize the Challenges of Adolescence
Teenagers can often feel alone in their struggles to fit in, tolerate their bodies, get along with their families and have their lives post-graduation figured out.
Self-compassion involves remembering that adolescence is a tough time for everyone and that struggling through the years before early adulthood is completely normal. Between new schools, friend groups, body changes and classes, it’s almost as if to be a teenager is to be in a constant state of change. Given that change is difficult for everyone, it’s no wonder being a teenager is so hard.
It may also help to remind teens that while they may not necessarily hear others talk about their challenges openly, that doesn’t mean they’re alone in having a hard time.
2. Debunk the Myths
Just like adults, teens may resist the idea of self-compassion out of fear that being kind to themselves will mean laying around all day, ignoring school assignments and failing all their classes. But in fact, the opposite is true.
“We know from research that folks who are kinder to themselves are actually more likely to be motivated to get stuff done. They are less likely to procrastinate and more likely to try new things. You know why? Because they give it their all without worrying about failure or giving in to doubt. They know that if they don’t achieve their goal, they’re not going to beat themselves up’ they’ll just either let it go or keep trying. And they are overall happier as a result,” writes Bluth.
3. Define Self-Compassion
According to Bluth, self-compassion is “treating ourselves, when we’re going through a hard time, the way we would treat a good friend.”
Like many things, self-compassion sounds simple in theory but isn’t always so easy in practice. It takes practice and willingness to try something new the service of what’s really important to teens, such as doing well in school, having a better social life, getting along with their families or simply feeling better.
4. Bring Mindfulness Into the Mix
Mindfulness helps us take our thoughts less seriously by seeing them as mental events that come and go, rather than hard facts. And mindfulness is in some ways a prerequisite for self-compassion because it allows us to notice harsh or self-critical thoughts as they arise and be willing to intervene and extend self-kindness instead.
Without basic mindfulness skills, it’s difficult to notice those moments when self-compassion is really needed.
“One simple way to practice mindfulness is to remember this: Physical sensations bring us to the present moment. When you’re paying attention to your physical sensations, you’re in the moment,” writes Bluth.
5. Help Teens Figure Out for Themselves why Practicing Self-Compassion is Worth it.
We can tell teens to practice self-compassion until we’re blue in the face, but if being kinder to themselves isn’t connected to a personal value that they’ve chosen for themselves, they’re a lot less likely to want to do the work.
There are a number of free resources available for helping clients identify their core values. Bluth offers the option of having teens make a promise to themselves based on one core value that they can implement in daily life.
For more about self-compassion for teens, check out “The Self-Compassion Workbook for Teens.