As my oldest daughter approaches thirteen, I have become more conscious of what she will need to negotiate her teen years as a highly sensitive person.
As a HSP myself there were things that worked for me during my teen years–such as creative outlets for my strong emotions–and things that really didn’t.
Most of us struggle to deal with our emotions, relationships and identity as teens. Understanding my sensitivity and how to manage it would have been incredibly helpful.
Here are 5 things that will help our wonderful HS teens flourish.
1. An understanding of what it means to be Highly Sensitive
High Sensitivity often seems like a weakness. HSP could easily label themselves as shy, too sensitive, a cry baby, or anxious. I thought I was overly emotional and hated that I would burst into tears over the smallest things–even when I wasn’t feeling sad!
But high sensitivity has some amazing positives. Highly sensitive people are deep thinkers, tuned in to other people and their emotions, and see things that others miss. They are creative, peace-loving, and full of empathy. Highly Sensitive People can be introverted or extroverted, high sensation seeking or happier with routine.
Helping your teen discover their own unique qualities and strengths and understand their high sensitivity will boost your teens self confidence, and give them a sense of positive identity.
2. Alone Time
Being a Highly Sensitive Person might mean your teen gets overwhelmed more easily by big groups, a busy school day, or parties, but even that doesn’t need to be seen as a weakness. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying downtime or needing space!
Our teens lead busy lives. With busy school schedules and increased workloads, sports practices, after-school activities, and friendships, the weeks can fill up quickly. HS teens need downtime more now than ever. Help them schedule in quiet alone-times and encourage them to rest if they seem emotional or stressed.
Teaching relaxation techniques, talking to them about self care and helping them discover ways to recharge will benefit them for the rest of their lives. (Read more about why even highly sensitive extroverts need alone time!)
Highly Sensitive teens can teach us balance too. All of us could benefit from slowing down and enjoying regular quiet-time.
3. Getting enough sleep
Teens in general struggle to get enough sleep. 8-10 hours a night is the recommended amount for teenagers but researchers are finding that many are not getting anywhere near that. For some teens, late nights on their devices are the cause and researchers suggest that dimming lights at night and having device free time might help. Others say that teens’ shifting circadian rhythms are the problem. During the teen years sleep patterns can shift and end up 2-3 hours out from an adults’ rhythm. This might mean you are ready for bed at 10pm but your teen is wide awake until midnight.
For our deep thinking HS teens sleep is even more essential because our brains do a lot of processing and wiring during the night. Sleep is critical for brain health and development. Without enough sleep your teen will be more emotional and less able to cope with the pressures of the day. If your teen has to get up early for school there may not be much you can do about this, but encouraging them to rest their bodies, and teaching good sleep habits–such as no devices two hours before sleep, plenty of exercise early in the day, not eating late at night etc–can help.
4. A Sense of Control
Teens want to feel an increasing sense of ownership and power, but often this is the time that parents tighten their control.
When our children are young we have almost complete say over what they do, when. As they grow we want to give them more and more say, preparing them for the adult world by teaching them to be responsible and make their own good choices. HS teens can feel anxious if they don’t have enough control over their own lives. With their ability to think deeply it is important that they feel heard, can voice their own opinions and have them valued and respected.
They need freedom to choose and that will mean that sometimes they will make mistakes. As long as the potential mistakes are not life altering (like un-protected sex or drink driving, as obviously we need to protect our children from those sorts of mistakes as best we can) it is important that we gradually increase their responsibility and freedom.
5. Support and guidance
Even though we want to increase their freedom, our teens definitely still need guidance from us.
The teenage brain is doing an incredible amount of shuffling, rearranging and growing connections and unfortunately that means teens don’t always make the best decisions.
This is because the pre-frontal cortex is the last part of their brain to mature. This is the part of our brains responsible for all our self-control, personality expression, planning, decision-making, ability to think about future consequences and suppress urges that might make us do something socially unacceptable.
HS teens may be more vulnerable to depression
In this period of massive brain development, HS teens are also vulnerable to depression and anxiety just like other teenagers–perhaps even more so.
Their ability to tune in to the emotions of others may mean they get caught up in dramas at school, are more affected by their friends’ problems, and get heart-broken more easily (there are things you can do to help your teen recover from heartbreak).
HS deep thinking might mean they get too caught up in their thoughts and negative emotions. And their ability to empathise can result in feeling overwhelmed by issues and problems in the world.
The teen years for a highly sensitive person can be creative, powerful and fun as they explore their friendships, strengths and talents, but it can also be a very challenging time. As parents of HS teens we play a huge role in helping them flourish during this time.
Sometimes all we need to do is listen
One of the most important jobs we can do for our HS teen is to be available to listen, tune into their emotions (which helps them learn emotion regulation) and be a sounding board for their thoughts.
Our teens need our open communication and guidance. They need to be able to come to us for help with problem-solving, thinking about issues and making good choices, while still feeling in control of their own lives.
Our teens need us more than they think they do!
Until next time,
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