It can be difficult to be a teenager! Adolescence is a highly emotional time of transition between childhood and adulthood. Students’ primary tasks are the search for identity and the struggle for independence. The dramatic physical changes associated with puberty coincide with cognitive advances that find students navigating complex concepts such as love, fear, and freedom.
At this week’s faculty meeting, New Hampton School faculty spent time identifying some of the strong emotions they’ve seen in students with the start of the school year. These included big highs and lows, homesickness, intense enthusiasm, fatigue, and trying to fit in. Led by Director of Counseling Erika Lea, we then shared ways adults can support the emotional needs of students whether in our community, or as parents, friends and role-models.
How do adults in our community support adolescents during this time?
Build Rapport and Trust
There are many ways to establish positive relationships with students. As advisors, faculty, mentors and coaches, building relationships with students is at the heart of our success. Dropping in just to say hello, inviting them into your home, listening, offering a pick-me-up snack or fun game to break up the day.
Help Find Control
Some things are simply beyond the control of a student, such as their daily schedule, the behaviors of other people, or what’s on the menu for lunch; however, there are many aspects of each student’s life that they can control. We support students in distinguishing between what is worth tackling with a plan of action and what is simply out of their control. For example, “You feel far from home right now, I get that. What can you do to feel more at home on campus?”
Help Students Tolerate and Normalize Discomfort
It’s important to help students understand that discomfort and challenge are normal parts of a goal-oriented life. Strong emotions are okay, and students will ultimately be proud of pushing through life’s challenges. Validating adolescent emotions can go a long way. For example, “Change is hard. Try to be patient with yourself as you figure things out.” Or “Of course this is hard. Are you willing to be uncomfortable to reach your goal?”
Sit on your Mouth!
Often times, as adults and parents, we want to solve the problem for our struggling adolescent, but an important part of their learning process is letting them problem-solve for themselves. Letting students talk, while we listen is an important strategy for the adults in our community. Simple listening phrases are helpful to have on hand such as “I hear you,” or “What else? Tell me more.” This also encourages students to continue talking and processing on their own.
Access Hyper-Local Resources
In a residential community, there is a strong web of resources to support each student. Teachers, Coaches, Activity Leaders and House Parents are all available to bolster a student’s network and check in on an individual they might be concerned about. However, often times letting a few Student Leaders know that one of their peers could use a friend is one of the best solutions. Students in the house can invite their classmate to sit with them at lunch, stop by and hang out in their room at night, or workout alongside them at practice. This peer to peer support builds confidence, comradery and ongoing relationships within the student community.
When students feel supported, safe and comfortable, they find themselves in the best place to learn, grow, face challenge and try new things. The collective community at New Hampton School is focused on the growth of each student and understanding the ways we can help them through the emotional challenges of adolescence, alongside their academic experience. As Ms. Lea pointed out in her presentation to faculty, there are so many avenues and resources in our community, one should never worry about a student alone, but rather be sure to reach out and mobilize the network to match an individual’s needs.