Mental wellbeing for young people

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Kate Middleton photo Kate Middleton · 20 Jul, 2020

“WHAT WERE YOU THINKING???” they shout at you …


When the teen brain is a bit rubbish at recognising risk, how do you avoid getting yourself into tricky situations you didn't see coming?

*Actual footage of conversations between any teen and an adult in their life at some time

So, it turns out that teenagers don’t think anything like as much about most of the things their significant grown-ups think they should think about (and probably a lot more about stuff they think doesn’t matter!). Like my own son said to an adult (not me) recently ‘Thing is, I think you just care about this a lot more than I do?’

Seriously though - thinking ahead is one of those things that we do vary at. Some people are real forward planners -you know them, they always have everything covered, considered, thought out weeks in advance. Nothing ever takes them by surprise and they have every eventuality controlled for. Then there are the others …

But during adolescence, EVERYONE becomes a bit future blinded, because your brain restructuring leaves your ability to think long term a bit limited. In fact, studies show that you don’t pick up that tediously sensible adult way of looking ahead (Note: not all adults have this) until you are RIGHT at the end of adolescence or even into your twenties.

And this is a GOOD THING in a lot of ways - you live in the moment more, you’re more flexible and have a lot more fun. But sometimes it means you get taken by surprise by something you didn’t see coming. And then look back ad realise you should have done things differently. And regret is really rubbish.

SO - what can you do if adults around you are convinced you are making a really big mistake on something you don’t think is an issue? Or what if you do have a decision to make that you know will affect your future but trying to THINK about that makes your head spin? How do you get more future-focused so you can reduce your risk of messing up?

The trick is to take it OUT of your head and get it on paper. This helps your mind because you take away the effort of keeping it in your working mind, so you can use your energy to think about the various implications of your options.

Try this: Write down the thing that you are trying to decide whether to do (or not do): eg ‘Leave school and go to college instead.’

Or maybe it is the thing people are on your case about: ‘Stop skipping school’

Anyway, then write two lists - PROS and CONS. This is of how things are RIGHT NOW - what are the good things about now, and the less good things. Be honest. This list is for you :)

Then you’re gonna write another list, so grab more paper. More PROS and CONS but this time think a bit into the future - say a year or two? First of all, what would the pros and cons be if you DIDN’T CHANGE A THING?

Then, do the same but this time what if you DID MAKE THAT CHANGE? What might the pros and cons be then?

This exercise takes a bit of time, so don’t put yourself under pressure. You’ll probably do it once then need to add stuff you think of through the next few days. The important thing is to be honest (this is your life after all) and to try to get all the lists as detailed as possible. This ain't necessarily easy so you could ask some people you trust to help - what do THEY think are the pros and cons?

When you’re done, have a good look at what you got. Think of the pros and cons as a bit like a set of weighing scales - you can see which is heavier and which wins each time. But of course, some things are more important than others - so you might want to grade each one on how important it is - try giving each a score 0-10 where 10 REALLY MATTERS and 0 really doesn’t. Then you can literally add up a PRO and CON score for each one.

The POINT of this exercise isn’t that you have to ‘go with’ whichever options ‘wins’. It’s just to help you think. You can still do whatever feels best to you - but this will help you avoid your short term, livin-it-large-in-the-moment brain.





What’s going ON with my BRAIN?

What’s going ON with my BRAIN?