Helping Teens Detoxify their Negative Thoughts



Invisible as they may be, two voices can persuade preteens and teens into a direction of either boosting self-confidence or tunneling down the hole into negativity.  In these moments, feeling it is “you against the world,” the niggling thoughts on the cusp of self-doubt conclude, “My science teacher asked to see me.  I must be in trouble.”  And, similar to the White Rabbit, who fell through the Looking Glass, the spiral of self-defeating emotions enters into a “thought hole.”

Psychology views the “thought hole” as a cognitive distortion of reality. The perception may plummet towards a growing list of cynical interpretations, which leads to intense emotional distress. Parents may ask, “Why are you blowing the situation out of proportion?” The parade of “Automated Negative ThoughtS (ANTS), enters the brain to impact everyday situations.  Teens do not realize they have a choice.  But rather than internalizing these assumptions, the goal is to teach accurate thinking.

The first step in addressing the habit of negative thought is to recognize how children interpret the following six situations. The child in this case

  • Exaggerates and extends the importance of the event, whether small or big;
  • Blames, or is angry with, him- or herself for the circumstance;
  • Believes that he or she causes bad things to occur;
  • Shuts down, rather than facing obstacles;
  • Has difficulty with disappointment, losing, or making mistakes;
  • Concludes that one unfortunate incident will lead to a pattern of defeat.

Teens who verbalize defeating statements are seeking attention and guidance. Rather than dismiss the shared feelings by stating, “Don’t say that!” or, “Don’t worry, you are fine!” choose to offer support.  Parents can play a pivotal part in helping children develop the ability to take notice of their thoughts, stop the “Automated Negative Thought,” and look at the bigger picture.  The truth, the more realistic perspective, will help teens rise above their behavior and decide how to act.

Ask the questions,

  • “Is that true?”
  • “What is the evidence?”
  • “How would you feel if the thought didn’t exist?”

Reflection helps children actively stop, think, and collect data by stating, for example, “I get good grades in science.” “I have never been in trouble before,” and leads to mood and tone of voice change. These help him or her conclude, for instance, “The teacher didn’t appear upset when he asked me to see me later.” With the evidence defeating the self-doubt, ’tweens and teens can challenge their original thoughts and conclude that nothing is wrong. A process of arriving at accurate thinking can lead to the empowerment of emotional well-being, and a feeling of optimism, and happiness. Philosopher William James once said, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”

With the guidance of suggestions, parents can divert the attention of ’tweens and teens toward a pleasurable activity.  Spending time with a good friend, listening to music, reading, talking a walk, or sharing time eating a bowl of fruit may aid in reducing stress.  It is natural for children who fixate on adverse occurrences in their life to push away healthy activities; therefore, encourage young adults to focus on their strength and natural gifts by engaging in new interests, such as baking or gardening, or delving into nature.

Parents of ’tweens and teens often dismiss behaviors, believing the anxious or gloomy thoughts are typical displays of irritability and moodiness. Spend time taking walks together or snacking on healthy foods.  Moments of listening, indirectly fostering physical activity or nurturing health, can be instrumental in learning how your child views the world, interprets situations, and sees him- or herself.  The start of the school year is the perfect time to pay renewed attention to the habit of verbalizing negative and exaggerated self-talk.  With persistence and practice, ’tweens and teens can gain the mastery to overcome negative thinking with accurate thought.  The new year can emphasize academic and social success, self-esteem, and the impact of unconditional happiness!


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