Hello! Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions.
- First of all, can you tell us about your position at King’s College? What do you do, and who do you work with?
I’m the school counsellor for secondary students. I can either see students on a regular basis (weekly appointments) or as a “drop-off”, which just means that a student can pop by to see me if he/she needs someone to talk to then and there. Therefore, I can either work with them to teach them all sorts of strategies (social skills, stress management skills, self-control, etc), or just help them out in a particular stressful moment, such as if they’ve fallen out with a friend, or feel overwhelmed with an exam, for instance.
As well as this, I also carry out assessments at school for class and exam arrangements for those students with attention problems or learning difficulties, amongst others.
I also give talks on eating disorders, on how to cope with exam stress, or on any other topic which mightneed addressing.
- How would you describe today’s adolescents?
Adolescence has always been a difficult age. It’s when you feel like you’re an adult and want to make your own decisions, but at the same, since the prefrontal cortex has not fully developed, you get easily overwhelmed, choices are more short-term and impulsive, and on top of this, you haven’t fully created your own identity, so you’re curious and want to be independent and different.
Today’s adolescents go through this same process but in a very different context to the one we did, with an important influence of technology. This means that they have more distractions (video games, mobile phones, etc) but also that they have an added social pressure through social media. Although this can seem like a great way for them to bond and keep in contact, in fact, it can many times be a crucial factor of their social stress or low self-esteem.
- What are some of the main problems that adolescents struggle with?
Due to the complicated process that adolescence involves, it’s very common for adolescents to experience high levels of stress or low self-esteem. The root of this depends on each individual- it can be social, academic, related to their own self-concept, or a combination of all them. In more extreme cases, this can even lead to anxiety, depression, eating disorders or even substance abuse.
This is why it’s so important to work on prevention. Many times, adolescents feel blocked or overpowered, and being supported and guided in a more problem-solving direction helps not only by teaching them these life skills for the future, but also prevents them from developing any other issues. We should work on certain traits that can make them more vulnerable, such as the need of urgency, needing things to happen here and now; having unrealistic expectations, or being excessively demanding.
- What are your Golden Rules for parent-child communication?
Communicating with adolescents during adolescence can be hard. We must try to keep a balance between wanting to tell them what to do, and allowing them to make their own mistakes to learn from them. In fact, many adolescents claim that the reason why they never reach out to their parents is precisely because they don’t want to hear “I told you so” or to get judgy looks. It’s essential to validate whatever is concerning your child (even if their dilemmas seem minor) and encourage them to come up with a solution (“And what options have you thought of?”) instead of rushing to tell them what to do. Of course, it’s fine to give your opinion and guide them in a subtle way (“..Hmm.. I see what you mean… But what could be the consequences of saying that? Is there a chance that she might get mad and not count on you anymore?”).
Another common complaint from adolescents is that their parents only turn to them to tell them what to do and what they are not doing, so try to balance this out by acknowledging what they are doing and praising them for it. Also, don’t make all conversations revolve around school. It’s crucial for your child’s well-being that you still do leisure activities together, making room for family time. In the same way that you used to organise trips to the zoo when they were little, show interest in what they are into now and organise some time spent together on this.
Lastly, but most importantly, patience is the key skill for communicating with adolescents. They can have mood swings, claim that no one understands them, and get flustered really easily. However, we must remember to act as a role model to them- we can’t expect them to learn to calm down if we also snap every time they go hysterical!
- Adolescence seems like a tough age. Why did you choose to work with this age group? What do you love about it?
Well, funnily enough, I find that adolescents’ flaws are in fact also their qualities. Yes, they can be intense and have many ups and downs, but this energy can also be expressed as an eagerness to learn how to cope with these strong feelings. Once you have a good bond with an adolescent, he/she is actually pleased and relieved to have someone to talk to about how they feel, so put a lot of effort into therapy.
I’ve always been interested in adolescence since it is a crucial stage when most of our first struggles start appearing- we have to make important decisions that will impact our future, school is far more demanding than it used to be, there are more social interactions, and consequently, there is more pressure to do well in them. However, if we properly support children through this process and teach them the right coping strategies, they will definitely be far more resilient in any future difficult situation that they might encounter, and actually enjoy this adolescence phase.