Why we need to teach our teens about self-compassion


Everybody could benefit from a little self-compassion, but it’s particularly important for our teenagers to learn to treat themselves with kindness.

They are at a time in their life where they naturally feel self-critical and self-conscious. They are also hyper aware of the opinions of their peers and haven’t yet learned how to regulate their emotions.

As a result, they are very adept at beating themselves up for what they perceive to be mistakes and failures.

Of course, we all make mistakes, but how we deal with them afterwards is crucial. That’s where self-compassion comes in.

What is self-compassion?

According to author Kristin Neff of the University of Texas, who has pioneered the concept, self-compassion is defined as: “a self-attitude that involves treating oneself with warmth and understanding in difficult times and recognising that making mistakes is part of being human.”

But self-compassion can be in short supply. As Neff, who has given a TED talk on the subject, said: “there’s almost no one whom we treat as badly as ourselves”.

Parents are notoriously bad at showing themselves self-compassion. It’s something we all must work on though as it illustrates a key lesson for children – that mistakes and failure are part and parcel of everyday life.

The importance of self-compassion in teenage years

According to an Australian parenting website, when teenagers treat themselves with self-compassion, they are happier and get along well with others.

They also have confidence to try new things or to try again if things don’t work out as planned, take responsibility for their actions and develop more resilience.

Research by author Karen Bluth also indicates that teens who embrace self-compassion are less anxious, stressed and depressed than those who have a harsh inner dialogue.

So how can we encourage our teens to practise self-compassion?

  • Spend time with them so that they know you love and accept them for who they are

  • Actively listen to what they’re saying and tell them it’s okay to find things hard or to feel bad or disappointed or frustrated

  • Explain to them that beating themselves up about things is a pointless exercise. Feel the feeling, learn the lesson and then move forward with a hopeful and positive attitude

  • Teach them to speak to themselves as they’d speak to their best friend. When they become their own biggest cheerleaders, they’ll feel that they can conquer the world!

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