Is negative self talk normal for teens?

Ahhh teenagers.

Scaring their parents since the dawn of time.

So much crap exists in the mainstream media world about how awful the adolescent years can be, which is probably why I adore working with this group of folks so dang much.

Sullen? Isolating? Combative?

Try - vibrant, working HARD, processing... and doing it while navigating some of the most important big picture philosophical questions of their lives! Who are they? Why are they that way? Who do they want to be? Do they have what it takes to get there or be that?


It makes sense that through this period there are doubts, worries, and fears. Fear often presents as irritability or anger, which is part of the cliche story of teenager-hood. Fear also can turn around and become internalized, leading to some pretty intense thoughts and feelings of failure and hopelessness.


This is when I get the calls from parents.

"My kid keeps saying they're behind and will never catch up."


"My daughter sees her older sister living on her own and has basically decided she will never feel comfortable leaving home."


"My son's first response to a challenge is to blame himself, call himself a name (like dumb or stupid) and give up! What do I do? Is negative self-talk in teens normal?"



This is, obviously, a complicated question with no single right answer. Yes, to some extent, negative self talk is "normal." (But, btw, "normal" and "healthy" are NOT synonyms.) We all have moments where we aren't thrilled with how we are acting, or wish we were doing better.


However, ongoing self-bashing or internalized shame does worry me as a therapist. Sometimes we get locked in a certain story of ourselves, and it does take help and intervention to rewrite it. That's what I do as a narrative therapist. I help teens - but I also help you, their parents, because it's really difficult when you're that close to the situation.


First - remember what stage of development they are in. Anyone who has taken a basic psych or child development class has heard the name Erik Erikson. He wrote about the psycho-social stages of human development and the crisis we go through in each of them. Teenagers are going through Identity versus Role Confusion. Essentially - they are trying to figure out who they are and where they belong.


GROWTH IS UNCOMFORTABLE, because growth doesn't happen in our safety-zones, and teenagers are spending a lot of time in the growth zone. They are stretching their limits, pushing boundaries (theirs and yours) and it is their developmental job to do just that.


It's their job, and their job is uncomfortable. So remember that the next time you think they're being moody for no reason.