Your Life, Your Way: Self help for teens

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“Downright bizarre” are the words Joseph Ciarrochi uses to describe the current situation for teenagers.

“This year has wiped out the topsy-turvy world that most teenagers experience anyway and replaced it with a downright bizarre situation,” said the Australian Catholic University Professor of Psychology and co-author of Your Life, Your Way.

“Teens across Australia have been isolated at home, away from their peer groups, they have missed vital classroom time, and they’ve had school balls and activities cancelled,” he said.

“Some teens have lost their jobs and in many cases their parents have lost them as well.”

To WIN a digital copy of Your Life, Your Way by Joseph Ciarrochi send your name, email and postal address to [email protected]

A spotlight on recent teen suicides and Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) data, reveal that Victoria alone has recorded a 33% rise in children presenting to hospital with self-harm injuries.

While 2020 has been a particularly difficult year for everyone, Professor Ciarrochi has long been concerned with the well-being of children.

“One of the main problems I see is parents constantly telling their teens how they should live, when the teen is naturally seeking greater freedom, Professor Ciarrochi said.

“Parents may get a little fearful about letting young people choose their life. Perhaps parents fear that young people will do nothing but engage in social media or play video games all day? And, of course, it’s true that parents must establish boundaries with teenagers.

“Research finds that when you entrust young people to choose a valued path, they almost always select something positive for their life, like building social connections, learning something new or giving to others.”

“Research finds that when you entrust young people to choose a valued path, they almost always select something positive for their life, like building social connections, learning something new or giving to others.

“The best part about letting a young person choose their path, as much as possible, is that when they choose, they stay motivated to make the journey and they don’t feel forced.”

Professor Ciarrochi, with long-time co-author Louise Hayes, has written a new guide for young people navigating the unique stresses and difficulties of being a teenager.

Their new self-help book, Your Life, Your Way, uses teen-friendly language about how acceptance and positive psychology can help young people.

Joseph Ciarrochi with his 15-year-old daughter Grace with Buttercup the pug. PHOTO: Ciarrochi Family.

“We named the book Your Life, Your Way as a reminder to teens they should be in the driving seat of their own lives,” said the ACU professor.

“Mindfulness may seem obscure and far from the ordinary teen’s life, but it’s not. Mindfulness is a tool that teens can use every day.”

Professor Ciarrochi said mindfulness can avoid both unhelpful approaches by helping the teen to become aware of their breath, and slow down and notice what is around them with curiosity.

This he says disrupts their usual, unhelpful response and gives the teen options to try new behaviours.

“Not everything they try will work, but at least they will be doing something new. If they keep repeating the old unhelpful behaviour, they will just get more problems,” Professor Ciarrochi said.

“It’s not about having a disorder, it’s understanding that ‘normal’ living is hard, being a human is hard. Rather than focussing on removing anxiety, we try to help people live to their full potential.”

“We find that when young people are able to insert a mindful pause into moments of their lives, they start making better decisions. They respond better not just to bullies, but to teachers, parents and to their friends.”

Once teens are willing to accept that distress is normal, they are ready to engage in something positive and they are ready to think about what they value and care about, and how they can deliberately build their life, their way.

“It’s not about having a disorder, it’s understanding that ‘normal’ living is hard, being a human is hard. Rather than focussing on removing anxiety, we try to help people live to their full potential.”

Your Life, Your Way, is written to help everyone, not just teens, and is available for purchase here. 

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