01/14/2015 05:20 EST | Updated 03/16/2015 05:59 EDT

Are Kids Today Feeling Hopeless or Powerless?

"I feel so alone. I don't know what to do with life anymore. I have goals and dreams to become someone, but I can never make them. What's wrong with me?"

- actual post to

Hopeless or powerless: which one is it for kids these days?

For many young people, it's common to confuse the two. When kids are reaching out for help or are talking about a problem, they might say things like "I feel hopeless."

But often, it turns out that young people are not feeling hopeless, but powerless.

From an early age, kids are being over-scheduled, being rushed from after-school dance lessons, soccer practice, or play dates. For kids whose parents are separated, it can take additional time if they go back and forth between homes throughout the week.

Parental pressures to achieve, compete, and conform can create stress for kids, but so can academic pressures. Homework, extra-curricular activities, and expectations to move on to post-secondary education are other sources of pressure for youth.

And then there are the pressures from peers and society. Kids can feel as though they need to keep up with the latest technology, fit in socially, and act in ways online and off that they may not always feel comfortable with.

So what happens to kids when the pressure starts to build? They can begin to feel powerless over their choices, their identities, and their futures. They can start to feel as though they have no voice, and no input over their own lives.

And that perceived lack of power can trigger negative emotions, affecting kids' self-esteem and overall mental health.

Adults can change that by empowering kids to make their own choices.

First, we can help young people to uncover the layers of what they're feeling and show them that solutions often come from taking small steps. When problems seem too big or goals too out of reach, then young people start to lose hope that they can resolve them or accomplish them.

We can also help kids to break down whatever it is they are worried about. When we help young people to see that change happens in small steps rather than in big leaps, kids start to understand that they do have power over their own lives, and that they have the capacity to affect change.

Together, you and your kid can find answers to questions like, "what's the first thing that needs to be taken care of here?" and "How did you solve this problem the last time?"

Young people have an incredible amount of resilience, even in times of stress, uncertainty, or instability. Sometimes, they already know the steps they need to take, but want to know that they are supported by those around them first.

Respecting young people's choices is key to helping them develop independence as they move towards their futures.

By helping kids to see that they do have power over their lives -- even in the smallest ways -- you can help them build the resilience they need to cope with the challenges of everyday life and the first experiences that come with growing up.


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