Nobody ever said growing up was easy — and that’s ok.
No one knows more about the unique developmental needs of today’s adolescents than Oliverian counselor and licensed psychotherapist, Julie Tracy-Prieboy. She works with Oliverian students to not only identify the challenges they’re facing, but to develop strategies to cope with and successfully overcome those challenges. According to Tracy-Prieboy, there are three major issues that come up time and again for Oliverian students. We asked her to share what they are — and what parents and teachers can do to help:
Making mistakes is easy, but learning and growing from them is another story. “It gets messy,” says Tracy-Prieboy. “No one likes making a mistake, but it happens all the time — in every academic setting, in every professional setting — and young people need to learn how to recover.”
Mistakes are inevitable, but for young people, one less-than-desirable outcome can feel like the sum total of their self worth. Oliverian helps students reframe their mistakes as learning opportunities, and uses setbacks to encourage resilience and creativity.
A parent’s first instinct is often to shield their child from the consequences of their mistakes, or prevent them from making mistakes altogether. But that approach tends to backfire when preparing teens for adult life, where an ability to learn and recover from failure is essential. This isn’t to say that we should be neglectful — far from it — but shielding teens from the consequences can reduce their understanding of natural consequences and cripple their problem-solving abilities. Rather than hyper-controlling our students, Oliverian empowers teens to “fail forward” with the ready support of teachers, advisors, and counselors. Our goal is for every student to graduate well equipped to troubleshoot their lives as adults.
Another valuable life skill for young people — and Tracy-Prieboy’s “soapbox issue” — is learning how to handle boredom constructively. Adult life is full of moments of boredom: in educational settings, at work, or even in relationships. When young people don’t learn how to cope with boredom, they may fill their time with excessive social media use, unhealthy relationships, or even drugs and alcohol.
It’s tempting to ensure that a child is always entertained, but parents should resist this urge, says Tracy-Prieboy. Instead of providing easy solutions for boredom, offer resources like art supplies, sports equipment, or toys that encourage creativity. Older children and teens can work with parents or counselors to brainstorm healthy boredom busters that build them up instead of bringing them down. For teens who struggle with constantly checking their phones, designated “no-screen” time can break the reflex to check Snapchat or Instagram.
The number of students with a mental-health or learning diagnosis is growing. The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) reports that one in three teens will be diagnosed with a mental illness and one in 20 students will be diagnosed with a learning disability. Such diagnoses often elicit predetermined narratives about treatment plans, prognosis, or academic potential, making it all too easy for students to feel defeated before they have had time to discover their own unique skills and strengths.
But to lead happy and successful lives, says Tracy-Prieboy, students must not let their diagnoses define them. While a student is at Oliverian School, teachers, therapists, and dorm parents work to help them employ modifications and coping strategies to give them the upper hand relative to their specific struggles. This helps students “decouple” their identities from their diagnoses. When students decouple their diagnoses from their identities, it’s easier to maintain a sense of self, which is critical for taking life’s challenges in stride.
By making and recovering from mistakes, embracing boredom, and forming an identity that transcends a diagnosis, young people make great strides toward navigating young-adult life. At Oliverian, we’re committed to helping our students achieve sustainable personal growth and find their place in the world.