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Teen feeling stuck? 3 ways to help them move into the next phase of life

If your teen is feeling stuck, here’s how to help them move on.

It’s a shared sentiment among many people and parents: a complicated world can mean confusion for our kids.

Psychologist Dr. Tom Golightly says it’s common for teens and young adults to feel stuck in the phase of life they’re in. They don’t know how to move through and move on to the next. He shares what parents can do to help.


Help Your Teen Move On When They’re Feeling Stuck

It is all too common for teens and young adults to feel a bit stuck in their mental wellness and growth. Those feelings of life feeling a bit stale may come from many avenues, particularly overwhelm, grief/loss, frequent boredom, job/school struggles, or may be an indication of a budding mood disorder. Here are some things to know about feeling stuck, and some ways we might help our older children get un-stuck and moving again through life.

Many times, feeling stuck is a lack of awareness about what’s happening underneath that “stuckness.” A lot of times, even if we aren’t aware of it, our children are trying to push their reactions away, and all of that build up looks and feels like they are stuck. They might not be aware of it, but they might be avoiding that in-depth look at what is really going on and stuck in processing mode. There are three patterns of avoidance that may be blocking self-awareness:


Patterns of Avoidance

how our emerging adult children might be stuck in processing mode.


This is a tough one for parents, the defensive, quick to anger adult child. This is when our teens/young adult children react (typically over-react) in the moment – lashing out thinking it will take the frustration or other difficult emotion away, but It doesn’t fix anything. Reaction (over-reaction particularly) is the fast food/quick hit of avoidance. Reactions release energy temporarily, but don’t make the discomfort go away in the long run. They stay stuck in it because there is some relief in letting go of the energy.


This is probably the most observed pattern for parents – our emerging adults pulling away either physically or emotionally. They remove themselves or avoid situations entirely. Or they blunt/numb emotional reactions around a thing, event or person and withdraw from feeling. The overwhelm of difficulty causes a pulling away of sorts. The thinking behind this pattern is out of sight, out of mind – I don’t have to think or feel about it if I’m not around it. They stay stuck in this pattern because it reinforces the incorrect belief that stressors and troubles are kept at bay.


This is maybe the most frustrating pattern for parents. Our children may acknowledge that what they are doing isn’t working, but it’s comfortable, what they’ve known their entire lives, so they resist changing. Remaining in dysfunctional thinking patterns or behaviors can last a long time, because change is uncomfortable, and requires patience and effort. They stay stuck because it feels easier to keep doing the same things and get the same outcomes instead of putting in the work for change.

Once we are able to see what’s going on, what can we do about it? What are some remedies to reduce those stuck feelings?


Reducing Avoidance

In short, more doing, less thinking/processing


Help our children recognize when their assessment and conclusions might be out of touch with the facts – I’m so stuck and I’ll always be stuck in this mess. Encouraging perspective and re-calibrating how they process information and make decisions about engagement will help encourage them to recognize that stuck is temporary, and we have to start moving. Too often we wait for motivation to start or hold on for the perfect moment to shift. Momentum and motivation will come once we start going. be curious about their experiences and ask questions about how they can shift – “You’re right, it seems like you aren’t going to be able to do anything about XXX. I relate to that. When I feel stuck, I try to find things that I can control, and go with that. What CAN you DO in this situation?”


This involves encouraging manageable steps to move toward a situation, or context – emotionally or physically. A lot of times this involves helping bring a more present perspective and letting go of the “what if’s” of a situation. This isn’t encouraging our kids to jump the deep end of a difficult spot; it is to encourage a first few steps of going toward it. Getting in shape feels kind of daunting? Go on one walk, just for today. Dating kind of scary? Just spend some time with friends. Worried about school? Take one class. Worried about employment, update the resume’, or turn in an application today. Encourage healthy processes without being too focused on outcomes.


Encourage our emerging adult children to make decisions that are congruent to their long-term goals. Sometimes, they might not know what they are. This doesn’t have to be a specific career, major, trade, or school choice, but more about how they see their life playing out. As we encourage them to create a vision, it becomes a bit easier to encourage decisions that line up with where they want to ultimately end up in life. If you value relationships, continuing to be social will be helpful. If you want to go to graduate school, setting aside more time to study is the best way to help you get there.


Last thing – small, seemingly mundane changes can sometimes be an unintended inspiration to make a slight change. Have them take a different route to work, change the order at the restaurant, get up half an hour earlier. Sometimes this is just enough to kickstart some movement into something different and fosters that shifting, approaching, and aligning.

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