Help my Teenager: Teens and Trauma in a COVID world

Greek philosopher Heraclitus said "One constant since the beginning of time might be change, however, the fear of change is also a constant. Since times immemorial, humans have liked routine. It makes us feel in control of our lives."

Well, if anything has interrupted that routine, that feeling of control... it's been COVID - on a global scale.

But that's not the only form of change that we - as a collective society - have had to navigate. Since the advent of the internet in 1983, the age of technology really started to take root, and social media took the information age to a whole other level.

The conglomeration of social media, COVID, unrest... the past few years have provided fertile ground for a generation of traumatized teenagers trying to manage their PTSD, negative feelings, depression and anxiety, and other mental health issues with... the internet. And while that seems logical to many millennials and Gen Zers, it leaves the rest of the world [hello Gen X and beyond!] a little bit perplexed.

How does one reestablish a connection with a teenager in 2022?

How does a parent help their teen work through their thoughts and feelings without alienating them?

How does a teacher establish a healthy classroom environment that actually serves the mental and emotional health of their students - as well as their intellectual growth?

Well: you guessed it. I'm here to tell you that songwriting might just be the meal ticket you've been waiting for.

Communication for the win

We all know that communication is key - whether it's for work, social, or parental relationships: to be able to communicate ideas, thoughts and feelings effectively is King. The trouble is: as many Gen Zers seem to have been raised with the television or an iPad as a baby sitter [no shade - the work/life balance struggle is real]: we're finding more and more teenagers are struggling to even make - or answer! - the phone, let alone maintain eye contact during conversation. Instead: they're relying more and more on platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok to communicate, without the risk of immediate response.

Which can be a really positive thing.

But when it comes to IRL [in real life] interactions: they clam up. They can't find the words. Suddenly your teen is mute and angsty.

By giving your child the ability to channel their thoughts and feelings through the lens of music: it's often that suddenly the words come out easily and fluidly. Almost as if the guise of music gives them the ability to truly show up, be seen and heard without fear. I often call music by superhero disguise. For your teenager: it might be theirs too... or it might simply be their safety blanket.

Either way: their newfound ability to find the words to express themselves is powerful.

Why?

Because the first step in expression is knowledge of self... taking the time to understand your emotions and past experiences. From this point: you can start to analyze your own typical coping skills, and - ultimately - how anxiety and depression can have manifested themselves in your behavior.... and channel those thoughts and feelings into expressive lyrics of truth, self esteem, overcoming negative feelings and experiences, and healing.

All of which are some powerful repercussions from learning to communicate effectively.

Education and creativity

Lyric writing isn't just about communicating ones thoughts and feelings, however. It can also be an incredibly useful tool in the classroom or learning environments.

I found this to be especially true when - in 2014: I was a college lecturer at a tertiary institute in New Zealand. We found that our students just weren't connecting well with the concept of the assignments they were being given. They seemed to enjoy the subject matter, but discussing it, or even writing essays, was daunting, overwhelming and simply weren't getting done.

The solution? Allowing the students to creatively express their research assignments by turning their essays into songs. Suddenly: we found our students tapping into vocabularies they would never usually converse with. The clarity with which they expressed themselves and their understanding was impressive. Their sudden ability to stay focused and on task was also notable. Why? Because music is enjoyable. Creativity engages the learner. Music gives students the freedom to dive into parts of their learning without feeling "geeky" or "nerdy".

This is especially key when it comes to navigating the learning environment whilst in a COVID, or post-COVID [depending on where you live in the world] environment. Quite simply: the internet has changed the way students learn. Attention spans are shorter, overwhelm is more rife, and students lack the focus they were once rumored to have - especially in the classroom setting.

Now, my personal opinion on this is that duh, of course it is. Our educational system in most of the Western world is based significantly on 18th century learning pedagogies that became outdated a long time ago [there's a great YouTube video about this here by Sir Ken Robinson]. In the era of information technology: we need to update how we're teaching our students in a way that makes sense - and makes room - for their identities, experiences, mental health, skills, and their current problems [*ahem* hello, COVID/politics/isolation/information overwhelm].

Again: this is where songwriting can step in to save the day.

By using creative expression like songwriting and music to facilitate young people in their journey through the educational system: we're able to - quite literally - make the educational process more engaging, fun, and effective. After all: if we recognize that singing the alphabet helps kids [and some adults] to remember it: then why are we forgetting/ignoring the key role that music could be playing in secondary and even tertiary level learning?

Learning online whilst in a pandemic is frustrating at the very least: we need to find ways to improve the process, make it enjoyable [cos learning is fun!], and make the knowledge stick.

Reprogramming the brain

Now, I talked a little bit about this in my TEDx Talk back in February, 2022, [titled How Songwriting and Music Saved Me After Ten Brain Surgeries] but another huge bonus around using music and songwriting is the quite literal ability to reprogram the brain - especially when it comes to working with an empowerment through songwriting coach like yours truly.

How? Not only does music increase levels of dopamine and oxytocin emitted into our brains, but it also decreases our levels of cortisol. At the same time, however, our amygdala and nucleus accumbens are stimulated [the parts of our brain in charge of our memories, and our emotional responses to those memories], which gives us the ability to take stressful, overwhelming or negative thoughts and experiences, and cognitively rewrite them into memories of growth, resilience and overcoming.

Of course, it's easy to swirl if we let ourselves. With the right coach/mentor/mental health advocate, however: your teenager can find a way out of the trauma... out of the negative space they might be in right now, and start to use creativity to interrupt their negative thought patterns. Use songwriting to rewrite their responses to the negative experiences, and ultimately come out a stronger, happier, and healthier human.

So... if songwriting can help with communication, education and healing? isn't it just cbt?

Some people might call it music therapy: others refer to it as CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy... for me, given that I'm a teacher, mentor and musician first, I'm nervous to jump to the cognitive behavioral therapy / CBT label. Why? Go back to my point number two... kids these days simply don't operate the same way they used to. If a teenager born in 2005 hears the terms "therapy", "behavioural cognitive therapy", or "CBT [cognitive behavioral therapy]", chances are they're going to disengage even further than someone ten, twenty or thirty years ago. The term "therapist" brings a significant amount of emotional baggage with it. It creates a power dynamic between the client and therapist that can actually feel rather toxic for the Gen Zer.

My personal approach is much more of a Yoda-like position. I'm here to use music and songwriting coaching to guide, mentor and explore my emotional and mental health. The term "cognitive restructuring" is scary. Songwriting is more about "alchemy". Even the term "therapy sessions" can be daunting or embarrassing. To instead view them as "songwriting sessions" or "music focused coaching" helps young people feel more engaged and in control.

Yes, music is certainly one aspect of CBT, but we need to change the way we're approaching how we work with young people. The world has changed... and we need to change with it.

Songwriting might just be ticket.

The time is now

I am a youth empowerment through songwriting coach, author, and award-winning singer/songwriter and musician based out of Washington, DC. I work one on one with teenagers using the power of music and songwriting to help them understand, process and overcome their emotional and mental roadblocks. I am a professional coach, mentor, musician and speaker

Click here to schedule a discovery call with me to see if we're a good fit to work together in the journey to helping your teenager communicate and learn better, as well as overcome their negative thoughts, feelings, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, and cognitive struggles.

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