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Q & A with Teen Group Leader Joan Dawson

Q. Why are support groups great for teens?

A. Support groups are great for teens because they provide group members with an opportunity to meet others with similar issues who can understand what they are going through. It can be very empowering when teens realize that they are not alone! Group participants can talk about problems in a safe space while learning new ways to cope with their anxiety, depression, or stressful situations or relationships. There is also a tremendous amount of support and acceptance from other group members which helps teens build positive self esteem, relationships within their peer group, and movement toward self acceptance. 

Q. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing our Princeton area teens?

A. In my work with teens, I hear over and over again that their main stressor is related to exceeding in school so they can get into a good college. I have worked with students as young as 11 who worry about being accepted into a specific university! Schools begin discussing the importance of preparing for college very early in the education process, and as students age, this focus intensifies. The benefits of this are that teens understand the value of doing well in school, and accordingly, they work hard to learn all they can to help them succeed in life. The challenging part of this is that often times, teens put a  lot of pressure on themselves to not only do well, but also to be "perfect" with respect to grades and achievements. Perfectionism is generally not attainable because teens may set unrealistic expectations and often feel that no matter what they do, it is not good enough. Contributing to perfectionist thinking is that teens typically compare themselves with others, and oftentimes, find themselves lacking. These unhelpful thinking patterns increase anxiety, stress levels, and judgments and can lead to feelings of hopelessness, overwhelm, panic and frustration. Attending a peer support group is a great way for teens to see that others are struggling with the same issues, and to learn helpful ways to manage unhelpful thinking patterns, stress and anxiety. 

Q. With so much negative press about smart phones & social media, what are some positive ways you've seen technology help struggling teens?

A. As parents know, teens love their phones! If you are a parent, like me, sometimes it seems that your teen spends too much time on their phone, and not enough time interacting with people in their everyday lives. While this can be challenging for parents to accept and understand, it is an important part of the younger generation's culture and definitely has many benefits. Technology gives teens a lot of resources and tools that can help them to manage anxiety, stress, and a host of other challenges they are facing. Teens can access information about mental health issues, connect to others facing similar difficulties, and access stress reduction methods. Many of the teens I work with have benefitted from mindfulness practices through apps, like Headspace. Headspace provides quick daily practices geared toward different challenges, such as anxiety, depression, sleep issues, anger, restlessness, etc. Additionally, many teens have games on their phones which can be a great way to temporarily distract from overwhelming emotions. Listening to music to self soothe is another essential use of technology for teens. Through You Tube, teens can find numerous options for anxiety reducing practices such as: guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, and yoga (Fight Master Yoga is highly recommended by teens). Finally, having the ability to Snapchat with friends, find a humorous video, or check out what is trending on social media can have a positive impact on how a teen is feeling in the moment.