This weekend I had the pleasure of leading a small group of middle school girls in a “COVID Conversations” workshop. It was my first student workshop that was health-related, rather than music-related. I was excited and nervous but ready. You see, I had finally learned to release myself from my “safety net” of teaching music and expand myself to doing something that really excites and challenges me – something I believe will bring good to the community in which I live.

There were definitely some conversations that blindsided me a little; I thought I knew middle school girls pretty well but let’s just say I gained greater insight into their world this weekend and now I realize I have a lot more to learn about what they are experiencing.

A common thread throughout the discussion was anxiety and how they all feel it in some way; certainly not unusual in a global pandemic and I’m feeling it too! But I was struck my how many of them view anxiety as a critical condition and have been given the impression that any and all anxiety is bad and should be “treated.” We need to revisit that with teens and let them know that some uncomfortable feelings are good: they are the instincts that walk us away from danger, our inner being’s way of telling us to change course. It can be fear of a test that we know we haven’t studied for enough or the realization that we are at a party (or more likely right now, in a chat room) that makes us feel icky and we need to leave it. Anxiety or emotional discomfort is our cue to examine where we are right now. Of course, anxiety can progress to the point of requiring professional intervention but if we have some skills to lower basic stress, we can better see what is within our power to change versus what is more serious. Knowing that you have some tools to use is empowering, regardless of age.

But where does this anxiety come from? There is no shortage of scary stuff lately but this started long before the virus. I’ve been thinking a lot about the pressures we put on teens. We ask them what they want to do professionally or what they want to major in at college when most teens can’t even decide what they want to wear to school. Is this fair? They haven’t experienced enough life yet to know what they’re good at, what they enjoy, or even what’s possible. This mentality contributes to the anxiety that teens feel. I understand that it may be “the way of the world” now but is it the best way? And could we buck the trend and see what happens to our kids’ happiness?

As a recovering control freak, I speak from the heart here. If everything is “perfect” and “planned out” we feel like we are in control. But honestly, are we? Nope. Things happen, good and bad, that can change the course. But if we’ve spent so much time curating and designing the plan and it falls apart, it can be devastating, even though it’s actually a better fit for them in the long run. I’m exploring the idea of doing my best, quieting my mind, and trusting the process. It sounds hippy-dippy, sure. But what if we all (teens included) were allowed to chill out, do our best, and let God/Universe/Source/Luck/Coincidence throw some opportunities our way? The path is rarely straight and allowing teens (and ourselves!) some grace to explore along the way without self-criticism might make for a happier, less stressed life.