I work in a highly academic and competitive high school, similar to many in Silicon Valley. Academic metrics such as the number of Advanced Placement classes a high school student is taking, grade point average, and standardized test scores are major sources of social comparison. For these students, scoring 90% is actually not good enough. One needs to score 95%. I have heard of students who score above the 90th percentile on their college entrance exam, and they keep studying until they get the perfect score. Of course, their view is that “good” scores are just average and that “average” is not enough.
Last summer, I was very fortunate to meet a student from a neighboring high school who discovered for herself a powerful way to help manage the ongoing intensity of her daily life. Scrolling through social media, Malavika came across a post that she says most people would think is cliché or corny, and just scroll past. However, a phrase stuck with her: “Treat yourself as you would treat a close friend.” The post continued to point out how we would never never say out loud to another person that they are inadequate, stupid, or ugly, but we would say these same words to ourselves. Learning to treat herself as a close friend became a critical stress management strategy for her.
The start of high school wasn’t easy for Malavika, and it got rougher. Sleep deprived and overwhelmed, she was burnt out by her sophomore year. Nothing in her life was going the way she wanted it to go. She was taking classes she didn’t enjoy, and several of her supposed friends talked about her behind her back. She had always thought happiness is something that would come as long as you got good grades and did well in school. And yet her lived experience caused her to question this old belief.
At the beginning of 2020, Malavika started to ask the question, “What do I actually want my life to look like?” She soon began to take specific actions by using to-do lists and daily agendas to make time for self-care activities like family time, journaling, and watching TV. Because she was consciously choosing to do things that made her happy, Malavika began asking “Why am I not surrounding myself with people who make me happy?” Soon enough, she left this group and became more intentional about who she spent time with. Malavika realized happiness does not come because you are doing the “right” things. Happiness is experienced when we are intentional about how we spend our time and who we choose to spend our time with.
“Friendships, school life, and work were all unstable, everything was changing and I was thrown off by these changes. Things were going fine, and then something disappointing or hurtful happened, and it would totally turn me upside down. I’d freak out and say everything is going wrong; everything is going bad.”
She then realized, “I have to be my own rock; I have to keep myself grounded; and my life should not be revolving around these random changes that are bound to happen.”
Becoming Your Own Cheerleader
We all recognize that teenagers go through a lot of changes during this time in their lives. They are trying to individuate, so relationships with their parents can be rocky. If one isn’t grounded, a lot of insecurities can come, especially with the presence of social media; insecurities can arise around body image, comparing your life to the lives of your social media friends, and figuring out how to be in healthy relationships, whether they are romantic ones or not.
For these reasons, Malavika said, “Self compassion is especially important [during the teenage years] because if you don’t have yourself to count on and you’re not your own cheerleader, it can feel like everything is closing in on you and it’s really overwhelming if you don’t have your own support.”
Malavika has learned to turn her harsh inner dialogue to one that is kind and supportive. Being your own support system and your own cheerleader makes life so much easier. Malavika had to learn this without an external guide. Committed as she was to sharing her insights with other young people, Malavika wrote a book, The Gift that Keeps on Giving, which was published in October 2020. In it, she shares what she’s discovered about the importance of self-care, positive self-talk, purpose, and belonging.
“Learning to like myself in a fragile, struggling state helps me gain the strength to work through things to succeed in the way I define success; and when I am successful, it is so easy to like myself.” And when one likes themselves, it then becomes so much easier to be successful. This is the gift that keeps on giving.
To hear more from Malavika, visit:
Episode 5 of Taarika’s Foundation “Mindful, Beautiful, and Thriving” podcast series gives you a quick introduction to Mindful Self-Compassion. And Episode 6 introduces listeners to self-compassion meditation.
If you or a teen you care about would like to learn the tools to become their own cheerleader, we invite you to further explore Making Friends with Yourself (MSC-T), A Mindful Self-Compassion Program for Teens. In this empirically supported program, teens learn to replace their harsh inner dialogue with a gentler and kinder approach. Through activities, exercises, discussions, self reflection, teens learn the difference between self-esteem and self-compassion, the cost of social comparison, effective ways to self-motivate, and more.
Upcoming MSC-T courses include options for high school and middle school students offered live and online.
Teen Self-Compassion: Learn More