My teenage daughter is a swimmer. She has had a passion for the sport since she was in 4th grade and her commitment and dedication has been unwavering.
Athletes put a lot of weight on their coach’s opinions and my girl is a ‘do-gooder’ and a ‘people-pleaser’, and a ‘rule-follower’, so she will do just about anything not to miss a practice, and if she does, it’s for a good reason.
After weeks of a grueling new training schedule, I could tell she was getting run down.
In just a few days we were leaving for a long weekend at an out of town swim meet where she would be swimming 17 events over three days. As I went into her room at 5:00 am to wake her up for practice, it hit me: She needed her sleep more than she needed to train.
I asked her if she could miss this practice so she could get a some much needed rest before the big weekend. She opened her eyes and groggily said, “Well, I haven’t missed one yet. Yeah, okay.” And rolled back over to sleep.
I offered her an option to take care of herself instead of going to practice. It was the right thing to do. Unfortunately, her coach thought otherwise and told her she should have gone to practice.
But this is why self care is one of the most important lessons we can teach our teens
Often other people’s opinions of what we should do are based on their own motivations. Rarely are people looking out for what’s in our best interests, especially if it is counter to their agenda.
I don’t believe my daughter’s coach was in any way intentionally trying to act against what was right for her. He simply was running his team the way he felt was best. He was focused on the group as a whole and helping them to become better swimmers and to perform well at their upcoming meet. Not my daughter’s individual needs.
What my daughter really needed was more sleep. At the rate she was going, she was either going to end up sick or would be so exhausted she would let herself and her team down.
I realized my daughter needed to learn that there are times when you have to put yourself first. When you have to listen to your own body’s signals. The world only has one setting: Go Go Go. But sometimes it’s okay for our teens to push the pause button.
We need to teach our tweens and teens how to take care of themselves.
There is so much pressure on them to perform, to keep pushing through every day no matter how tired, sick, or injured they are.
And in today’s world, it’s in almost every area of their lives from academics, to sports and any other activities that are important to them. Plus, they are constantly being asked to meet everyone’s expectations; teachers, coaches, friends, romantic partners and parents.
Our teens worry about losing friends or facing harsh consequences for choosing to put their health before all these pressures and expectations.
It’s no wonder there is an epidemic of stress and anxiety among our young people.
We think of self-care as an adult issue.
But it is increasingly one that effects our tweens and teens.
They need to develop the ability to discern what is best for them in a world that rarely offers them that choice.
They need to understand that taking care of themselves is a lifelong mission that needs to be a priority.
Because when they don’t put their physical health and well-being first, there can be serious consequences. Often consequences that are far worse than those they fear for not doing it.
It’s also about developing self-confidence
Making their physical and mental health a priority in their lives isn’t always convenient, especially for other people.
Sometimes putting themselves first means letting others down.
People won’t always agree with them, and they might even get angry with them.
That is okay.
Our tweens and teens need to learn to tune out other’s voices and trust the one inside their own head telling them they need to slow down. They have to be strong enough even under extreme pressure to please others and ‘show up’, to honor their needs.
There are times when caring for their own well-being is more important than facing disappointment from others.
Giving our teens the tools now to begin balancing their own needs with those of others will be invaluable.
And let’s be real, the demands from others will only increase as they get older.
Bosses, spouses and children will all want to be put first all the time. It’s something so many adults struggle to manage.
I know I do.
It takes time and practice to learn these valuable lessons about self-care, which is why I wanted to start teaching my daughter now.
She was eventually able to work through her worries about her coach’s opinion and feel assured that she made the right choice for her health.
But there here will be many more decisions like this one ahead, some much more difficult. She will have to learn to pay close attention to her mental and physical well-being, so she can make these hard choices on her own.
But until then, I’ll keep reinforcing this important lesson in her life, but also by being a better role model when it comes to self-care in my own life.
This post was contributed by Christine Carter who writes at TheMomCafe.com, where she hopes to encourage mothers everywhere through her humor, inspiration, and faith. Her work is published on several various online publications as well. She is the author of “Help and Hope While You’re Healing: A woman’s guide toward wellness while recovering from injury, surgery, or illness.”