Self-talk is our inner voice. Much of teen self-talk is pretty reasonable—I should study for my test, or I’m psyched for my game tonight. Some of their self-talk, though, is negative, unrealistic, and self-defeating—I’ll never make that team, or my teachers probably hate me. Teaching teens positive self-talk can really help.
One of the best tools we can use to help teens fight negative self-talk is to show them that it’s possible to test, challenge, and change their self-talk. By challenging irrational thoughts and replacing them with more reasonable ones, they can change how they feel about things.
How to challenge self-talk
Teaching teens to dispute self-talk means challenging the unhelpful aspects. Ask them to name triggering feelings like sadness, anger, and anxiety. Explain that they should use these feelings as a signal to stop and become aware of their thoughts.
One great trick for testing the accuracy of their perceptions might be to ask themselves a challenging question about the experience. There are four main types of challenging questions:
1. Reality testing
- What is my evidence for and against my thinking?
- Are my thoughts based on facts or my interpretations?
- How can I find out if my thoughts are true?
2. Look for alternative explanations
- Are there any other ways that I could look at this situation?
- What is the positive spin on this situation?
3. Putting it in perspective
- What is the worst/best thing that could happen?
- Is that most likely to happen?
4. Using goal-directed thinking
- Is thinking this way helping me to feel good or to achieve my goals?
- What can I do that will help me solve the problem?
- Is there something I can learn from this situation?
Helping teens look at things from different perspectives and giving them a way to change things for themselves is motivating and rewarding. To help them conquer negative self-talk, we partnered with our friends at The Allstate Foundation to create a poster that contains alternatives to common negative self-talk statements. Our goal? Help them think differently. Print the poster and hang it where the teens in your life can see it regularly.
With practice, teens may learn to notice negative self-talk as it happens and consciously choose to think about a situation in a more realistic and helpful way. Want to learn more? Check out 12 Fun Ways to Build SEL Skills During Advisory or Homeroom.