• The Power Of Agency To Turn Teens Around | Anthony Rao | Episode 141

  • The Power of Agency to Turn Teens AroundWe know anxiety rates are skyrocketing in teens, even the ones who seem to have it all together. But how do we impact that? How can we help them reduce their anxiety? Agency. This is the ability to exert power, to have control over our life. It turns out, feeling like we are in control of our life reduces anxiety. That’s the power of agency, feeling like we have control over our life. And feeling like we have control means we are actually doing something to make our life better so it generally improves. Dr. Anthony Rao has a discussion with Mighty Parenting podcast host Sandy Fowler about the power of agency and how we can teach our teens and twenty somethings to use it to feel better and direct their life. 



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    A Favorite Quote from the Show: 

    Human agency is when we feel in control of our life and have the ability to move forward and achieve goals. Our kids feel like they’ve lost the ability to control their lives. They’ve lost the power of agency and it’s increasing their anxiety.

    High Points From Our Conversation on the Power of Agency to Turn Teens Around:

    Teen anxiety is rising and agency can help reduce it.Around 2000 or a bit before, Dr. Rao and his co-author noticed people who used to generally do well, who maybe needed some coaching once in a while, were now falling flat and feeling overwhelmed. 

    They began to dig into the research and discovered that everyday stress and anxiety is so high many of us have already tipped past the diagnostic curve.

    WHO labeled the US as one of the most anxious places on the planet—and that was before the pandemic.

    Beginning in the 1980s, the average school-aged child carried around the same amount of anxiety as a child psychiatric in-patient in the 1950s.

    Anxiety and stress are at their highest in our current teens and twenty somethings. And yet, our kids are incredibly productive and are achieving more.

    Our kids feel like they’ve lost the ability to control their lives. They’ve lost the power of agency.

    Human agency is when we feel in control of our life and have the ability to move forward and achieve goals.

    We feel happy and alive when we feel in control. We feel anxious, helpless, and hopeless when agency is low.

    Can we teach kids the tools they need to have more agency in their lives? Yes, we can teach them tools and give them the power of agency.

    Dr. Rao’s top 3 tools for building agency are:

      • Control Stimuli: Control what’s coming into our minds so we can keep a clear mind.
      • Associate Selectively: The people we are around during the day affect your behavior, health, mood, and thinking. Our mirror neurons cause us to pick up each other’s signals and internalize them.
      • Move: Movement, particularly outdoor movement, relates to better immune response, better sleep cycles, better nutrition and more. When the whole body is healthy, our decisions are better.

    Any distraction will impact your ability to think well.

    Instead of telling our kids they need to stop hanging out with certain friends, we can engage them in a conversation around what they would tell a friend in this situation. “Look, you must have friends who are hanging out with friends who aren’t good for them. How do you tell them that maybe they should think this through?”

    Using these 3 best practices has been shown to free up more time in our lives. We think better, we’re more efficient, and more focused so we get more done.

    Teaching our kids to do these things gives them the power of agency in their lives. The only real way to do this is to model it first.

    When our phone is near us, even if it’s off, our brains and bodies are still thinking about it. Our brain has learned this is essential so it’s constantly cuing us to check it. The best practice is to take times, like during dinner or at night, to move it to another room.

    Sandy’s family challenge: make the living room a device-free zone for specified days or times.

    When our kids tell us they’re bored, it’s time to celebrate. The Boredom Bridge is the transition from high stimulation to deeper thought. 

    Associating selectively means surrounding yourself with supportive and open-minded people. This doesn’t mean being around yes men or people who try to fill you with false self-esteem. It’s about being around people who make you feel supported and positive. 

    We can use Dr. Rao’s charting technique to draw people in and push people away to create a healthier life and find the power of agency.

    Charting: Draw concentric circles (a bullseye) on a paper. Then place people in the circles based on how close they are to you, how much time you spend with them. See if you can move people closer or further from you depending on whether they’re people you want to associate with.

    We can try any new behavior once or twice to see what happens. Change your look, breathe, meditate, or focus your mind and depersonalize the situation and see if if empowers you. Start small. Be experimental and see what happens.

    Do an inventory of yourself and see if you’re part of the problem. When the problem person does something, ask yourself what you do when they do the irritating thing.

    In addition to these behavioral practices, we can change our thinking too.

    Take a big picture view. This often helps us feel less stuck or immobilized.

    Resources Mentioned in Show:

    The Power of Agency: The 7 Principles to Conquer Obstacles, Make Effective Decisions, and Create a Life on Your Own Terms by Paul Napper, Psy.D. and Anthony Rao, Ph.D.

    Healthy Parenting Strategies For Handling The Coronavirus Lockdown | Anthony Rao | Episode 119

    Our Guest Dr. Anthony Rao:

    Anthony Rao talks about the power of agency on Mighty Parenting podcast.Anthony Rao, Psy.D., is a cognitive-behavioral therapist. For over 20 years, he was a pediatric psychologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School (HMS). In 1998, he opened a specialized private practice. He appears regularly as an expert commentator and is the co-author of the new book THE POWER OF AGENCY: The 7 Principles to Conquer Obstacles, Make Effective Decisions, and Create a Life on Your Own Terms.

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