Why Is My Teenage Boy So Negative?: A CBT Approach

If you spend any time with teenage boys, you quickly recognize how negative they can be. A single zit on their nose becomes the reason they start to believe they are unattractive. A failing grade on a pop quiz creates a rush of anxiety that leads to a belief they are stupid. For many teenage boys, a molehill quickly becomes a mountain and an unpleasant experience easily snowballs into a major crisis. Since negativity can sometimes morph into anxiety or depression, it is important to understand why our teenage boys are so negative and what we can do to help them. 

The Brain’s Negativity Bias 

The teenage brain is not geared toward positivity. Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson points out that through the process of evolution, the brain has developed a negativity bias. This means that our brain is hardwired to scan for the bad and discard the good. Back when we lived in hunter gatherer communities, it was much more important to avoid threats than to collect rewards. If you focused on the negative and avoided a threat you would survive. If you didn’t, you’d get eaten or worse! Given this scenario, the teenage brain is now like super glue for negative thoughts and a water slide for positive thoughts. Negative thoughts stick, positive thoughts slip. It is much easier to see things from a negative perspective than to try and see the good in a situation. 

Core Beliefs in the Mind  

Given the brain’s inherent negativity bias, our teenage boys are bombarded with millions of negative thoughts every day. These automatic negative thoughts build over time and result in negative filters that reinforce the brain’s inherent negativity. These filters are core beliefs that a person uses to interpret everything that happens to them. These negative filters are like a pair of tinted glasses that colors everything we see. One common core belief for teenage boys is that “no one really cares what I have to say.” If your teenage son operates with this core belief, it is likely that he’ll be skeptical of teachers and other adults who try to ask him questions about himself and what’s important to him. Another common core belief is that, “I’m not very popular.” When a teen guy believes this about himself, this will likely result in behaviors that isolate himself from others and reinforce his feelings of being rejected.

3 Ways To Address Negative Core Beliefs 

Thought Record 

The first step in addressing core negative beliefs is identifying exactly which ones have taken root in the mind. The most effective way to do this is to spend 5 minutes each day reflecting on a few negative experiences of the day. Write down what actually happened, how it made you feel and then how you reacted to the experience. Then think about all the negative thoughts you had about the experience. All the negative thoughts you record will clarify a pattern of negative thinking that will reveal the core beliefs that are guiding your life. You can find thought record templates online that can easily guide you through the process. 

Taking in The Good 

Since negative thoughts stick and positive thoughts slip, it is important to put in extra effort to let in the good experiences of life. Slowing down and being intentional about absorbing the good in our lives can help retrain the mind toward greater positivity. Instead of rushing through breakfast, one should take in all the smells and savor all the different flavors. When a friend says something nice about us at school, we can let those words fill us up with gratitude. Watching a Netflix show or going on a bike ride can be opportunities to take in all the beauty, colors and sounds that surround us. Taking 10-15 seconds every few hours to think about and savor the good in our life can help counteract our negativity bias. 

View From Above 

This exercise comes from Stoic philosophy. Our brains tend to forget the forest and get lost in the trees. We get so stuck in our day to day worries that we lose sight of the much broader perspective. In this exercise, you are encouraged to imagine looking down on planet Earth from outer space. As you look down on Earth, with its billions of people and countless years of evolution, you realize that you and your problems are pretty insignificant when considered in light of the big picture. This is not to discredit your struggles but simply to put them into a context where they are a minuscule piece of the larger puzzle of life. The goal of the exercise is to help your negative thoughts diminish in size and power in light of a larger perspective. 

Counseling Can Help 

The goal of CBT is to help the client change the patterns of thinking or behavior that are contributing to the negative emotions they are struggling with. CBT is based on the theory that events in themselves are not what upset us but rather the meaning we attribute to these events. Most of us have an internal dialogue in our heads, as though we were talking to ourselves. The tone of this inner dialogue is extremely critical and the perspective usually negative. CBT is useful because it helps the person understand what is happening in their mind. It helps the person step outside the cycle of automatic thoughts and question whether their thoughts are actually true or useful. CBT would encourage your teenage son to identify their negative core beliefs, challenge and reframe them and develop a behavioral plan for how they are going to live their life differently. 

Counseling is a financial and time commitment, but it pays off. Many teen guys find relief and build coping skills that can last a lifetime when they seek out professional help. Please do not hesitate to reach out today and call for help!

Begin Counseling at Our Center in Katy, TX

If you are ready to help your teenage boy manage his negative thoughts, the therapists at The Center at Cinco Ranch can help! To begin counseling in Katy, TX, follow these three steps:
  1. Contact our office to set up an appointment or to get more information about CBT. 
  2. Meet with one of our skilled therapists
  3. Start taking control of your thoughts and experience greater freedom.                

Other Counseling Services: Other Services at the Counseling Center at Cinco Ranch

Our counseling services at The Counseling Center at Cinco Ranch include counseling for children and adolescents dealing with depression, self-injury, and school issues. We also provide services for family therapy, counseling for young adultstrauma counseling, anxiety treatmentcouples counseling, eating disorder treatment, and group counseling. Our therapists strive to regularly post blogs with helpful information on a variety of mental health topics. To learn more about our therapists and our counseling services, please reach out to the Center today!