Arts Academy

in the Woods

Home // Art Integrated Education // How Creating Helps Teens Understand Themselves

How Creating Helps Teens Understand Themselves

Ah, adolescence.

For some, it’s simply weird and awkward. For others, it just plain sucks. And then there are those who seem to breeze through it. (Seem being the operative word.)

Regardless of the experience, it is crucial during this stage of development for teens to start looking at who they REALLY are, and seek a way to safely express themselves.

The problem is, the “who they are” for some teenagers doesn’t match up at all with their perceived notions of “who they think they should be.” Especially if they’ve been labeled sensitive, quirky or unusual and tend to have a unique view of the world.

And when this happens, teenagers can shut down, isolate themselves and get depressed. It doesn’t have to be this way. 

The Freedom to Express Oneself

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs addresses the fact that if children don’t feel safe, loved, or that they belong, they’re not going to feel secure enough to express their true inner selves.

Of course, there will always be those who go forward and openly express themselves; who simply have no fear of letting their “freak flag fly.”  And they seem equipped to deal with the repercussions.

But for many others, they fear that expressing themselves will only further expose how weird or different they are and they aren’t willing to be victim to the backlash. It’s easier to isolate and close off, or to pretend to be somebody they aren’t. Both of which take a serious toll.

The Stigma of Depression and Sadness

For teens who feel hopelessly out of place and are unable to express themselves, struggling with depression around this adds another layer of shame.

Despite a clearer understanding of depression over the past couple of decades, there is still an undeniable stigma around it. In fact, in a recent poll, over 50% of respondents said they believe depression is caused in some part by personal weakness or failing.

And 24% of millennials feel that most people with a mental health condition like depression have the power to just get better on their own.

All of these antiquated views make it additionally challenging for creative teens who feel trapped by their depression to express themselves. Yet we know that self-expression is absolutely essential for the development of a person’s identity and personhood.

And one of the best ways for teenagers to express themselves, while feeling safe to do so, is through the act of creating.

In other words, art.

Art Is the Ultimate Form of Self-Expression

This applies to all art – be it painting, music, photography, writing, design, acting, dance, etc. Any time we are creating, we are expressing ourselves in a wholly unique way.

Georgia O’Keefe, an American Modernist painter who filtered nature into abstract images, once said, ”I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way — things I had no words for.”

Because sometimes, expressing ourselves has nothing to do with words. And allowing teens to create and explore different ways of expression through art is key to their finding their true “voice.” Even if it doesn’t come from their throat.

According to the American Art Therapy Association, artistic expression can decrease anxiety, feelings of anger and depression. The creative process can foster greater self-awareness, help teens regulate their emotions and even enhance cognitive abilities. This is the foundation of arts integration schools.

When teens feel they can safely express themselves, they’re free to discover and explore their interests and strengths. This helps them think about who they are and what paths they may want to pursue as adults. 

How Teens Learn About Themselves Through Art

As teens begin to open up and express themselves through art and creativity, they must also learn how to solve problems and make decisions.

While initially they may be inclined to follow the rules that were dictated to them earlier in life – i.e. color inside the lines – once they tap into what they really want to express, they begin to establish their own rules. From there, they have to determine what’s right for them and how to work around what isn’t.

And sometimes they’re going to make mistakes. But in an environment with educators who have learned how to integrate art, creativity, movement and mindfulness into the classroom, these teens learn from their mistakes rather than feel shamed or chastised.

As they continue to create, they naturally begin to think about why they created their work. And if they’re in a creative community, they’ll be asked to look at their classmates’ artwork and to create thought-provoking questions that will cause them to reflect on their own work.

Such inquiries of others and themselves ultimately helps them to understand their work and themselves better.

Creativity Promotes Identity Development in Teens

For teens who feel misunderstood and unable to express who they really are, art becomes a tool. It allows them to share their true selves in a community that understands and embraces them. It helps them to find their place in the world.

And this is the thinking behind arts integration education and its many success stories.

If you feel that you or your child would thrive in a creative learning environment that fosters openness and self-expression, contact us today. We’d love to meet you.


* indicates required