I’ve seen this in treatment for years. The older adolescent who is struggling with being successful in his/her life. What I mean by “successful” is this: A person who is able to “roll with the punches” and swim when it’s time to sink or swim.
There is much written on this subject.
In fact,one of my favorite books on this topic was written by my colleague Madeline Levine, PhD. called “The Price Of Privilege”. She is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Marin County, CA who sees many of the same types of individuals as me. When I read her book I thought, “Darn! She beat me to the punch.” Her book is basically the book I didn’t write, except based in San Francisco, mine would obviously be based in Chicago. And it has become a popular book club reading over the years.
Seems there’s much to discuss about this subject.
Helicoptering our kids is everywhere. We live in a scary world and we must protect our children. We don’t know our neighbors like we used to “back in the day”. We don’t know the parents of the other kids at school. Heck, we don’t even really trust our kid’s teachers and coaches.
We want for our kids to be safe. Physically, emotionally, psychologically. We want them to succeed in life; to thrive.
We want, or would like, for our kids to be at the top of the class. A really good athlete. Maybe even talented with music or theater. We want them to have lots of friends. And we want to afford them every opportunity to feel good about themselves……..
Therein lies the problem. We want them to be afforded every opportunity to feel good about themselves.
Now I’m not talking about kids doing one or two of these things outside of school. I’m talking about teenagers feeling the pressure to do ALL of the above. And, surprisingly enough, they are doing all of them. Some are doing a really good job at it; most of them? Meh.
But here’s the thing: They are being told they are “Awesome!” That they are “So Great!” (Even when we know it’s meh.)
And it falls flat to the kids. They don’t think they’re “awesome”. They don’t think they’re “so great”. They pretty much compare themselves to their peers. They feel the need to overachieve. And it’s HARD.
Kids, teenagers: they’re a smart bunch. They can SMELL inauthenticity a mile away. They know when someone is being fake. When someone is not being “real” with them.
Most kids know that they are average. Most kids know, and accept, that they are not the smartest, the brightest, the most talented. They’re good with it.
It’s us parents. We’re not good with it. Maybe it’s about us. Our need to make them “feel ok” because we need to feel ok.
This is a bit of a mind screw for young people. They are confused about their own limits. Some kids figure it out. Like when they’re in college. And for some, they figure it out when they’re out in the real world.
And, unfortunately, there are consequences to figuring it out later….
Think about the now young adult who has his first job out of college. They are working for a company, putting in their 40+ hours a week. The expectation is to come to work. Put in the required hours. Do good work. Then go home.
Or the graduate student. The expectation is to go to class. Put in the required time studying. Take the exam. Then go home.
There is no one who is going to give you a gold star for showing up. There are very few employers who are going to pat you on the back and say “good job today”. No, they’re too busy doing something else.
The problem at this point is that many, many young adults are struggling with being satisfied and happy with their lives so far. They cannot figure out why they have this “crappy” job. Why they still have to work so hard for something. And where are the “You’re so great!” messages?
Lo and behold, here comes depression. Anxiety. Low self-esteem. They are struggling. They just can’t understand why life has gotten so hard. This is often the turning point that brings them to my office.
I “get” why these young adults are struggling. And I also “get” what it’s like to be a parent today. I have 5 kids of my own. One has “flown the coup” and 4 are still at home. ALL TEENAGERS. Yes, it’s a very noisy and busy household. There’s never enough food!
So I feel it, too. The desire to want my kids to be successful-in all areas of their lives. To do well in school. To be athletic. To be involved in music. To have lots of friends and lots to do on the weekends. I don’t want them to miss out. But that’s me. I want them to do well. I want them to be protected. From mean people. Unfair teachers. Obnoxious coaches.
What have I learned from all these teenagers in my life?
To take the bubble wrap off them. To stop hovering. To Back. Off.
Yes, to expect the best. But to expect what is THEIR best. That setting limits, setting parameters IS what works best with teenagers. To not be disingenuous. I want them to know that love sometimes is tough. And that sometimes their father and I loving them means to let them fail. For us as parents to know they’re going to fail and being ok with it. Allowing them to take a risk. And being there to catch them when they fall. And fail.
Which they will.