Parenting, that is. I know when my children hit the tweens/teens decade, I wanted to crawl under the rug and hide. My mom has heard me say on too many occasions, “I hate teenagers.” I wanted to return them to first grade, when they were still open-minded and at least believed their parents knew something.
Although I’m nearing the tail end of the teen era, I can honestly say, it hasn’t all been negative. They are often humorous and creative, and I like some of their music. Likewise, we have turned them on to the best of classic rock. They have even helped me be a bit more adventurous – zip lining and tubing, who would have thought? On the other hand, I don’t like the eye-rolling, the snarky attitude, the backtalk, and the “Secret Life of the American Teenager” scared me to death and literally kept me awake at night. At least when they argued with us, we knew it was normal teen behavior. It’s when they were silently texting and virtually dating that I really began to worry. Plus, I was dying of curiosity! Who or what captured that much of their attention? Was it safe, moral, legal …? Most of what they shared was, quite honestly, stupid, but what about the parts they weren’t sharing? You don’t have to venture too far to find out what they might be hiding and the long-term consequences. Check out this article from a mother whose pot smoking teen-aged son was captured and shared on social media.
Think Quality not Quantity
How can we stay connected with our adolescent children without ruining our relationship? I keep returning to a suggestion from “At Home with Your Faith” encouraging parents to commit to spending regular one-on-one time with each tween/teen. The best part: parents are not allowed to criticize, correct, or interrupt. I found car rides have been the best time to get caught up, especially when I make them put down their electronics. I’m still driving my son, so I often take him to Quik Trip or a drive-through for a very large drink or snack. Now that I realize how rare these opportunities are once they start driving themselves, I plan to string this out with my son and plan some alone time with him. Even if I have to listen to another update on Shark Week.
Why does this seem so complicated? Unlike parents of previous generations, twenty-first century parents are expected to be heavily involved in every aspect of their children’s lives. They also didn’t have to negotiate digital electronics, especially the social media that accompanied it, on which all of your mistakes can be permanently recorded and infinitely shared. So, we hover when maybe we shouldn’t. We find it harder to release our adolescents into the “real world” and to let them fail. Maybe it’s because we’ve rarely, if ever, done it. Recently, a friend whose son is leaving home and a long-term girlfriend to attend college told me, “It’s hard to let them be sad.”
The New Parental Angst
Some degree of sadness is normal. But, a serious outbreak of depression and anxiety among college-age youth are possibly the side effects of this overly involved “helicopter” parenting job we’ve taken on.
So, what now? You might want to take a page from Julie Lythcott-Haims’ July 5 article at slate.com, where she shared data and advice from her new book, How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success. As a dean at Stanford University, Lythcott-Haims described an overall “lack of intellectual and emotional freedom” among the students she worked with who were “often brilliant, always accomplished,” but miserable. She quotes an alarming rise of clinical depression and anxiety among college students throughout the country, not just at Ivy League schools, between 2011 and 2014. Among 150,000 students surveyed, 84% were generally overwhelmed, 60.5% felt very sad, and 51.3% felt overwhelming anxiety. College counselors reported 24.5% of students were taking psychotropic medications.
Lythcott-Haims and her colleagues carefully point out these numbers do not prove this trend is caused by overparenting, but the data does strongly support a correlation. Students have left homes in which their parents performed nearly all the life skills for them and are now unable to independently set goals and make decisions, let alone handle conflict or failure. Lythcott-Haims’ recommendation: step back and listen to your young adult children, ask reasonable questions, and then let them handle the situation. Tough medicine, but maybe some tough love is what we really need to give these children so they can achieve what we wanted for them in the first place: a healthy, happy, independent adulthood.
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