One thing a friend of mine and I were talking about recently is that there is room in the adult world for all kinds of people with all their various quirks and personalities and temperaments. The diversity of people is such a beautiful thing, and I know I am so grateful that different people want to do different jobs than I would want to do; that different people have different strengths and abilities; that different people even look different and live differently because I find so much beauty in all the varying cultures and faces of the world. I love it!
So why do people act as if our sole parenting mission, and yes, especially in the middle and upper classes, is for our children to get into a good college and be on a college track? I am not saying that education is not important. It is important, but how can we balance this in a healthy way?
Having our teens stress themselves out to the point of having psychosomatic illnesses and fearing for the future and not wanting to grow up because being a teen is already stressful enough (so how stressful must adulthood be?) is not helping this generation. ANXIETY has now taken over depression as something teenagers are dealing with. According to this article in the NY Times, 62 percent of undergrads are reporting “overwhelming anxiety.” There has been a doubling of hospital admissions for suicidal teenagers.
So, exactly what happens when the push, push for the “good college” is acheived? What happens in real life outside of this? My point is that people (and teenagers) are made of more than just their academic portfolio. There is space in the adult world for many people with their many likes and dislikes and interests and passions. In fact, the adult world probably needs you especially, teenager who is different.
So, parents, let me tell you your mission in case you have forgotten. You are here to support your teen and to help guide them. If you see them putting such pressure on themselves to perform, how can you step in and help them? What will they really need in the adult world to meet their definition of success? Is their definition of success even healthy? One of the many points in the NY Times article above is that parents are not always driving the anxiety of these teenagers anymore by pushing them, but that instead the teens are internalizing the anxiety themselves and pushing themselves relentlessly. Health and social relationships are, to me, more important and deserve even more time than academic work.
You cannot live their life for them. You are here to help your teen unfold and be who they are going to be.
Life is messy. Being a teen is messy . Be supportive and be kind, because you may not know much of what your teen is dealing with at all.
When people ask me about my parenting and goals for my children, I essentially say I want them to be healthy and helpful human beings. Human beings who are good and loyal friends and family members who will help others. Human beings who are ethical and who do not divide their public and private lives. Human beings who can relax and have fun, and yes, make a contribution to something greater than themselves and support themselves. That is an exciting parenting mission.
Blessings and love,