Everyday I see an article in my social media feed alerting me that things have gotten out of hand. CNN recently reported teenagers visiting the ER for suicidal thoughts or attempts has doubled in the past eight years. On the way to work, a billboard reminded me we are facing an opioid epidemic. An epidemic, people. Add to that my circle of friends who are discussing the dangers of Snapchat and how we must monitor our children's phones because they are being bullied and exposed to garbage and my head is spinning. You know those machines at the arcade that you feed your tickets to count the tickets you've won? That's me. I'm the ticket machine sucking in every ounce of bad news until my brain feels like its going to explode.
We all want a solution. Kids are too stressed out and can't handle the pressure. We must make it easier on them! Social media is a breeding ground for cyber bullying. We must police or ban the internet! Drug use is on the rise. We must inform them of the dangers! We are frantically trying to control, shield, and eliminate all negative experiences and emotions so they never have to suffer.
Its not working.
The cold hard truth? Why are things so out of control? We are teaching our kids zero skills to navigate challenges on their own. One tiny set back can shut them down completely. If I had a nickel for every time I heard "well, I missed a few days of school and the makeup work was overwhelming so I just stopped doing it altogether" I'd be a very rich woman! Young people are throwing in the towel when they feel defeated. They don't know how to manage negative emotions.
Ladies and gentlemen, we've got some serious work to do.
I have a quote hanging in my office. I'm not sure where it originated from, but it remains year after year because it is so darn accurate: Don't be upset by the results you didn't get with the work you didn't do.
Don't be upset by the results you didn't get with the work you didn't do.
Last summer, my oldest daughter was really upset. I don't remember exactly what she was upset about, but I do remember she thought I would never understand it because (her words) I was perfect and would never have thought/done/said/felt whatever she was feeling. My 11-year-old daughter should look up to me and think I'm extraordinary, right? I am perfect. Ha! No, seriously, that moment make my heart hurt. She viewed me as having it all together and doubted herself for not. And it made my heart ache.
I immediately wanted to fix it and cheer her up. I felt helpless, defeated, and anxious. I hated every minute of it. It was so excruciating for me to watch her suffer and not be able to fix it that I had to ask my husband to step in so I could privately panic and lose my mind (which usually looks like this: go to my closet, hide, cry, question my ability to parent, feel awful).
But this time was different. A light bulb went off. I'd been doing it all wrong. I've hidden SO much from her. How can I teach her to manage her feelings of self-doubt and teach her that she has the power to overcome them if I'm not modeling this behavior myself? She hasn't seen me struggle, so how can she know I do? How can she know that mommy feels scared and insecure at times if I don't share my feelings with her?
Don't get me wrong, I don't think my 11-year-old and I should be trading secrets and discussing my latest dilemmas at work; there has to be a balance between what I share and what she can handle. She is a child. But I do think she should know that I was also one of the tallest girl in the 6th grade and I felt awkward. She should see me cry and know I feel insecure. A lot. She should know that I have bad days and get through them. She should know I make mistakes and have regrets. She should see me coping with what life throws my way. She should see that vulnerability is a manageable emotion.
Okay, this seems doable. I can work on sharing more of myself appropriately with her. But this next part? This part made me want to puke.
She has to learn to struggle.
Aggghhhh! I never want my babies to hurt, feel sad, scared, or insecure. Ever. I want to solve all their problems before they begin. I'm a fixer. I can't let my kids suffer. It makes me feel vulnerable and scared. No way!!
People, listen to me right now because this is going to hurt. WE HAVE TO LET OUR KIDS SUFFER. Our over parenting-fix-everything motto? It's what’s hurting them the most.
In "10 Reasons Teens Have So Much Anxiety Today", Amy Morin discusses how over parenting is fostering anxiety instead of resilience. Today's parents do not let kids deal with challenges on their own. We’ve become their saviors, shielding them from all disappointment and hurt. We let them avoid uncomfortable situations. We micromanage their emotions so they never have an unpleasant one. We cheer them up when they are sad and calm them down when they are angry. Our kids expect to feel happy all the time because we’ve spent years being their cheerleaders. We're developing an entire generation of kids that don't know how to cope!!
Guilty as charged. I had some serious work to do.
In the past few months I have spent a lot more time listening and guiding and a lot less time solving problems. The result? I am seeing much more confident little ladies. Try it. Ask your child to share their ideas and solutions instead of jumping to solve their problems. Offer guidance and watch their self-confidence grow. Let them feel nervous, bored, uncomfortable and sad. Assure them negative emotions are a healthy and normal part of life. It’s not easy to see them suffer and you’ll likely want to throw up, but it’s the only way we will teach them to manage their lives effectively.
The biggest gift we can give our children? The ability to cope with whatever comes their way.
I must point out that if you don't have healthy coping skills, you will not be able to teach them to your child. I repeat: You will not be able to teach healthy coping skills to your child if you don't have them yourself. Learn to manage and accept your own negative emotions. This takes practice, patience, and maybe some therapy. It's never too late to make positive changes in your life. Those positive changes will spill over to everyone around you.
My hide-in-the-closet-and-obsess-over-how-I-parent coping style? Probably not the best way to handle stress. For me, talking about it so I can understand the fear that is driving my behavior, reading, going for a jog, or getting a nice big hug from my dogs, Fozzie and Samson, are better choices. They are way more effective and actually work. They stop me from spiraling down my self-pity hole AND emulate positive coping skills for my kids. Win!
We have the power to teach young people that the world is a manageable place. We just have to be comfortable with letting them suffer. Do you have the courage to do that?
To learn more about healthy coping skills, check out The Do's and Don'ts of Teaching your Child To Cope, by Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. on PyschCentral.com.
Heidi has been working as a school counselor for over 15 years and strives to end the stigma of depression. She offers helpful tips and strategies to help yourself or someone you love who is suffering. Her personal experiences with grief, relationships, depression, poor self-image, bullying, anxiety, and relational aggression gives her a unique perspective on what its takes to overcome tragedy as a adolescent and adult.