|Rebekah dePeo-Christner, LPC-S, LCDC, NCC||940-382-5328 x21|
Since exiting my graduate program 17 years ago, I am astonished at the increase in the severity of mental illness among the children and teens I have served in both schools and private practice. I have certainly seen an increase in the incidence of self-injurious behavior and suicidal ideation. What has changed over the course of the past two decades? What happened to the average, healthy, happy teen?
We are failing our kids. We have stolen their adolescents with our unrealistic expectations. The burden doesn’t fall on just the parents but also the school system as well. We easily blame video games and technology for the issues within this generation but are neglecting to address a bigger elephant in the room – why as parents we insist that our children perform at a higher level than some are capable of doing? We have devalued being average. Instead of competing with the Jones for financial status, we are striving for physical and cognitive superiority. We are stretching our children so thin, they are buckling under pressure. They are not coping. They are cutting, and suffering mental breakdowns, and suicidal thoughts/attempts.
I see kids taking 5 Advance Placement classes at a time and caving under the demand. By definition “Advance Placement” is for a select group of students. Not every child is an Advance Placement kid and a while a child may excel in a subject or two, few are likely to fit that category in every subject. To make matters worse, we justify this overload by saying our kids want to take such excessive course loads. I have counseled more band kids in the past few years due to hours upon hours of practice they endure, and that is just an example of one activity. It is apparent these kids are breaking under the pressure, and as a society we are allowing it.
What happened to our role as parents to help our kids find balance within their lives and set appropriate boundaries? As adults, we have established for this generation what is normal in terms of boundaries, ethics and values and I think it is time to think twice about the message we are sending. As a parent, I don’t pray my kids to be in the top 10% of their class or to receive a full ride athletic scholarship. What I hope is for my kids to grow to be a healthy, happy, resilient average adult.
In this current climate, we expect our kids to attend school for 8 hours a day, take classes that are more advanced than they can handle and then continuing their school day with another 3 hours of competitive sports, dance, cheer and band. On the weekends, when kids should be recuperating and enjoying themselves we ask them to spend another 6-12 hours competing. As a society we tell kids in elementary school to pick a sport/hobby and to focus entirely on that activity. We no longer encourage kids to experience a wide range of hobbies. Instead we put them in select sports before they even turn 10 years old. Like we do in academics, again we expect our kids to perform better than what they are capable of. We invest thousands of dollars per year in these activities in hopes our kids will be get college scholarships and be star performers. In the process, I think we have also taught our kids not to fail; that it’s not okay to make mistakes and when they get close to making an error… we rescue them. What exactly is the cost of this pursuit of superiority? The cost is our kid’s emotional health. Our kids won’t survive in college, much less as adults with this type of mentality.
At some point, as parents we have to say enough. Help your kids find balance in their lives, teach them the skills they need to be functional adults. Let your kids fail, under your roof with your support. The skills they will develop as a result of their failures will teach them the resiliency they need throughout their adulthood. We need to teach them to be problem solvers – so stop bringing your kid lunch when he/she forgets, don’t do their projects so they get an “A”, quit texting them during the school day enabling their need for instant gratification, and place limits on them. I love that my kids are in activities, but I also know we have to have a life outside of it. I want them to travel and go to museums and experience a vast variety of experiences and opportunities. I don’t want our family life centered on carpooling my kid 20 hours a week with a focus on becoming the best in one area of their lives. I want my kids to be well rounded, diverse and experience the beauty this world has to offer.
They don’t have to be the best of the best; just average and happy.
Rebekah dePeo-Christner, MA, LPC-S, NCC counsels individual, couples, and families at the CCD Lewisville office.