So far in this blog series, I have talked a lot about what teens are struggling with. I wanted to take some time to also give context to what I see parents struggling with. I see so many parents making decisions from a place of anxiety and fear for their children. We fear that something is going to happen to them to hurt them. We fear that they are somehow not cut out to make it in our world. We see the world as both more competitive but also more dangerous and look at our children and are riddled with anxiety that they are just not going to be okay. That bad things might happen to them. They might not get into a good enough college. They might get hurt sometime. They will find out that they are not good enough for some things despite their best efforts. And the list goes on and on and on…
We are parenting from a scared and anxious place and I have to say, this is what I see as most harmful for the upcoming generation. You see, our kids sense what we really think and believe about them. If we don’t think they are capable, you bet we are communicating that in ways we don’t even realize and it is impacting their thoughts about their abilities as well as their desire to take chances. If we have limiting beliefs about our children, unfortunately they are likely to have them as well.
As the mother of a toddler as well as a psychologist who has spent my career so far working with children, teens, their parents, and families as a whole – I am so grateful for what I have learned. I have learned that it is better to parent from a place of faith and courage. We need to communicate to our kids that we believe in them, even when we are terrified that they might mess up or get their hearts broken. We need to communicate to our kids that it is okay to completely screw something up, fall down, and make a mess of things as that is often our path towards learning. We need to celebrate mistakes, failures, and terrible days as the chaos that brings change and learning in our lives and teach our kids that nothing comes to those who are comfortable and not challenged.
I have to say that this is TOUGH stuff for us parents. Living in the information overload age, particularly with such a huge focus on what parents are doing or not doing, it is hard not to feel that we need to do SO much for our kids. We need to praise them in a certain way otherwise they will be messed up for life. We need to feed them all the right foods, or they will be messed up for life. And the list just goes on and on about how we as parents hold so much power. This is why parenting feels so relentless for us and is leading to parents struggling to let go and let their kids live their lives.
Unfortunately, while I don’t believe in being super passive and laissez faire as parents, I do think we are overdoing it. And while we overdo it, we communicate the hidden fears and anxiety that underlies our tendency to do everything for our kids. And what we tell our kids is that we don’t think they can do it themselves. We don’t think they are going to be okay. We are worried about them and if they can handle this world of ours. Sometimes we even expect them to prove themselves before we give them responsibilities. Like we want our kids to show us they can pay rent on time, do their laundry, eat balanced meals, etc. before they can move out. Interestingly, many of them probably need to move out and see what it is like to make those mistakes and not do any of that so that they can figure out just how important those parts of life are. Many of us learn as we live, rather than learn before we live. Our teens are not different but they are lacking the confidence that they can figure things out. Which is sadly leading them to be more anxious, stressed, sad, and honestly terrified of being adults.
One thing parents can do to help them is to just release some of their own fear. We need to accept that we just can’t protect our kids from the world, or from themselves and their mistakes. They are going to screw up, get hurt, fall down, and make mistakes. Some of them will be big. It is my belief though that the sooner we let them start this process of messing up, the odds are better that their mistakes will be manageable and that they will learn some resilience along the way. This will help them when the mistakes are bigger and the risks riskier – if we have experience picking ourselves up and repairing mistakes from our childhood, we will be better suited to do this when we need to as adults too.
I am of the belief that we are raising independent humans that are their own people. Our jobs are really to love them, try to understand them, and encourage them to seek out the life they want. They are a story waiting to unfold, not a blank canvas that we get to paint.
By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
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