By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
While I am of the belief that there are more opportunities for all of us currently, particularly due to technology and our ever-changing world, I find that the families with whom I work do not often feel that there is an abundance of opportunity for their kids. It seems like currently there is much more of a feeling of scarcity rather than abundance when it comes to our children’s futures.
This competitive attitude and feeling of “not enough” permeates our parenting climate these days, which also unfortunately filters down to our children to make them feel that if they are not “the best” or “perfect,” they’re not going to make it. This just leads to increased feelings of anxiety about the future. I am noticing that over time, more and more of the teens that I work with have fears about growing up and not being able to take care of themselves, despite being perfectly capable young people.
Interestingly, this competitive climate impacts teens in other ways too. Some teens that I work with have shared that their peers at school are unlikely to help them if they are struggling with homework because they do not want their peers to succeed as it would mean that their own success would somehow be less valuable. I believe that this attitude of “me first” or “only some can succeed” is particularly toxic for teens as it reduces our likelihood to develop compassion or understanding for others’ and their experiences. I have so many conversations in my office where teens will share something that they believe very strongly and when I try to help them consider others’ perspectives, they at times really struggle. For example, when the topic of being transgender comes up and individuals who do not struggle with their gender identity or expression struggle to understand that experience. Or when the topic of wealth inequality and related challenges comes up and those who are from more affluent families struggle to understand what it would be like not to have enough.
Many of the challenges that I see in our world relate to a basic lack of understanding of each other and lack of social perspective taking (which just means, even though you are living an experience that is unlike my own, I will try to see it from your perspective). And it makes sense that if we tell our kids that there is only so much (food, money, etc.) to go around, that they will worry if they will get what they need and then feel that they need to worry about that before helping others. In a way, they are putting on their own oxygen mask first, which while good advice in an emergency, is not a great way to learn about how to relate to others as a developing person in our world!
I would encourage parents to consider ways they might be encouraging competition or scarcity mindsets in their families. I invite you to consider ways to adjust your message if you are. For example, when parents instill in their children a mindset that there is only one path to success (regardless of what that path is), it automatically makes them feel that if that path is not for them, they are not likely to be okay. This creates a feeling of scarcity as only those on the “right” path will be “okay” as adults.
Consider the following differences:
If you would like to talk more about parenting your teen with a Thrive therapist, contact us today! We love talking about how to support teens and help their parents communicate effectively with them about their futures!
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