You know that old saying, “What do we do when we fall? - We get back up!”? It seems that our youth are really struggling with mastering this important life skill. There is a trend of perfectionism and a lack of resilience among teens that has caught the attention of mental health and education professionals, as well as parents. When we have adolescents who can’t bounce back from failure (i.e. are not resilient) and aren’t given the appropriate level of independence they need for healthy development, we end up with young adults who are incredibly anxious and depressed.
Do you remember the ‘Participant Ribbon’ era where nobody lost and everybody won? The problem was that it created a false sense of accomplishment. Kids either ended up feeling entitled (“I just get it, no effort needed.”) or feeling incompetent (“I must be getting this because I can’t do any better.”). Then, things shifted from ‘Participant Ribbon’ parenting to ‘Intensive’ parenting over the past few decades. Parents that use this ‘Intensive’ approach seem to have good intentions, but the long term consequences are pretty negative for our youth. Intensive Parenting has contributed to the issue of teens missing out on some of the awesome lessons adolescence has to offer. When our teens are over-scheduled, over-controlled, and over-supported by their parents, they don’t learn how to solve many of the relational and institutional problems we are confronted with as adults. For example, it’s much more common today to have a parent calling a teacher about their teen’s poor grades and negotiating with the teacher on ways to increase the grade, rather than the teen learning what they did to earn that low grade and working through the problem on their own with their teacher. It robs the teenager of the chance to feel motivated to change their behavior to obtain a better grade.
Developmentally, teenagers are supposed to be branching out on their own, exploring relationships within the environments they inhabit, and gaining mastery over skills that are a necessity for a healthy adulthood. Inevitably, life will have disappointment, failure, and major struggles. So, the goal is not to teach our youth to avoid failure, but to help them get through it - to help them survive the suffering and disappointment that life will throw their way.
What to do?
Acknowledge it! If you are a parent who always schedules your teen’s life, worries more about their homework than they do, and reminds them to get dressed or get up in the morning for school - just admit it. First to yourself and then to them. Communicate about how you want to help them get to adulthood successfully and realize that being overly involved is probably not as helpful as you had originally thought.
You - - Them. Imagine a space between yourself and your kids. You are not responsible for their mistakes or feelings, and they are not responsible for yours. You are your own person. You will thank yourself for creating healthier boundaries.
Brainstorm. Have a family meeting and write down a list of what activities your teen can do independently. Then, list what activities they need support with and what kind of support they need. Really consider what is appropriate for their age and what is not. If you need suggestions, read through Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson, Ed.D.
Address your own stuff. If you feel anxious about this change, that’s normal and you’re not alone! But, if you feel like you might have a panic attack or are so resistant that you are convincing yourself why they need you to do everything for them, then you might want to talk with someone about that. That’s a YOU problem, not a THEM problem.
Remember the end goal. You want a kid who can grow up and be a competent, independent, ‘successful,’ and contributing adult. And, they will grow up fast! So, make yourself a list of qualities and characteristics that you value in people and remind yourself that even when it’s uncomfortable in the moment, you’re actually making these changes for your teen’s future self.
Don’t doubt your ability to change. Changing the way we interact with our family members, especially our kids, takes time and conscientious effort. You’ve put a ton of time and energy into helping your teen up to this point, so you are just redirecting your energy into something that will produce sustained results.
Moving from being the ‘overly’ involved parent to a more appropriate level of support is going to feel different. But, certainly, it will benefit your teen, and noticing the improvements in their confidence, hope for the future, and their ability to ‘get back up after they fall’ will be rewarding for the whole family.
Please don’t hesitate to call us if you need help with this!
Seija Zimmerman, LMFT
Thrive Therapy & Counseling
1614 X St., Suite A
Sacramento, CA 95818
Gray, P. (2015, September 22). Declining Student Resilience: A Serious Problem for Colleges. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychology today.com/us/blog/freedom-learn/201509/declining-student-resilience-serious-problem-colleges
Miller, C. (2018, December 25). The Relentlessness of Modern Parenting. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/25/ upshot/the-relentlessness-of-modern-parenting.html