Parenting is NOT an Olympic Sport

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Many of us live in a society where parenting has become competitive, almost like an Olympic sport. Competition starts early with “where is your child going to preschool?” As they get older, it becomes “how many activities do they do after school?”  “How many APs are they taking?  What was their ACT/SAT score?”  The answers to these questions have become reflective of our skills as parents, and lead many of us to feel we don’t measure up. If we feel that way, imagine how our kids feel and the intense pressure they are under!

It’s no wonder anxiety, depression and suicide attempts are all on the rise in teenagers, particularly those of higher socioeconomic status. That may seem counter-intuitive; doesn’t not having to worry about money, meals, and shelter automatically make kids less anxious or depressed?   The answer is no! Higher SES kids have other pressures placed upon them by (hopefully) well-meaning parents and schools. I suggest Madeline Levine’s The Price of Privilege if you’d like to read more about this phenomenon.

It’s time for all of us to take a look at our society and make necessary changes. Our kids’ mental health and future depends on it.

Here’s a few ideas of what we can do as parents:

Stop putting our kids on pedestals. We all (hopefully) believe our children are wonderful, beautiful, smart, etc, but no one is perfect, not even our child. We need to acknowledge imperfection in order to take the pressure off our kids, and be able to intervene if there is a problem area. One of the reasons teens give for not talking to their parents is that they don’t want to “disappoint” them, or “make them realize they’re not perfect.”

Stop trying to be our child’s best friend. We all want to be the “cool” parent, or have our teens tell us everything. The reality is there needs to be boundaries between parent and child, and it’s not appropriate for them to tell us everything. In fact, it’s somewhat creepy. While the fun parent with no rules seems cool to the other kids, the reality is their child often wishes for limits and separation. Part of knowing we are doing a good job as a parent is when our kids are angry at us. I see a lot of parents “not being parents” because of fear of disconnection, which then leads to a culture of disrespect.

Raise the child we have, not the one we wish we had.  I strongly believe we need to be cognizant of who our child is, and their realistic strengths and weaknesses. Not every child is going to be a straight A student or varsity athlete. This doesn’t mean we can’t push our kids, but we need to know when enough is enough.

Let our teens learn from their mistakes. This means not regularly bringing their homework or violins to school when they forgot them at home. Not doing homework or projects for them, or jumping in to fix every distressing situation. As hard as it is to see our kids suffer — I read a great quote recently, “as children, they sit on our laps, as teens, they sit on our hearts” — giving them support and confidence in their abilities to deal with the situation, rather than fixing it ourselves, is the greatest gift we can give our child. We all learn the most from situations in which we had to struggle and deal with natural consequences. This controversial picture went viral several months ago, and many schools have implemented this policy as a way to address this problem.

stop

Recognize and remember that CHARACTER counts. Character Counts is a program used in many schools. Most of us support and like our children learning these lessons, but we don’t always stress their importance to our children. The reality is that life is about WHO we are, and how we treat people. No one remembers the touchdown you threw to win the game, or the 5 you got on the AP test; they remember how you treated them. We all can think of brilliant, talented people who can’t keep a job because of their inability to get along with people. Teach your kids to be kind, and to work well with others.   The best way to teach this is to model it.

This list is by no means comprehensive.  Let me end by saying, I don’t believe that a “perfect parent” exists.  We all have stories behind our public persona, so let’s not judge one another or each other’s children.

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