Too Many Parents Help Teens Dodge Reality

As reported in The Week (1/29/10), a recent study of high school and college students, has discovered higher levels of anxiety, depression and unrealistic, manic optimism than in any previous generation since the Great Depression. Researchers suggested that materialism, an emphasis on superficial things, overprotective parenting and a lack of sleep all contribute to their problems.

Overprotective parenting has developed into an ideal for too many parents. It’s as if you prove your love for them by interfering with their consequences. Hire a lawyer if they’re arrested at a drunk party. Drive 110 miles an hour and you still get the keys to the car. There is a kooky idea in our culture that keeping kids spoiled, disrespectful and indulged is a good thing. Parents threaten and rarely follow through with consequences. This is a huge problem from 2 to 18. After 18 it’s about bailing out young adults with money instead of letting them learn to live differently.

The author Barry Lopez commented in the Drue Heinz lecture on 2/8/10 that there’s too many people who don’t want to grow up. It has become ordinary to recognize that this is what has evolved. Parents meet all of their kids needs and then they don’t want to leave home or figure out how to support themselves in a much less luxurious life.

What does growing up mean? Fritz Perls, a German born psychiatrist, defined it as “honestly facing painful situations.” Parents make it an art form to interfere with their kids honestly dealing with reality. Reality bumps teens back into a more true perspective. Continuing to work instead of quitting because a supervisor is difficult is good preparation for the future. Even driving kids to school instead of dealing with the school bus ride experience can be a way of “buffering” life too much for them.

Kids in my office arrive with too long a list of all the jobs they won’t do, or hours they won’t work. It is very rare to have a kid look at their own responsibility in bad grades. The easy course is to blame the teacher instead of recognizing all the homework that didn’t get turned in. Blame is the easy answer. When asked what they can do differently to problem solve their situation, I get blank looks.

Even playing Mario Kart around the world on Wii, people cheat and take the fun out of it. Cheating is ordinary and it’s all about taking the easy way out. Growing up is taking responsibility combined with a willingness to look at yourself and do the work required. Which is it going to be; winning through skill or cheat codes googled on the internet? Practicing choices helps kids to learn how to build character.

I believe that kids not facing consequences, not dealing with difficulties in an honest way, things that used to be ordinary expectations by parents, contributes to their inability to face growing up and dealing with choices. How about kids apologizing to teachers or peers instead of parents, expecting teachers to apologize. Life is hard, and kids aren’t ready for it. That’s a problem in parenting. Reality matters. Reality teaches kids about growing up, so stop interfering with it.


4 thoughts on “Too Many Parents Help Teens Dodge Reality

  1. LINDA says:

    I love your blog. Reminds me of important stuff. Love your style. You make a real contribution to the world, Rhoda. My daughter is now reading your words!

    Thanks a gazillion…

  2. Jayne says:

    Well said,I agree. Having been in a parenting situation that required me to parent on a “shoestring” I have found that the best policy was(and still is) to always be honest about your limitations, especially the material ones. However, I was brought up in 1950’s Britain, before my parents emigrated to the South Pacific. Parenting styles were harsh compaired with today and parents were encouraged to treat children with much more “disposability” and received less consideration for their roles as parents than they are now.Short sharp parenting principles with very little autonomy for children (and parents) and corporal punishment (even in schools)were the norm.However,I learnt, after my own parenting experience,at a period where parenting was undergoing it’s various mini revolutions, that there is a huge difference in outcomes that I put down to how parenting “tools” are used,in any situation. I had very little social authority as a parent and was often faced with situations of social bullying and behaviour that challenged my authority as a parent.I took a “team” approach. Many of my peers experienced a either controlling,with indulgent or abusive approach which, when things “broke down” resulted in parents abandoning their teen offspring. Sometimes this was done at an arbitary age say at age 16 in “poor” families or 21 in “less poor” families. I therefore have a abhorrance for the “arbitory abandonment” model which was prevelant in many households, both authoritarian and indulgent. This often resulted in a worse outcome for the person in adult life, and they were more likely to be a less responsible adult, and more abusive parent. Alongside lessons in responsibility it should be recognised that as a parent we must be prepared to , where possible, walk alongside our children with each decision THEY make,and choose to share with us and be honest about our personal capability.This means maintaining contact with them in negative as well as to be there to encourage them and enjoy the positive things in life. (We have email now so this can be done alsmost whereever they end up). I feel often that I am privilaged when my adult children (boys in their 20’s) surprise me with a night out, a prepared dinner or ring me up for personal advice,or ask for help. This is because a good proportion of my peers don’t have this relationship with their adult chidren, and it is a source of continual regret for them in their middle age. The big lesson in this was for me, realisation that parents of any economic means have the capability to parent in almost any situation if you treat your children as PEOPLE and INDIVIDUALS, not as “Minimes”!

  3. rhodasommer says:

    I especially appreciate two of your points #1. Parenting was different in the 50’s
    #2. Kids as individuals. I think we went from the punative, rigid 50’s to the anything goes now & the secret is in between these two polarities. Thanks for your thoughts! Rhoda

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