Recent news stories about the college admissions scandals illustrate how this modern “achievement generation” of parents believe that their child’s life is a trophy for their own mantles, and also reinforce an entitlement mentality that undermines the resilience youth need to develop for a successful adulthood defined by their own passions, talents and accomplishments.
The thought of paying people to take SAT tests for your child and bribing officials in the admissions process and sports leagues with obscene amounts of money to make a place for a child who is not otherwise qualified is clearly a desperate and outrageous thing to do for most folks. And yet these scams do amplify a trend of “over parenting” to fashion a child’s future according to an Ivy League-style resume at any cost, that I have observed and witnessed in our parenting culture over the past 15 years.
When I left a career in technology circa 2004 to focus on parenting and family life lessons in the digital age, I observed and witnessed first-hand the anxiety youth experienced about their future as it was defined solely by their academic performance. One of the first things that happened that fall of 2004 was my son’s middle school classmate, Even, took his own life.
My son came home from school and shared some of the explanations that were circulating at his school about Even’s tragic death. “He left a note that his mom would be disappointed in his grades,” my son explained. “The school counselor told us parents need to stop pressuring kids about grades.” While I did not know if this is what the counselors said, it certainly was the story the kids had in their minds about making sense of Evan’s death.
So I explained to my son that the reason a person takes his or her own life is not because of grades, or a break up, or money, or any one particular issue. The reason a person takes their own life is that they cannot see or understand that the current problem causing them horrific pain is temporary. It is the hopeless belief that things will never get better that leads a person to die by suicide. The main point I made to my son was this: “Do you really believe that Evan’s mom cared more about his grades than she did about his life?” And while there was no audible response, I know the answer for both of us was “of course not.”
In this hyper-intense culture of “performance and fame” and pursuit of a path to college at all costs below are the some of the insights youth have shared with me over the years about how they perceive parents:
- My parents only care about my grades.
- School is stressful and the best way to release stress is to use drugs and alcohol. “We work hard and party hard” was one of the comments from a student.
- There is so much pressure to do well in school, at times it does not feel survivable.
- Parents are okay with underage drinking as long as we don’t drive.
- Marijuana is safe. My parents used it when they were my age.
- Prescription pain killers are safe because doctors prescribe them.
- Kids who are not strong in academics admit giving up and they have no real path.
My heart still aches for Evan’s mother that anyone would repeat this thought that she said or did anything to cause her son’s death. The truth is that no parent can know what their child is thinking about and planning to do unless they choose to tell you about it. It doesn’t matter how much income a parent makes or what school they go to…this is the reality of parenthood today. Our children are living with adult issues amplified in their online peer communities inspiring high anxiety. And the parents are anxious and insecure as well about their child’s security and future. It is a cocktail of emotion that can lead to extreme mental health and behavioral health issues. Substance abuse and addiction are at the top of the list as vaping has become a major trend in youth culture.
See related on vaping: How to know what’s trending in your own child’s heart and mind
Guidance for parents
- Get interested in who your child is and what interests them. What brings them joy and breaks their heart? Listen to them.
- Be present and accessible without an agenda. Give your child permission to interrupt you (a sign, like a peace sign). And then give them your undivided attention. Your child mostly receives divided attention. So your un
- Accept that your child is the expert on their childhood and teen years. Your youth experiences are not relevant to them until you have heard and acknowledged their stories.
- Congratulate your child on their accomplishments and let them know you are proud of the person they are (i.e., trustworthy, honest, fair, hard working, etc.). Your child already feels pressure to perform…even a child who is “under performing” is more than likely feeling pressure to perform. So you, the parent, do not need to pile your own anxieties on top of theirs.
- Lock up your medications. It sends a signal to your children that pain killers are to be taken with medical supervision. And it literally saves lives by preventing unauthorized use by teens and tots. Many folks do not realize that toddlers can have a life threatening episode by consuming over the counter medications.
If you suspect your teen is using drugs and alcohol, get educated with your teen. See drug counseling at Recovery Happens and learn more about having conversations about stress and addiction at Raising Placer.
To learn how to regulate the use of technology and foster real connections with your teen, go to: Fresh Start or contact Joanna to make an appointment
About: We are a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. Our mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device.
Peace on earth begins with peace at home.
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Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and consultant on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber-powered world. She is a former technology executive trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, a mother of two grown sons, and an author of books for practical guidance on parenting, growing up and family life in the network culture. As a family and technology culture advisor, Joanna has appeared on 103.9FM The Fish, 710AM Keeping Faith in America, 1380AM The Answer, and Examiner.com.
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