We have two high school aged boys, one is a senior and the other a freshman. Our senior is almost 18 and has almost completed his transition to adulthood and the freshman is just beginning. This whole raising adults thing is tough, much more than I expected. As I have struggled in my own parenting of my boys, I have looked around at other kids in my sons generation and noticed an alarming trend of stuckness. It seems like many older teens these days are getting to high school graduation and then they freeze and have no idea what to do, they seem like deer stuck in headlights. This seems to be a new thing, I don’t remember it being a problem when I was there age. So, the question is why and how do we fix it? (Disclaimer: it’s about to get real over here. I’m going to tell you my experiences good and bad, hopefully my kids don’t kill me. And I’m going to give suggestions from my observations, which may not be comfortable to hear. If I step on toes, I apologize, but I think we need some self reflection here as parents, so be open minded.)
This past year has been a rough one, for everyone really, but specifically I have learned, and am continuing to learn, a lot about myself as a parent and how to be better. As my oldest son was growing up, I saw him a certain way based on his likes and dislikes and behavior. I pegged him as serious, particular and studious. He was very smart and seemed to do well in math. So, I had a assumed path for his life. It’s not that I was trying to put him a box on purpose but unknowingly I did. I suggested careers during high school that dealt with math, like accounting, or science, like medicine. I was trying hard to help him find his path, but I was failing at it. Last summer he was stuck in a big way. His mental health was suffering and physically he had some issues as well. I didn’t understand where I went wrong. Turns out it was my perspective. I was still seeing him as the 8 year old who did well in math and liked things just so, but he had changed with my realizing it. He had grown up and he was now beginning to show who he really was as he sought to come out from under our influence as parents. It’s a completely normal process for teens to go through. They must assert themselves as people and become their own person. That person often times looks different than they were as children. As a parent trying to survive our own life crisis that I won’t get into right now, I missed the change. I also think I may have missed it even without the external stress because parents are often too close to see their kids grow. This is where trusted friends and family can be so helpful in a teens life. They are far enough away from the situation to see the teen for who he or she really is in a way a parent cannot. Thankfully in our situation some friends, family, counselors and youth ministers came around us and supported us as we sought to better understand this teenager we had. Turns out my son, who I thought loved math, science and order, really has a passion for art and music. It is still something we are navigating as we are seeking to better understand and support him for who he is becoming and not who WE thought he was.
So, why are kids stuck? Two things that come to mind as I have looked around and tried to understand this issue better:
- Social media is so immersive and our kids are terrified to make any kind of wrong moves because the whole world is watching, so to speak. So, they just sit down and do nothing. That’s not something my generation had to deal with growing up and it’s a heavy weight on this one. Mental health is skyrocketing, it’s certainly tied to this pandemic, but also social media has allowed bullying and people just saying whatever they think and speaking into our kids lives all the time good or bad. Our kids feel scrutinized all the time, so we as parents have to be careful not to add to that.
- We are majorly overparenting. As a reaction to all this and probably other factors in our own pasts, we are trying so hard to shelter our kids, in a good way, to protect them and help them find their way that we are paralyzing them. We are controlling every little aspect of their lives and not allowing them to fail and learn they will be okay if they do. I am talking to myself here as well for sure. I have controlling tendencies and want to keep my kids from harm. Honestly, after you lose a child you tend to struggle all the more with these things. I fear their harm as much as any parent, but I have to fight against that and allow them to make their own choices and respect those choices. Our goal as parents has to be to launch our kids into the world with the tools they need to be successful, but they can never gain those tools unless we allow them to practice using them at home. They have to be allowed to make their own choices about even the smallest things and then the larger ones. I’ll give you an example with my kids. We have chosen for our kids to not have a curfew. We ask them to let us know generally when they will be home and to make good choices about what they are doing. If they want to go out with friends and they change locations then I expect them to make good choices and safety but I have stopped requiring that they tell me every place they go. Obviously, if they did something that was unsafe or made poor choices then we might have to revisit that, but particularly with my 17 year old, he is almost an adult and I really have very little say about what he does. If he chooses to make a bad choice such as going to a party where drugs are being used and uses those drugs and then gets arrested, he would have to deal with his own consequences of then being in jail. It doesn’t even require my parenting adjustment. It’s a mental shift for sure, but it starts with allowing them to choose small things like bedtimes or how often they shower, so if my teens smell, just know I’m allowing them the freedom to choose that. lol Honestly, overparenting wears you out as a parent, so give yourself a break and find a hobby to immerse yourself in and give your kids some freedom to make choices.
One thing I have realized is that I must untangle my own self worth from my kids successes and failures. I can’t make their choices for them so whether they make good choices or bad ones that’s not up to me. I can neither claim the credit or the failure for that. As a mom this is so easy to do. Society makes me think that my kids success or failure is a direct reflection on me. Is my kids throwing a tantrum in the store? I’m a bad parent. Did my child make the A honor roll? I’m a good parent. Did my kid get a scholarship to Harvard and become a successful doctor? Good parent. Is my child in prison? bad parent. In reality it’s not that black and white there are many things we as parent cannot control. I can’t control my three year old and his emotions and really he has to have tantrums to express his displeasure until he learns that doesn’t accomplish what he wants. All these things good or bad are the choice of my child and not my own. I have realized that I put too much stock in apparent success or failure of my child to find my self worth. I ‘m working to change that. First by acknowledge it and then by living my own life apart from my kids. It’s one of the reasons I am choosing to pursue a degree in counseling. Now, I absolutely don’t think you need to pursue a career outside the home as a mom in order to live your own life. The point is that you should pursue your own interests and find your self worth in yourself and not those around you. It’s about knowing the boundary where my kids stop and I begin. This helps your child become his own person and you be yours. If your child feels the weight of your self esteem riding on their success or failure they will have an unfair weight of expectation on them.
We certainly don’t have this all figured out, but we are growing. As a parent you have to be willing to acknowledge when you haven’t quite hit the mark and then ask for forgiveness and take different path. How can we expect our kids to acknowledge shortcomings and find a new path if we refuse to. Let’s focus on raising adults and not raising children.