Even in Seemingly Good Times, Our Kids Struggle

Recently I worked with a family that was by all measures successful and yet their kids were struggling.  They lived in a great area, had plenty of resources and the kids enjoyed more activities and opportunities than their parents had.

Given this reality it was hard for the parents to understand why both their kids struggled in significant ways.  One struggled with depression and anxiety, while the other had motivation issues with school and a significant anger issue.

This amazing couple could not understand why their kids would not or could not be grateful for their situation, take advantage of the opportunities and move forward confidently.  After all, to them, their kids were treated better than they were when they were kids and they had so much more to be appreciative of.

Today I encounter many parents who find it difficult to understand why their kids are struggling. They feel that:

  1. Their homes are better than the ones they grew up in.
  2. Their kids have more experiences and activities than they did.
  3. Their kids have more opportunities if they would just take advantage of them.
  4. Their kids are generally better off than they were when they grew up.

Given my time with suffering families, I find that this leads to an understanding gap that results in a growing disconnect between parents and their kids. In this post I will seek to bridge this gap.

One thing is clear, recent generations are more sensitive than their predecessors. Many sources point to the amount of hurt recent generations carry with them.  Books like “When Life Hurts” and articles like “No Feelings: Why This Generation Has So Much Trouble Being Vulnerable” highlight the increased hurt young people carry today.  There is no clearer evidence other than the increase in alcohol, drug and prescription drug use seen among 12 to 25-year olds in recent years.

Today our kids are more impacted by their families, friends and the plight of others than previous generations. Given my qualitative research and work with thousands of kids aged 10 to 23, I see three things leading to the increased sensitivity and hurt resulting in kids struggles today.

  1. Increased fear of negative outcomes.
  2. Delayed adolescence.
  3. The mindset changes.

Increased fear of negative outcomes

Given media highlighting incidents with kids, social media, sex trafficking, and all the other things our kids can get into it is only natural that the fear of what can happen to our kids would increase. This increase in fear has impacted the way we approach our kids.  Logically many parents now see protecting their kids as one of their top two priorities where this was not the case if we were to turn back the clock.

Given this we keep our kids busy in organized activities, monitor their location more closely and seek to make more and more decisions for them to keep them safe. While this feels safer my discussions with kids highlight the effect these things have had upon them.

“My parents think I am stupid.”

This feeling stems from their parent’s lack of belief that they can and will make good decisions and can look out for themselves.  Parents often forecast that their kids will make the same mistakes they made making it hard to believe in their kids. As parents we need to consider the mistakes we made in the light of the nature of our relationship with our parents and their approach.  Did it work or did their approach push us away and towards those mistakes that we made?

“My parents do not trust me.”

To this parent say, “I trust you. I just don’t trust the people around you.” Kids tell me this communicates to them is that their parents believe they want to do the wrong things and cannot look out for themselves, leaving them feeling less trusted.  Given that trust is the bedrock of any relationship and the foundation of love itself, when our kids do not feel trusted, they do not feel loved and are hurt, driving an emotional wedge between parents and their kids.

“My parents treat me like a little child.”

Today one of the top issue’s university presidents discuss among themselves is helicopter parenting, which likely explains this common statement from teens.  Our desire to protect causes us to make more decisions for our kids, leaving them feeling like they are being treated like they are younger than they are given their parents’ approach.

“It’s Not Working.”

The changes in the way we view, and approach adolescents have virtually stripped the independence and real responsibility kids once had in our country.  The independence I had in a suburb of Chicago when I grew up would terrify many parents today. In spite of this independence my sister and I made no major mistakes because of the relationship we had with our parents and their approach.

I recommend you read The Redefinition of Childhood to further understand how the changing view of kids has changed our approach with our kids. I believe that the redefinition of childhood, lack of independence, and desire to protect our kids are causing the second factor.

Delayed Adolescence

Today delayed adolescence is a common topic. Young people seem unable or unwilling to take on responsibility until their mid-twenties.  My 19-year-old daughter Jennifer has been managing everything about her life since she was 15. Now in college she is shocked by friends in college that are making poor life decisions that adversely impact their success in school and more so by her 23-year-old friends who are fearful of trips without their parents.  Some even still seek permission to buy a sweater from their parents. In fact, they send pictures of themselves wearing the sweater in the store to their parents before they can buy their clothes.

When we consider the responsibilities “kids” once had in our country, it is hard to conclude that today’s approach is serving our kids well.  In fact, in 1943 during World War II we had 22-year-old Lieutenant Colonels in charge of entire squadrons of Thunderbolt fighter bombers. To reach this rank they had real responsibility for a number of years and would have flown over 200 combat missions.

When we consider that George Washington was just 13 when he went to survey the wilderness by himself, we have to ask ourselves a vital question, has the brain regressed since the founding of our country or has our changed approach resulted in delayed adolescence?

I believe our fear is unintentionally being transmitted to our kids and it is holding them back.  They venture out less, learn less and their brains are not developing as quickly as they did in the past. These realities contribute significantly to the third factor that explains the increased sensitivity, hurt and the resulting struggles our kid’s encounter today.

The Mindset Change

When you take these things into consideration as a group it’s easy to see why the millennial’s and subsequent generations have a dramatically different mindset than their predecessors.  Where earlier generations valued knowledge, information, truth and achievement the subsequent generations value, authenticity, community, experience and harmony.

These changes in how they evaluate their world actually do make sense.  If you have had no independence, are treated like you are a child who cannot make good decisions, are protected/controlled and are focused on your parents’ expectations then the way you evaluate your world and success must change.

If today’s adolescents used the past generation’s metrics to evaluate themselves, they would have no chance of success.  Why? Because our approach would not give them the independence, responsibility and confidence needed to achieve success like previous generations could.

When a generation adopts a measure of success that is based upon community, authenticity and experience they are evaluating themselves based upon their community or relationships.  This explains why our kids are more sensitive today. They are not evaluating based upon their knowledge, goals and accomplishments but based upon other people who have good and bad days.  This is why our kids are so much more sensitive than we were to our parent’s words, reactions and approach. Given this sensitivity they are more hurt by traditional parenting strategies as those strategies lead to distance in the relationship and their primary community…their family.

This is the reason we see kids from good homes struggling more today.

Kids today have:

  1. more anxiety because we have transmitted our fear to them.
  2. Deal with more depression because they measure success based upon what their community thinks of them.  Given that parents focus on their kids’ behavior and achievement most kids I talk to feel their family is negative about them.  This leads them, given their view of the world, to become very negative about themselves. The natural outflow of such internal negativity is depression.
  3. Negativity makes one frustrated, defensive and reactive, which explains the growth in anger issues and frankly school shootings.
  4. Suicidal thoughts and attempts are on the rise given the increased frustration, depression and sense of hopelessness.

It is the sense of hopelessness that concerns me the most.  In working with adolescents, I am encountering more and more young people who have adopted an “I don’t care” or “why even bother trying?” attitude because they have lost hope.

If you think about it, losing hope makes sense if you evaluate your life and success based upon your community, relationships and authenticity.  Relationships are always changing when kids move through elementary, middle and high school. The only stable relationships are in the home, which is why the nature of our relationship with them and how we approach our kids is so much more important today. They are more sensitive because of what they value and what they value is not knowledge, information and achievement but community/relationship.  If, like in many homes, frustration, distance and conflict increases as our kids get older and hit adolescence, then our kids are more at risk.

This is the reason our kids are more hurt today and can struggle even in what seems to be a much better situation than we had growing up.  Today families need transparent two-way communication and healthy resolution processes to prevent the hurt of relational disconnects from piling up in our more sensitive kids!

This is the reason I invested 15 years in research and testing to develop Influential Parenting Academy, a relational approach to parenting that keeps our kids close, builds confidence and leads to more mature capable kids.

The next steps are up to you.

What guidance is out there to help? Watch our free webinar and consider enrolling in our free Influential Parenting Academy! There’s hope. We can help.

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