(Can you stand another book review?)
I'm finishing up the book, The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating A Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids by Madeline Levine. It's a sobering book, but one that I think parents should really read, even if you think your child is doing fine. It has some real insight into the developmental work that teens are doing and how parents can best support them in this work.
What it really boils down to is that teens want a real relationship with their parents, and not just one based on achievement. They also need to start building their own internal life... to know who they are and to feel they have mastery over different aspects of life. In order to do this, they need to try to do a lot of things without fear of disappointing their parents. Notice I didn't say without fear of failure. This is because our older children (and I would include our younger ones as well) need to try things and not succeed at them. They need to have the experience of picking themselves back up and trying again. As a parent, I can tell you it's painful to stand by and watch, but we do our children no favors when we rescue them too soon or too often. What we can provide is emotional support as they experience these painful lessons.
Here are some quotes from the book to get you interested.
"Kyle, a fifteen-year-old patient of mine [the author's, of course] succinctly clarified my confusion: 'It's so odd that I feel my mom is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.' Being 'everywhere' is about intrusion; being 'nowhere' is about lack of connection. While affluent kids often feel that adults are crawling all over their world, intruding into territory that rightfully belongs to the child and directing their development with something approximating military precision, this does not mean that kids feel connected. Parents can be overinvolved and children can still feel isolated. Controlling and overinvolved parents typically leave kids feeling angry or alienated, neither of which is conducive to emotional closeness. And it is emotional closeness, maternal warmth in particular, that is as close as we get to a silver bullet against psychological impairment."
"Study after study shows that teens want more, not less, time with their parents, yet parents regularly overestimate the amount of time they spend with their teenagers."
"Friends, nannies, housekeepers, au pairs, or older siblings cannot fill the role that a concerned and involved parent occupies. There are certain aspects of family life that pack a lot of 'bang for the buck' for busy families. For example, parents need to remember that kids love rituals and depend on them for a sense of continuity and connection. Perhaps the single most important ritual a family can observe is having dinner together. Families who eat together five or more times a week have kids who are significantly less likely to use tobacco, alcohol, or marijuana, have higher grade-point averages, less depressive symptoms, and fewer suicide attempts than families who eat together two or fewer times a week. Eating together reinforces the idea that family members are interested, available, and concerned about each other. It provides a reliable time and place for kids to share accomplishments, challenges, and worries, to check in with parents and siblings, or simply to feel part of the family."
"Play experiences are among the child's earliest internally driven experiences. Kids play because they are driven to touch, taste, manipulate, explore, and confront their environment. Parental involvement for safety reasons is essential. However, when parents become overly involved, play no longer retains its function as an activity where children develop independence, competence, and a sense of control, and instead becomes another arena in which children become overly dependent. Many of the affluent kids I see in my practice have made it clear that they much prefer organized sports activities to spontaneous play. When asked if they ever go down to the schoolyard for a pick-up game, they look sincerely puzzled, and ask, 'Who would referee?' The very notion that twelve- and thirteen-year olds could rely on themselves to organize and set standards for a simple ball game is foreign to many upper-middle-class kids who have had adults directing their athletic activities for as long as they can remember."
"Dr. David Fassler, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont practices in Burlington. He is insightful and succinct when he says that the affluent kids he treats 'haven't had enough bad things happen to them.' Clearly, Dr. Fassler is not suggesting that we encourage our children to participate in unsafe activities. Rather, his point is 'that in order to learn how to cope with normal frustrations, with ups and downs, we have to first experience them.' Affluent kids are often so protected from even the most minor disappointments and frustrations that they are unable to develop critical coping skills."
That's just a small bit. Get the book and read the rest. Highly recommended.