I talk about teen suicide a lot, our modern and fairly quiet epidemic. I don’t believe that we hear enough about this issue; it needs more attention than it gets. Unfortunately, most people seem generally apathetic about the issue until it has an impact on them personally. My professional efforts are focused heavily on teen suicide and the overall mental health of our youth. When I sat down to write this in late October of 2018, I started to reflect where I feel like we are compared to one year ago. How are we doing? How are our kids doing? What is the mental health situation looking like? Are we doing better or are we doing worse? I can honestly say, that in my professional opinion, without a shred of doubt that we are far worse than we were a year ago. I hate to say it, but I believe that we will continue to see our kids take their own lives at alarming rates. I think we are going to continue to see more rebellious and destructive behaviors from our kids. I think we’re going to see more depression, more anxiety and more suicide. As long as my personal profession focuses on teens, I’m going to keep talking about. At the risk of losing some popularity, the responsibility has to fall onto parents. Not only for the pervasive issues but for the solutions. The parents are the key. I’ve been observing a lot of parenting trends that are troubling, to say the least, and they are only getting worse. There are parenting practices that are clearly contributing in a negative way and they really need to change. Here are my top 5:
Mixed up priorities – As I’ve already stated, parents need to choose their battles but I am often baffled at their priorities. Recently I found myself scrambling to make sure that a kid didn’t attempt suicide but when I talked to the kids family, they were concerned about his grades and the future of his schooling. I was speechless. How did school and grades become more important than a life? After nearly twenty years of working with teens I believe that parents should have one priority as their highest priority. There is one thing that should take priority over everything else. The relationship between parent and child. Recently, a parent told me that they were okay with having a bad relationship with their teen as long as their teen was making good choices. But the teen wasn’t making good choices and the parents efforts to get them to make good choices, punishing, wasn’t working. They had neither good choices or a good relationship and I made the argument that this kiddo made bad choices because they had a bad relationship with their parents. When you have a good relationship with your teen, they are more likely to be trustworthy and make good choices. They are more likely to be motivated to do well in school. They are more likely to be honest and tell the truth. They are more likely to come to you with problems instead of hiding them from you. Make your relationship with them the highest priority and all your other battles will be so much easier after that.
- Unrealistic expectations – One thing that I hear parents say a lot is that they have “high expectations” and “high standards.” In their minds, it justifies their dissatisfaction with bad grades, rule breaking, not putting effort into things like sports and so on but their high expectations give no allowance for any level of problems, mistakes, failures or setbacks. I find that these parents have no tolerance for setbacks. Their kids aren’t allowed to be kids. They aren’t allowed to fall into the normal pitfalls of life. Teens are naturally going to be curious about drugs, pornography, alcohol, shoplifting and the like. They are going to break your rules, they are going to go to the places you told them not to go and they are going to lie to you. Some parents that I talk to are absolutely beside themselves because their teen lied to them and while I don’t condone this behavior, I also know that it’s a normal everyday occurrence. We lied to our parents when we were kids, most of us still do this as adults. Dogs chase cars and kids lie to their parents. It’s just not realistic to expect a lot of things that they are expecting. Parents expect perfection out of perfectly imperfect kids. Perfectionism is toxic. Period. Parents can, instead, choose to have more realistic expectations. They can also choose to embrace setbacks and failures as prime teaching and learning opportunities. Parents can also choose to love the imperfections because it’s what makes their kids unique and interesting. Kids are going to make these mistakes, we can’t put them down because they are exploring life and learning about it. We made mistakes as kids, we still make mistakes. We absolutely must tolerate their mistakes and bad choices because there is no way around it.
- Punishing, restricting and confiscating – Parents these days have one tool in the toolbox and that is punishing. Parents have become so punitive. Kids naturally make mistakes and bad decisions because that’s what they do. Parents respond by restricting, punishing and taking things away and then they wonder why their kids lie to them. Of course kids lie to parents, they don’t want to be punished. They want to keep their phone and go out with their friends. But again, this has become the only tool in the toolbox and it’s frankly over used. Not only do parents need to learn more tools and more effective ones, they need to learn to just let some things go. I tell them to choose their battles. Parents that fight all the battles using only punitive measures are the parents that are more likely to have struggling kids. This is not an effective way to solve problems and issues. The kids resent their parents and the people that they need the most in life become the people that they refuse to turn to.
- Focusing only on the negative – Let’s say, for example, that a teen is getting a bad grade in one of their classes like a C or, heaven forbid, an F. Many of us had F’s in school for various reasons. We hated the class, we struggled to understand the material, we got bad grades on our homework or did poorly on the tests despite our best efforts. All of this is normal and part of being a person but it has become seemingly unacceptable for our kids to face these same challenges. But again, let’s say they have an F when all the other grades are a B or higher. What do the kids hear about? Do they hear about the great test score? Do they hear about the A in chemistry? No, they only hear about the one bad grade. If they were on time to four classes but late for one, what do they hear about? The class they were late for. I constantly see parents getting after their kids, they only focus on the negative. Again, this comes back to parents expecting perfection. What they don’t realize is that when they pay a lot of attention to the negative, they are feeding that behavior. If you want to see a lot more negative behaviors then focus only on the negative behaviors. You can create some rules and consequences for breaking those rules and when it happens, enforce the consequence and move on. Let it go and focus on the positive. This formula makes such a massive difference for kids but so many parents are determined to be focused on their unrealistic expectations being broken, they can’t seem to let it go. Before I move on, I want you to ask yourself one question, if other people talked to your kids the way you do, would that make you uncomfortable or even angry? If the answer is yes then I hope that teaches you something.
- Tracking every move – Kids hate being tracked by their parents. They hate it. It causes them to resent their parents and become frustrated with them. I encounter parents that track their kids everywhere they go. They want to know exactly where they are going, how long they are going to be there, exactly what they are doing during that time, who they are going to be with, how they are getting there, when they are going to be home, etc etc etc. If this isn’t helicopter parenting, I don’t know what is. Research continues to show that helicopter parenting is extremely bad. Nothing good comes from it. When parents track their kids, it sends the message to kids that they aren’t trustworthy. When we treat kids like they aren’t trustworthy, that is exactly how they will act but this is more of focusing on only the negative. I remember once when I was a teen, some friends were going to a party and I knew there were going to be drugs at the party. The kids at this party weren’t good kids, they made bad choices, they were troubled in a lot of ways. I could have gone to that party, my parents wouldn’t have had any idea. But my parents trusted me to make good decisions and they treated me like I was a good person that did good things. As a result, I opted out of the party. My friends went to the party and I told them I was “going to bail.” I don’t know what happened at the party, I didn’t ask. My parents were proud of me for making a good choice and that helped me feel close to them. I don’t know how it became an acceptable parenting trend for parents to track every move. Kids want to explore and experience. It’s how they learn and grow. We were the same way when were that young, we wanted to explore and experience. How did it become acceptable to treat our kids like they want to go and find harm and danger? They don’t want that but they also don’t understand things if they don’t experience them and we need to let them. Parents need to choose trust and they need to accept that kids are still going to find harm and they are going to want to run home to loving parents but that doesn’t happen when parents are constantly hovering.
- Mixed up priorities – As I’ve already stated, parents need to choose their battles but I am often baffled at their priorities. Recently I found myself scrambling to make sure that a kid didn’t attempt suicide but when I talked to the kids family, they were concerned about his grades and the future of his schooling. I was speechless. How did school and grades become more important than a life? After nearly twenty years of working with teens I believe that parents should have one priority as their highest priority. There is one thing that should take priority over everything else. The relationship between parent and child. Recently, a parent told me that they were okay with having a bad relationship with their teen as long as their teen was making good choices. But the teen wasn’t making good choices and the parents efforts to get them to make good choices, punishing, wasn’t working. They had neither good choices or a good relationship and I made the argument that this kiddo made bad choices because they had a bad relationship with their parents. When you have a good relationship with your teen, they are more likely to be trustworthy and make good choices. They are more likely to be motivated to do well in school. They are more likely to be honest and tell the truth. They are more likely to come to you with problems instead of hiding them from you. Make your relationship with them the highest priority and all your other battles will be so much easier after that.
So how do you have a good relationship with your kids? Have realistic expectations, let them make mistakes. Teach them instead of always punishing them. Focus on the positives about them and what they do. Let things go. Choose your battles. Choose to trust them. Care more about them then you care about school and grades.
I teach parents a lot of tools. I help them problem solve, improve their communication, be involved appropriately and create mutual respect. I care about our kids, I can’t fight teen suicide on my own. I need parents to do their part. If you need help with your family, give me a call and we’ll see if we can something set up but be warned about my therapy practices, parents are always required to put in just as much, if not more, work than their kids.
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