Has modern childhood become a pressure cooker?
What kind of childhood is ideal for children?
Naturally, we want our kids to be happy and healthy. We want them to have the values we hold dear. We hope that they will turn into resilient and successful adults. But what nurtures these outcomes? How do we form the soil that grows these sturdy individuals? It’s so difficult to know how today’s parental decisions will impact our youngsters 20 years in the future.
Reflect back on your own youth. What do you remember? What do you think influenced your life in a positive way? What was unhealthy? I rarely hear adults talk about all the toys they had as children, the big house they lived in, or the nice car their parents drove. They don’t talk about the grades they earned in high school or their batting average in Little League. They rarely talk about the destinations they visited on vacations.
We do recall the atmosphere of love or tension in our homes, how our parents got along, relationships with siblings and friends, adventures, and major life changes. We remember our parents showing up or not showing up. We recall our connection with our parents—who they were and how they were.
We are also profoundly impacted by the times that we were raised in. My parents grew up during the depression and were young adults during World War II. They were strongly influenced by the social, political, and economic events of the day. I was shaped by the social and political upheaval of the 1960’s. My children grew up in the 1980’s and 1990’s, which was a time of economic narrowing. While the atmosphere of our time has a huge impact on our experience, as parents we have no control over these factors.
But, despite today’s parent’s thoughtful and intentional childrearing (as opposed to my parent’s generation who didn’t think about it much at all), many kids are struggling. An anonymous survey among High School students in a Silicon Valley community found that of 2,100 students, 54% showed moderate to severe symptoms of depression. Eighty percent described moderate to severe anxiety! An American Psychological Association study found that one-third of teenagers felt that “stress” was negatively impacting their mood. Other studies found that kids are getting two hours less sleep than is recommended. There has been an explosion of young children in their Primary Care Providers offices with headaches, stomach problems, and insomnia—all conditions that are stress related.
In my office, I see a parade of children who are worried. Will I make the track team? Will I get good grades? What if I get a bad grade on a test? What if I don’t get good enough grades? What kind of future will I have? They have absorbed a sense that adult life is extremely competitive—only the top few will be successful.
At the same time, employers are concerned that young workers lack critical thinking skills, creative capacity, and the ability to think “outside of the box”—all elements of business in the 21st century.
So what can parents do?
- Slow it down. More is not better. Give kids a chance to be kids, to play, to explore, to invent, and to create. Be thoughtful about how much is on your family’s plate! Today’s parents need to pare activities down, not add events to their day and week. We need to have more time to connect with each other while we sitting still rather than in motion.
- Focus on what’s important. Despite popular thought, high grades in High School don’t actually correlate with success in life. Think about the skills that adults need—creative thinking, integrity, flexibility, problem solving, grit, and resilience. What experiences nurture those capacities?
- Be on the lookout for overstressed kiddos. If your children are showing signs of worry and anxiety, think about whether your expectations are realistic.
- Be the adult that you want your children to become.