Why Teens Are Struggling And How to Help

Last year on Mother’s Day, we had a full house with my three daughters, my son-in-law, and two dogs.  This year, they are all scattered living their lives.  I started the day quietly reading the NY Times and came across an article Teenagers are Struggling and It’s Not Just LockdownIt reminded me how difficult it is to be the parent of a teenager.  And especially right now with the added burden of Covid.  Parents constantly wonder:

Am I doing enough?  Am I doing too much?  What if I miss something and my child suffers?  If I don’t push him, will he ever get into college? Things were so much easier when I was a teenager! I always worked hard: why is she so unmotivated? 

Emily Esfahani Smith’s article points out that teens are struggling more than usual given the dual pressure of being outside of their typical social settings for so long coupled with the pressure they perceive from their parents to excel even in the face of the pandemic.  Smith’s study finds that teens from achievement-oriented cultures are struggling differently than teens who are poor or have faced trauma: What’s driving their misery, the research shows, is the pressure to excel in multiple academic and extracurricular pursuits.

At first, the pandemic provided a reprieve from work and many teens found it actually less stressful. But as we ramp back up, the pressure to succeed also mounts.  And like so many of us, the motivation to continue working hard is challenging to muster.  

When my kids were teens, I often confused lack of engagement, angry outbursts (usually aimed at me), or lack of communication as something I was doing wrong as a mom.  But I came to understand that those behaviors are normal, and the more I pushed or gave suggestions, the less I helped.  They needed me to listen and validate their feelings.  They needed to find an outside person whether it be a therapist, a friend, partner, or other adult to make sense of their feelings and provide them tools to manage them.  They needed me to be there no matter what when they lashed out. (And I can tell you that was not always easy!)  

I often failed to give them what they needed, and as young adults, they told me exactly what I did wrong!  But lately, they also told me what I did right.  

Nobody is perfect, and we all need to remember this.  Parents can help their kids by recognizing when the pressure is getting too intense and providing them (and yourselves) an outlet to vent or permission to go a different direction.  Here is a link to the full article with more suggestions

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