Raising Resilience: Why Our Kids Are Less Resilient Than Ever (Part 1)
If you've just picked up on this series, you'll want to go back and read the intro, Raising Resilience: How to Help Our Kids Become Adults Who Can Cope.
What's happening in our parenting styles today that is getting in the way of our kids' ability to develop lifelong fortitude? Why are kids becoming adults who struggle to cope with emotional and personal challenges? Depression, anxiety, and alcohol and drug abuse and addiction are all on the rise in young adults today. Agh! It's a scary thought. So let's find out why.
For starters, please don't read this post and freak out. We have enough guilt and responsibility as parents, and we're all trying to do the best we can every single day. This list is meant to raise your awareness about the trends in parenting and the effects its having on kids' ability to become emotionally thriving, resilient adults. It's based on research and anecdotal evidence from top clinicians and thought leaders in the field. There's a lot I could share with you on this subject but for the sake of brevity here are the highlights:
What's going on?
1. Adults are interfering. Examples of this include play, which is less free than its ever been (for many reasons). We schedule playdates, hover inches away, follow our child around the playground, and narrate their activity in a one-sided running dialogue. All of this is impacting our kids' ability to self-direct their interests. During free play, kids also hone early problem solving sills. Without close parental oversight, kids learn to trust themselves, guide their own activity,
Adults are also stepping in to shield our kids from normal social and emotional hurts, like a shove from another kid or the exchange of mean words. While these behaviors are not okay, they are a part of the normal passage of childhood and contribute to our kids developing social and emotional fortitude.
2. We're protecting our kids from experiencing the full scope (think of it like a bell curve) of negative emotions - from the start of it, to the peak of it, and then finding their way back down again via self soothing and problems solving. Frustration. anger, sadness, disappointment... What's your kid's most challenging emotion? What's the one you find yourself most often stepping in to stop? Note this for yourself and we're going to come back to it later.
3. We're using green time to combat our kid's negative feelings or experiences. When our kids are super bored or tantruming, we redirect and numb with the screen. What the research shows clearly is that kids who are more difficult spend more time in front of the screen. This is messing with our kid's frequency and depth of play, as well as their ability to identify problems and solve them for themselves. It's also causing later personal and peer-related social and emotional problems and delays.
All of this is leading to a crisis of resilience, and a rise in other issues, which we'll dive into now:
How is this impacting our young kids?
1. Their tolerance is lower (we're soothing for them and solving their problems for them.
2. Their expectation that they will always get what they need and want from us and from the world starts early (so it's harder to break this later).
3. Our kids are losing out on the chance to connect their difficult experiences with the accurate emotions they're feeling as a result; their emotional vocabulary is limited and their ability to work through emotions is therefore lower. When kids develop a rich emotional vocabulary it helps them not only identify their feelings, but also begin to process the "why" behind their feelings.
4. All of this is leading our young kids to have shaky trust in their own ability to meet their own needs (self-agency).
How is this impacting our young adults? This is where I see it most day to day in my practice, since I work with young adults and adults to trace current problems back to their origin.
1. Our young adults are struggling to identify and maintain their own sense of purpose, meaning and direction (they feel lost).
2. They're struggling to make sense of their own difficulties. For example, they can't figure out WHY they feel how they feel, and since their emotional education hasn't been as rich as it could be, we have to work on improving their own ability to identify what it is they're feeling.
3. Depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse and addiction are on the rise. Our kids are hurting later, just as they were early on when we stepped in to make it better. But later, we're not around anymore, and suddenly there is a void they do not know how to fill themselves.
4. Adulthood is being pushed off to later and later, and young adults remain dependent on mom and dad longer than ever.
5. Their unrealistic expectations for how things should go (see #2 above) is leading them to struggle to put in the necessary effort and find happiness in work, love, personally, and financially.
The next post in this series will guide you through self-reflection exercises to help you relate to this material for yourself, and connect to it in a way that feels more tangible for your own life. Stay tuned!
Lauren L. Drago, MSEd, LMHC, LPC is the founder of Lauren Drago Therapy in Old Saybrook, CT and in greater CT, NY & PA. She specializes in working with smart, insightful and capable women to overcome stress, anxiety, loss of identity, self-limiting beliefs, perfectionism, marriage strain, and the pressure of "trying to do it all." Lauren has a passion for helping others to achieve the happy, fulfilling, productive, and meaningful life they deserve by changing how they experience and understand their world. She believes that every woman can and should live out her personal definition of her own best life. Follow Lauren on Facebook, and call (860) 339-6515 to schedule your free initial consultation.