A journalist asks, “What is the biggest challenge facing today’s children?”
“The real world,” I said.
For the last 50 years or so, good parenting has been defined as protecting one’s children from frustration, defeat, difficulty, stress, loss, deprivation, negative consequences, mistake, and just about every other real-world experience. The result of this coddling has been a dramatic increase in child and teen mental health problems, chief among them anxiety and depression.
We know that the key to good mental health is something called emotional resilience, which is simply the ability to cope successfully with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. As Shakespeare inferred, those setbacks and bruises are inevitable. Coping with them is learned behavior, and the earlier it is learned, the better.
I am a member of the last generation of American children whose parents had no problem standing by and watching as we were pommeled with consequences we had brought upon ourselves.
“You made this bed,” went the popular parenting adage of the era, “so you have to lie in it.”
Paradoxically, kids who had to lie in beds they had made grew up and willingly lay in beds their children made. We boomers were told by mental health professionals that our old-fashioned upbringings had left us with psychological wounds, so we resolved to abstain from our parents’ supposed mistakes. Ironically, that very resolve has fueled an exponential increase in children whose parents pay large sums of money for mental health services their children require because their parents took mental health professional advice.
A 15-year-old girl recently told me she was experiencing lots of anxiety, even about little things.
“That’s perfectly normal,” I told her. “Adulthood is right around the corner and adulthood can be scary. Certain things about being an adult still scare me, in fact. Anxiety is not necessarily a bad thing. If you don’t let it take over it is a great motivator.”
She doesn’t need a therapist, a diagnosis, or medication. She just needs a pep talk every now and then, and the pep talker doesn’t need to possess a doctorate in psychology, just a modicum of common sense.
That may, in fact, sum it up: Today’s kids are suffering a lack of common sense in their lives. Common sense is acquired from people who have acquired it. When all is said and done, common sense is more valuable than academic achievement, athletic prowess, or artistic genius. The “common” in common sense refers to a proper perspective on life, which children have a right to gain. Helping them do so is what parenting is all about.
Parents should certainly filter the real world down somewhat, but they should take care lest they filter it completely out.