Some young people are overachieving perfectionists with a crippling fear of failure. Others worry so much about what their peers think of them that they’re unable to function.
Some have endured rough circumstances throughout their young lives. But others have stable families, supportive parents, and plenty of resources.
I suspect the rise in anxiety reflects several societal changes and cultural shifts we’ve seen over the past couple of decades. Here are a few reasons why parents may be the cause of their kid’s anxiety.
1. Electronics offer an unhealthy escape.
Constant access to digital devices lets kids escape uncomfortable emotions like boredom, loneliness, or sadness by immersing themselves in games when they are in the car or by chatting on social media when they are sent to their rooms.
And now we’re seeing what happens when an entire generation has spent their childhoods avoiding discomfort. Their electronics replaced opportunities to develop mental strength, and they didn’t gain the coping skills they need to handle everyday challenges.
2. Happiness is all the rage.
Happiness is emphasized so much in our culture that some parents think it’s their job to make their kids happy all the time. When a child is sad, his parents cheer him up. Or when she’s angry, they calm her down.
Kids grow up believing that if they don’t feel happy around the clock, something must be wrong. That creates a lot of inner turmoil. They don’t understand that it’s normal and healthy to feel sad, frustrated, guilty, disappointed, and angry sometimes, too.
3. Parents are giving unrealistic praise.
Saying things like, “You’re the fastest runner on the team,” or “You’re the smartest kid in your grade,” doesn’t build self-esteem. Instead, it puts pressure on kids to live up to those labels. That can lead to crippling fear of failure or rejection.
4. Parents are getting caught up in the rat race.
Many parents have become like personal assistants to their teenagers. They work hard to ensure their teens can compete: They hire tutors and private sports coaches and pay for expensive SAT prep courses. They make it their job to help their teens build transcripts that will impress a top school. And they send the message that their teen must excel at everything in order to land a coveted spot at such a college.
5. Parents are parenting out of guilt and fear.
Parenting stirs up uncomfortable emotions, like guilt and fear. But rather than let themselves feel those emotions, many parents are changing their parenting habits. So they don’t let their kids out of their sight because it stirs up their anxiety, or they feel so guilty saying no to their kids that they back down and give in. Consequently, they teach their kids that uncomfortable emotions are intolerable.
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