Recently a colleague sent me this wonderful infographic titled “Mental Health of Affluent Teens; The Challenge of Prosperity” brought to you by Counseling@Northwestern’s Online Masters in Counseling and I was inspired to share it with our community of parents along with my thoughts on HOW we might put into practice the high structure and high warmth parenting practices suggested below and enhance the relationship we have with our tweens and teens.
It should come as no surprise that there are benefits associated with affluence that can have a positive effect on our children when they are young. They include better physical health and the development of stronger language and social skills, which leads to higher academic achievement in elementary school. Then something remarkable happens. Instead of affluence benefiting our kids as they enter the teen years, affluence becomes a liability. It’s fascinating to consider this turn of events and to ponder what changes we can make in our parenting to keep things moving in a positive direction. Here are my thoughts based on the information provided in this deliciously simple and easy to understand graphic.
Too much house for the number of people who reside in it means it’s easier for family members to “hide” from each other. In the adolescent world this means disconnecting from your family is as simple as entering your bedroom and shutting the door.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is the increase in pressure we put on our teens to “perform”. High, unreasonable expectations along with a hovering parenting style don’t inspire, they discourage and that leads to more alienation and disconnection between parents and their kids.
What Parents Can Do
- Consider creating a “shared space” that your teens help you create and decorate. All too often it’s mom and dad who design the home for their liking which only increases the odds that their teens will find refuge in a room designed by them, for them. Unless you are entertaining royalty, this shouldn’t be a hardship, but rather an opportunity to create more shared space that is reflective of everyone in the family. Beyond that, a shared space implies shared responsibility for keeping it clean and tidy so everyone can enjoy it. This is a chance for your teens to become contributing members of the family who have daily household responsibilities that contribute to a healthy home life. And, you are preparing them for life beyond your threshold.
- Time spent together is at a premium and yet, we spend 50% less time together than we did a mere 30 years ago. Anything that brings the family together so they can reconnect is a necessity in today’s fast paced world. Beyond getting everyone together is the bigger issue of “what to talk about” when you are together. Unfortunately far too many parents are still using the “How was school? Do you have homework? Do you have your gear for soccer? When is your science project due?” format of questioning to not only connect with their kids, but stay abreast of what’s happening in their world.
- Family Meetings are a great way to not only gather once a week, for a limited amount of time (15 to 20 minutes), but also as a way to show appreciation for each other which demonstrates to our teens on a regular basis that they are loved and appreciated by their family; divide the family work equitably among all family members which helps teens feel like contributing members of their family and keeps them grounded in the “real world” rather than an illusion that all their needs will be met by someone else; a place for teens to help create family policy and balance between their desire for more independence and a parents desire to ensure their child is safe; and a place for kids to learn financial responsibility. Learn more about Family Meetings.
- Another way for families to stay connected is to choose a social service activity at the beginning of each year which will ensure the family spends quality time together on a regular basis and as a bonus, the kids are learning life lesson in investing their time and energy in something other than themselves.
- Most teens I know need to eat and unfortunately regular family meals have become a thing of the past. Invite your teens to participate in meal planning, meal preparation, meal service and meal clean up. That doesn’t mean demanding they suddenly start making meals for the entire family and then cleaning the kitchen while you sit down and enjoy a glass of wine. It means that you consciously begin to invite your teens into the entire process so they feel a sense of ownership around the meal.If you have a teen who comes home late from practice or eats at other crazy times, decide you will eat with them at least once a week. This means adjusting your schedule to accommodate theirs. Imagine the message you are sending!
- Decide where in your schedule you can make time for your kids. It might be time in the car or walking the dog. Think quality, not quantity here. Being present without outside distractions is the key. Once you have the time, deepen the experience with a new kind of conversation. Life at school is no more exciting than life at your office. For the most part it’s the same old, same old. Try expanding your repertoire of questions and live dangerously. One friend of mine throws random questions out that are meant to provoke robust conversations. For instance, “So, are you having sex yet?” or “My friend got drunk last night at an office function and made a fool of herself, what do you think I should do?” or “I’m thinking of taking a vow of silence for 2 months, what do you think?” If our time is limited, then we have to make the most of it and thought provoking questions can help bring family members closer together and bridge the gap between parents and their teens.
- Many parents are nurturing demanding careers, in part because it allows them to provide more opportunities for their kids. However, I never met a kid who would substitute an interested, engaged parent for some future opportunity. Our kids are learning about living a balanced life from us, they are learning about healthy relationships from us and they are learning about parental roles from us. If we take a few minutes to consider everything that is at stake when we allow careers to sap us of energy and focus, we are in a better position to create a more balanced life where the needs of our teens are at the top of that list. The good news is, they don’t need the same amount of time or energy from you that they needed as toddlers. Quality over quantity will do a lot to keep you connected to your kids and teach them about balance, prioritizing and healthy relationships.
In my new book, The Straight Talk On Parenting, I explain in great detail my method, laying it all out for parents so that they can find an approach to parenting that supports their family thought all of the growing pains, developmental phases, life changes, and surprise events that greet anyone raising children in the twenty-first century.
As a mom who raised five children into adulthood, I’d like to share the two most important aspects of my parenting.
- Create structures for my family that supported each of us individually and all of us collectively. That meant designing mornings that worked for my morning lark and my night owl, homework routines that took into account a child who needed complete quiet and one that walked around and stood to write. These structures allowed my children to relax, and when they were relaxed and at peace it was easier for us to connect as a family.
- Show faith and confidence in my kids’ abilities, so that they would learn to have faith in themselves and confidence in their ability to navigate their world.
Our kids need to know that we accept them for who they are right now, even if the “right now” is messy. When we communicate unconditional love and acceptance, we foster emotional health and strong parent child relationships.