Jeff Lail, always the go to guy for challenging Student Affairs professionals to examine the way they do things – shared this yesterday and as a parent I really got into it.
Why the obsession with our kids’ happiness may be dooming them to unhappy adulthoods. A therapist and mother reports.
A quick take at first was, “Damned if you, damned if you don’t.” Parents who provide total support and love are churning out messed up kids just as much as Tiger Moms apparently. Here’s a quote:
But after working with these patients over time, I came to believe that no florid denial or distortion was going on. They truly did seem to have caring and loving parents, parents who gave them the freedom to “find themselves” and the encouragement to do anything they wanted in life. Parents who had driven carpools, and helped with homework each night, and intervened when there was a bully at school or a birthday invitation not received, and had gotten them tutors when they struggled in math, and music lessons when they expressed an interest in guitar (but let them quit when they lost that interest), and talked through their feelings when they broke the rules, instead of punishing them (“logical consequences” always stood in for punishment). In short, these were parents who had always been “attuned,” as we therapists like to say, and had made sure to guide my patients through any and all trials and tribulations of childhood. As an overwhelmed parent myself, I’d sit in session and secretly wonder how these fabulous parents had done it all.
Until, one day, another question occurred to me: Was it possible these parents had done too much?
That type of parenting sounded pretty good to me. Those type of parents sound great. NOT the helicopter parent that’s evident in our college setting this days, but reasonably tolerant and supportive parents. But -uh oh. The kids are still going to therapy? After that upbringing?
Then I realized that it went further.
Paul Bohn, a psychiatrist at UCLA who came to speak at my clinic, says the answer may be yes. Based on what he sees in his practice, Bohn believes many parents will do anything to avoid having their kids experience even mild discomfort, anxiety, or disappointment—“anything less than pleasant,” as he puts it—with the result that when, as adults, they experience the normal frustrations of life, they think something must be terribly wrong.
Ah yes. Here’s the part that separates out where I agree with the supportive parent and where the helicopter parent steps in. My husband and I have talks about how kids need competition and they need to FAIL. They need to know they might just be average, and that having strengths and talents could still mean that they won’t be famous. Or one of those fake reality stars. But they can lead incredibly rich and happy lives.
Which might be how people like my patient Lizzie end up in therapy. “You can have the best parenting in the world and you’ll still go through periods where you’re not happy,” Jeff Blume, a family psychologist with a busy practice in Los Angeles, told me when I spoke to him recently. “A kid needs to feel normal anxiety to be resilient. If we want our kids to grow up and be more independent, then we should prepare our kids to leave us every day.”
We should prepare our kids to leave us every day. WOW. That’s a thought isn’t it? Hard one for a parent to think about.
But as Jeff brings it back to Student Affairs – that’s absolutely our task. Preparing students for the outside world every day. How well are we doing that? And are we proving it? Assessing it? Are we showing Academic Affairs that they must be partners with us in order to produce those well rounded students we want to hold up as example alumni one day?