Last week’s Time magazine had an essay that nearly moved me to tears. In my mind’s eye, I could see not only the hundreds of teens I’ve tested and worked with over the past 33 years, but also my own three children. The writer made me think about all the roadblocks, dead ends, and sudden drop-offs that fill the dark forest that our children have to navigate for seven or eight years—while we parents watch, worry, and often feel helpless.
The writer notes, accurately, that “even the toughest kids can be knocked off track”. We all know how true that is. Kids who do well at one stage of childhood may fall apart completely at another, leaving us stunned and worried that we won’t figure out how to help quickly enough. She writes, “there is an epidemic of depression and anxiety in our schools”, and I believe she is right. I get to help many parents document and prioritize their teens’ difficulties, help them get the classes and tutoring and support their children need, help them keep all the professionals on the “same page” in providing treatment—all in the hope of “effective progress”.
Meanwhile, as most parents do everything in their power to support their teens, they deny not only their own needs, but even the problems themselves. How many of us feel able to share the details of our child’s life, when that life is going “off the rails”? What do you do when faced with “impossible choices” and “disappointments that aren’t in any parenting book”? Questions like these keep parents up at night. The writer observes that “kid trouble is the last taboo…the topic that makes us most vulnerable.” In my experience, it is so true.
As a helping professional, I find myself worrying about the needs of parents. I may test and advocate for children and teens, but I know that when the music stops, it’s the parents who are left “holding the hot potato”. If parents can’t share their fears, ask for help and advice, network, and most important, manage their own anxiety and stress, they won’t be able to help their children.
So, as we all run headlong into the end of the school year, I want to remind parents to:
Put on your own oxygen masks first, before helping your children. This means making time for rest, exercise, a walk outside in the sunshine, a few minutes to admire the flowers in your neighborhood, and some healthy foods—hopefully every day. Try to do one thing each day that you really enjoy, or that brings you peace and relaxation.
Most important—don’t be afraid to admit there’s a problem in your house. Be brave. Confide in as many people as you possibly can—close friends as well as more casual ones, anyone who cares about you even a little. You’ll be surprised at how much support and kindness comes your way. The sympathy and advice that “fills your tank” will allow you to deal more effectively with your child’s problems. It may be many years before your child is successful in meeting life’s challenges, without your daily help. No parent should try to do this alone.
As always, I welcome comments or questions. Just drop me an email or call my office at 781-860-7211.