When I think of suburbia and teenagers I think of my own adolescence and I naively think things aren’t so different. I mean I only graduated from high school 25 years ago, what could have changed?
I think of Ferris Buehler and the freedom of escaping to Chicago for a day and escaping the monotony of high school.
I think of The Breakfast Club and the line, “When you grow up, your soul dies.”
I’d like to think that the movies that defined my generation, are not so different from the generation today. But while I imagine there are similar themes that never change, like parental expectations, the monotony of school and the desire to be accepted for your own uniqueness, I also see that there are some significant challenges that our kids face that we Gen X-ers did not encounter.
These observations are made in the context of a privileged, predominately white community. My point being kids in rural or urban areas may or may not share the same challenges and may certainly have other greater challenges.
We are creating a culture of anxious and depressed kids. Here are some observations as to why this is happening:
1. We Ask the Wrong Question. My kids and I were dropping off a child at a practice. The coach asked the one not playing, “And what do you do?” The question, while innocent and intending to be friendly spoke to me about how we place value on what we do more than who we are. What if I am just a kid? What if I play in my backyard, ride my bike, read books, create imaginary worlds and take naps? I think we need to stop placing value on what kids do and start placing more value on who kids are. Instead of asking, “What did you do today?” Ask the question, “How were you today?” Instead of focusing on other kids talents and achievements, ask about their character and kindness. We need to teach are kids that they are not loved for what they do, but rather they are loved for who you are.
2. We Test Too Often. I don’t just mean standardize tests. Although I’m with Big Nate on that one. I mean that we evaluate where kids are in comparison to other kids all the time and I think this causes a churning of unspoken anxiety in kid’s stomachs. I think kids care a lot more about what grade they get than what they actually learn. I think we all get caught up in our GPA and what we scored, and the most important question is, “What do I have to do to get an A.” I know schools are under a huge amount of pressure to show that kids are performing on a certain level. However, I think the anxiety that schools have to perform at high level is filtered down and felt by kids who share that anxiety on a personal level. Anxious systems create anxious people.
3. We Don’t Offer Perspective. “It’s just $10!” My daughter cries. “Can we buy something?” My son asks. “Why don’t we go to Disney World?” They all lament at the dinner table. Lord, in your mercy! Somehow in our desire to provide for our kids and give them “every opportunity,” we have not given them the one thing they need the most. Perspective. What is a dollar worth and how hard do you have to work to earn it? What is the difference between need and want? What are you grateful for? In our material world, how do we teach kids that a new pair of shoes, or a new iPod, or video game or whatever will not make them happy? How do we teach gratitude? Moreover, how do we help them look outside of their own needs and have compassion for the needs of others. How do we help them to see that food is on the table, heat in the house, clothes in the closet, gas in the car and sheets on the bed are signs of privilege and wealth?
4. We Push. “College is only 4 years away, what do you think you will major in?” Are you kidding me? When I was the Director Of Orientation at my college we told incoming Freshman that most students don’t know their careers until they are 24 years old. And most will change their careers at least once in their adulthood. We pigeon-hole kids to identify their strengths and decide what their career path will be far to early. Whatever happened to learning about history because history matters or reading a novel because it has something to say about society, or understanding science because we want to understand how the world works, or learning math so that we can understand our economy? We have got to slow our kids down and let them enjoy learning, let them become thinkers before they become doers, let them explore and wonder and create without pushing them down a career path.
5. There in An UnWelcome Guest in the House. It’s the phone. Our phones are attached to us like a third hand and our kids are addicted to them. They communicate with each other more through the phone then in person. They lack communication skills, conflict resolution skills, and overall manners because they can’t avoid checking to see if something has been “liked” or not. I know I sound old here, but I think as parents we have to manage our kid’s reliance on cell phones and social media. It’s addicting and it’s a great way to avoid being in the real world. Kids are not able to establish boundaries. Parents have to help formulate them.
6. We Have forgotten to Teach Our Children to Pray. What Higher Power do kids have to rely on when life sucks? Maybe it’s because we don’t go there enough ourselves, or maybe it’s because we don’t share our own prayer life openly with others, because we feel it’s private, but I think we need to remind our kids that God is at the table, in the classroom, on the field, and in our conversations. Kid’s need to know in a very real way that God is With Them. The only way they can know this is if this is modeled for them, and not by just going to church or hoping they get it in Sunday School. We have to talk about our own prayer life. We have to tell them know we are praying for them, that we prayed for them during the day and we have to remind them to pray for others. The Practice of Prayer has to come from the family. It’s a practice. We can’t wait for the bad news to come and then think, “Oh, maybe we should give God a call.” No, the practice of prayer should be as disciplined of a practice as checking homework.
I humbly submit these as observations from my context. Perhaps you see it differently and maybe you see something else, but I do think our kids are hurting and we need to be in conversation about what we need to change so that every child knows they are worthy and loved just as they are.