Parenting a tween or teen is often a delicate balance between letting kids learn from life's adversity without letting them drown in the consequences of their actions. The phrase "suffer the consequences" comes to mind for me, and I often see this at the center of parent-child conflict when we throw ADHD into the mix.
So here's my unpopular opinion:
Our tweens and teens (Gen Z and Gen Alpha) have already–in their relatively short lifespan–suffered as much as the adults who are raising them (presumably millennials, Gen X, and baby boomers)…even though they've probably struggled less than we did at their age.
Huh?! Stay with me.
When I think about the suffering that Gen Z and Gen Alpha have had to endure, I think about the psychological toll of having multiple global crises occur during one's formative years. I think about the built-in adversity that comes with puberty–replete with social pressures to conform, and hormones to throw you off–and try to really wrap my mind around how much harder it is to shoulder that burden when in-person school (which is arguably the social center of every tween/teen's universe) gets thrown into the abyss.
Coming of age is hard enough without being taught and raised by adults who are constantly losing their sh*t because they themselves are barely keeping it together during a pandemic that seemed to amplify all of our societal shortcomings. It's alarming to me how easy it has been for others to write off Gen Z and Gen Alpha as "soft" without considering that their teachers, parents, and caregivers are some of the most burnt out, stressed out adults we could possibly imagine.
Don't even get me started on social media and the role it's played in bullying and harassment. As a therapist, I find myself more and more saying "damn…this problem would have sounded absolutely psychotic or delusional 10 years ago…and today it's completely valid."
Everyone loves an infographic, so here goes…
Wrestling with a challenge, or dealing with the natural consequences of our actions without compromising our self-worth.
The pain we feel when, despite our best efforts, we fail to meet the demands of life, often when we're not in control of the situation.
Can help a child develop confidence in their ability to learn, and strengthen resilience IF they have a loving support system
Can lead to further conflict, increased frustration, and poor mental health outcomes that will fester if done in isolation
Allowing your kid to experience a struggle
Trapping your kid in a state of suffering
Validating their disappointment in a situation while resisting the urge to rescue them...because you know there's an important life lesson to be learned.
Refusing to offer help or get help when the lesson to be learned might be a scarring one.
With ADHD, it can look like allowing your child to learn from the natural consequences of under-preparedness (without being a punitive a**hole about it)...
With ADHD, it can look like refusing to allow your child to try meds, therapy, or the plethora of new supports in place because you're afraid they'll use them as a crutch.
"I'm sorry that you forgot your airpods at home (for the 8th time)...but no, I can't drop everything I'm doing to bring them to your school. When you get home, we'll come up with a plan to help you remember."
"It's your fault that you forgot to take your meds this morning. I don't care if you have midterms today, I'm not always gonna be there to rescue you. You never learn!"
It's worth noting that my goal is never to shame parents who have missed the mark on helping their kids learn from life's lessons. There is no shortage of parenting experts who parade the words "grit," "resilience," and…the bastardized term that really breaks my heart: "growth mindset" (more on that later). Today's parents are drinking water out of a firehose when it comes to internet tips on how to raise a decent human. It's easy to get lost in the fog that leads to an imbalance of struggling and suffering. I hope to continue this conversation and add more examples of how this plays out with other major mental health issues that impact families today.
If you're ready to alleviate your family's suffering without eliminating your ability to struggle a bit, check out my services page. We might be a good fit for therapy!