As reported in The Week (1/29/10), a recent study of high school and college students, has discovered higher levels of anxiety, depression and unrealistic, manic optimism than in any previous generation since the Great Depression. Researchers suggested that materialism, an emphasis on superficial things, overprotective parenting and a lack of sleep all contribute to their problems.

Overprotective parenting has developed into an ideal for too many parents. It’s as if you prove your love for them by interfering with their consequences. Hire a lawyer if they’re arrested at a drunk party. Drive 110 miles an hour and you still get the keys to the car. There is a kooky idea in our culture that keeping kids spoiled, disrespectful and indulged is a good thing. Parents threaten and rarely follow through with consequences. This is a huge problem from 2 to 18. After 18 it’s about bailing out young adults with money instead of letting them learn to live differently.

The author Barry Lopez commented in the Drue Heinz lecture on 2/8/10 that there’s too many people who don’t want to grow up. It has become ordinary to recognize that this is what has evolved. Parents meet all of their kids needs and then they don’t want to leave home or figure out how to support themselves in a much less luxurious¬†life.

What does growing up mean? Fritz Perls, a German born psychiatrist, defined it as “honestly facing painful situations.” Parents make it an art form to interfere with their kids honestly dealing with reality. Reality bumps teens back into a more true perspective. Continuing to work instead of quitting because a supervisor is difficult is good preparation for the future. Even driving kids to school instead of dealing with the school bus ride experience can be a way of “buffering” life too much for them.

Kids in my office arrive with too long a list of all the jobs they won’t do, or hours they won’t work. It is very rare to have a kid look at their own responsibility in bad grades. The easy course is to blame the teacher instead of recognizing all the homework that didn’t get turned in. Blame is the easy answer. When asked what they can do differently to problem solve their situation, I get blank looks.

Even playing Mario Kart around the world on Wii, people cheat and take the fun out of it. Cheating is ordinary and it’s all about taking the easy way out. Growing up is taking responsibility combined with a willingness to look at yourself and do the work required. Which is it going to be; winning through skill or cheat codes googled on the internet? Practicing choices helps kids to learn how to build character.

I believe that kids not facing consequences, not dealing with difficulties in an honest way, things that used to be ordinary expectations by parents, contributes to their inability to face growing up and dealing with choices. How about kids apologizing to teachers or peers instead of parents, expecting teachers to apologize. Life is hard, and kids aren’t ready for it. That’s a problem in parenting. Reality matters. Reality teaches kids about growing up, so stop interfering with it.

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About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

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