The Pursuit of Happiness

An article The Atlantic by Lori Gottlieb a while back discussed how parental obsession with a child’s happiness can make the child into an unhappy adult.

Parents want to do the right thing.  We try to keep kids safe. We want them to feel loved. We long for them to be successful. We hope they will grow into happy productive adults. But how do we do that? It turns out that’s a harder question than we might imagine.

When we grew up, our parents were pretty much focused on discipline. Over the last decade or so there has been a focus on so-called “self-esteem,” which has included an aversion to competition, criticism and correction in favor of praise, promotion and potential. We want our kids to be happy. However, Gottlieb quotes Barry Schwartz, professor at Swarthmore College, who notes, “Happiness as a byproduct of living your life is a great thing. But happiness as a goal is a recipe for disaster.”

Our Discomfort With Discomfort

Dan Kindlon, child psychologist and lecturer at Harvard, who Gottlieb quoted in her article, refers to our “discomfort with discomfort.” He says if kids can’t experience painful feelings they won’t develop “psychological immunity.” As a result they won’t know how to deal with not getting the starring role, being cut from the team, or receiving criticism on a class paper. Faculty and administrators are spending quite a bit of time responding to parental involvement in what should be a student’s responsibility to study hard, be prepared, and, on limited occasions, raise warranted concerns on his or her own behalf.

The Adult Journey

In the adult world, everyone does not get a trophy. Everyone is not super at everything. The world of the adult, while full of possibility and reward, is also rife with uncertainty, frustration and disappointment. Certainly, we need to love and encourage our children, but we need also to prepare them for the future. When we rush in to protect our kids from a bruised knee, a failed tryout, a broken relationship or a less than stellar research paper, we may do so out of love and concern. However, our involvement often complicates their ability to handle things on their own and weakens their belief in their own personal resources.

Kids develop self esteem by tackling challenges, recovering from uncertainty and striving to do well. They build self-esteem by overcoming adversity. Parents stunt their child’s growth and development by lowering those hurdles and expectations.

All kids are not good at all things. All kids are good at something. Our job as parents is to help our children identify those things at which they excel and help provide the resources for them to be successful.

As Gottlieb states, “We can try to protect them from nasty classmates and bad grades and all kinds of rejection and their own limitations, but eventually they will bump up against these things anyway. In fact, by trying so hard to provide the perfectly happy childhood, we’re just making it harder for our kids to actually grow up.”


By dads2dads

Teen Depression

We have been struck, again, by celebrity suicides. How could it have happened? They had so much to live for. They were so successful, so popular. And yet it continues.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, since 1999, the suicide rate in the U.S. has increased nearly 30 percent. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the US, accounting for the deaths of nearly 45,000 Americans over the age of 10.

Forty-six percent of suicides involved a diagnosed mental condition. Common contributing factors to suicide include: a relationship problem, a personal crisis, substance abuse, a physical health problem, or a job or financial problem. The CDC emphasizes that suicide is rarely caused by any single factor, but rather, involves multiple factors.

Often when a high profile suicide occurs, other suicides follow.

A teen’s environment can be a minefield of uncertainty, anxiety and worry. A new school, the ebb and flow of friendships, academic workloads, the worry of an insecure world, the latest school shooting, can all add pressure to a teen’s life. Some parents have told us they feel that their child may be depressed but are unsure of what to do about it. Counselors we have talked to tell us they see a lot more cases of anxiety and depression in teens at school. It’s a troubling trend.

What’s a parent to do?

If your child is experiencing impact from serious stress, your first response should be to listen. Ask open-ended questions. Find out how things are going. Ask her about her classes, inquire about his friends and social activities. Try to uncover any special challenges that are plaguing her. Provide space for your child to respond and listen carefully without judgment.

Watch for withdrawal from friends and social activities, uncharacteristic silence, or unwavering focus on a recent suicide or traumatic event.

Don’t hesitate to seek help from a professional. This may be a teacher, counselor, minister or mental health professional.

It has been shown that parents can have tremendous influence on teens when they encounter difficulty. Dr. Jill Suttie from the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, points out that scientists are developing a better understanding of teen depression and how to prevent it. Suggestions include providing parental support, modeling strong social skills, encouraging positive peer relationships, helping teens to seek a purpose, and improving the school environment.

Parental involvement can be key to the health of your child. Don’t wait to involve yourself or seek outside help.

The known unknowns

We need to provide a strong system of love and attention for our kids, keep open lines of communication, know what is going on, and seek outside help when needed. In this unpredictable, uncertain, changing world, perhaps that is the best knowledge to have – the knowledge of what we don’t know.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) or the Crisis Text Line (text ‘home’ to 741-741) can be of enormous help. Don’t go it alone and don’t ignore signals.

By dads2dads

That’s Different

“That’s different.” These are two of the most frequently uttered words in the defensive lexicon of the frustrated, perplexed, at-the-end-of-your-rope parent. Dad, you’ve reached for this phrase and pulled it out at the showdown around the kitchen table. You’ve grabbed those two words just as frantically as a man would a rope to keep from drowning. You’ve reached into that depleted reservoir of comebacks and let those feeble words roll off your lips just so you had something—anything—to say within the bounds of civility.

“Hey, Dad, you tell us to hang our coat in the closet. Yours is on the arm of the sofa.” “That’s different, honey—Daddy’s in a hurry.”

“You’re going over the speed limit, Dad. You always tell me to watch my speed.” “That’s different—Dad has a lot on his mind—I’ve got a busy day tomorrow—I’m a lot older than you—and watch your tone.”

Greater Consequences

It’s amazing and amusing to hear how silly we sound sometimes. But what if our hypocrisies yield more serious consequences?

What if your teenager reels off a string of obscenities, echoing your own obscene rant at the ballgame a few days ago? What if you hear your son bragging about how he cheated on his time sheet at work because he heard you boasting about fudging on your taxes? What if your daughter starts smoking because you smoke? What if your teenager slaps or punches someone at school because that’s how you get their attention and demand their obedience at home?

Parents Plant the Seeds

We parents really need to monitor our own behavior as much as we think we need to monitor the ways our kids behave. We will sow what we reap. The seeds we plant today will bear fruit sooner or later—and that fruit may be good or rotten.

We parents can think our kids are deaf and blind to things we do or say. Not true. They are processing their experiences and filing them away for future reference. They may discard some things over time, but they will more than likely assimilate most of what they see and hear. We decry the negative influences that pervade our children’s lives and rightfully so in many cases. Those influences can be overpowered by parents who understand their responsibility to model good behavior.

It’s Not Different

In order for well-meaning parents to have that kind of impact, the phrase “That’s different” needs to be laid to rest. It’s much harder but nobler to respond with “You’re right and I was wrong” or “I should practice what I preach.” Young people are incredibly intuitive and insightful. They live in a world full of hypocrisy. They see and hear it in the news, at school, in church, at work and in their social circles. The one place where they need to trust that the rules are fair and apply to everyone is at home.


By dads2dads