Today, by the time a child reaches the cusp of adulthood…
the number and severity and variability of the challenges they will have had to face can derail even the most balanced youth from the most stable family!
Is any family immune to the impact of…
modern technology – cellphones, social networking, computer gaming?
defiance and irresponsibility in classrooms?
cannabis, vaping, street drugs, alcohol use at teen gatherings?
social cliques, street gangs (even from outside neighbourhoods)?
peer pressure that defines self-image, sexual freedom or identity?
home or family stresses – financial, employment, relationship
the highly varied cultural melting pots of today’s schools or neighbourhoods?
being shunned by peers or criticized as much for having too little as for having too much?
Today’s youth have it hard. These stresses were not present even for the previous generation. So we do not understand them and cannot help our youth understand them!
Understanding The Dilemma
Youth are still green to the real challenges of life. They see the ideal and want it. They naturally presume that, if everything stayed the same; if families always stayed together; if friends always stayed loyal, or kept the same ideas; if they weren’t pushed to do unnecessary chores and studies; if they did not have to get sick, or injured… life could be so easy, so pleasant, so uncomplicated. And they believe that it should be. So they react to change with intolerance, retreat to a more forgiving reality of virtual networking, computer gaming, or social isolation, or soothe themselves with the permissive participation in casual sex, alcohol and a vast variety of drugs and chemicals wanting the disconnection more than they are concerned about the disastrous ill-effects. .
But LIFE CHANGES… at its own whim and usually so imperceptibly that we only see the change when it builds to a huge or insurmountable challenge. For young people this presents a dilemma.
- Parents get separated, emigrate, die, or move the whole family to another place with new people who are already established in their own cliques
Old friends have their own problems and do not always stay loyal, they simply don’t know how to help, or they move away just when a friendship gets established
- Puberty comes with a bang or so it seems, bringing new hormones that swing their moods in ways that befuddle them; and change their appearance to make them seem different from their peers… from acne to growth spurts that often seem to make them feel gangly and strange; it introduces new feelings they really do not understand. They easily experience a tiredness they can neither understand nor explain because there is so much going on in their bodies, and in their minds.
- School gets more demanding. If they work hard to pass grade nine, they get “promoted” to grade ten with more new challenges, new responsibilities. Yet, if they do not work hard, they simply have to do it again and still have grade ten to ponder. And that keeps getting worse as they progress either to college or to work.
Life seems difficult every step of the way.
Added to these troubles is that almost every young person also starts having doubts about their own identity, who they are, what is their sexual orientation, what makes them tick. It is a period when they are supposed to break free from the support systems that once defined them and forge an identity that is their own. What a frightening thought. And while they have these doubts, they find that others either cannot understand or are so engaged in their own struggles that they don’t seem to care.
Then, it is just difficult to fit in to the society that is now theirs.
The usual and not too reassuring outcome is that it can seem so much easier to do things their peers do even if it is unhealthy, like drugs, sex, passive hanging out. And society is making it more difficult by legalizing cannabis, a dangerous drug if only because it works so well to disengage them. They get angry and irritable or lonely and depressed when things go wrong. They create an identity that is different from what they had, just to be unique, but often find themselves simply accepting value systems that are no less stringent, no more reassuring.
A Logical Approach to Helping
You help your child manage a drug habit, a social dependence, social fear, or a personal insecurity, not by minimizing the problem or punishing the reaction, but by accepting its seriousness and helping the child realize that reality happens – not to them but in spite of them. They can’t change it but they can learn to live with it. You teach them to strengthen the power of their core so that they can deal with reality as it is, not as they want it to be. Minimizing the problem only sends the message that the child is as foolish as he/she already believes. Criticizing or punishing a behaviour only confuses them more as they never intended to be bad.
They are simply working within their limitations. They have to know that they are simply trying to face a tough reality as a new adult but with the resources of the child. It is okay to fail or feel inadequately prepared most of the time. It is not okay to stay that way. But they must learn to face their world by developing and relying on their most powerful asset, their rational mind. It is a tough task but one that can help you give your child something that is more precious than money or prolonged guardianship.
They need guidance. But they do not trust you – the parents – the people who are most genuine in your desire to help them. They do not trust that you really understand their stresses, that you cannot see that they are not repetitions of yours enacted at a different time. They want you to see that their stresses are unique, and feel them before you advise on managing them. They want to know that your advice comes from a true capability to lead them where it is best for them to go.
Their problem is not your fault. It is the era. They have too many ‘tools’ that promise to make easier what seems most bothersome only to accelerate the entrance of new and unprecedented challenges. These challenges, the chaos, uncertainty and instability that come with the territory are greater for any youth today than ever before.
As a parent, you owe it to yourself and to the youth you are trying to raise to understand their world – from their eyes – so you can help them with clarity, confidence, and a true belief in their integrity.