Parents make mistakes — some worse than others. From accruing massive debt to pay for an education or running ourselves ragged scheduling and transporting kids to many activities, we don’t always set the best example.
While these may not seem like equal infractions, they all are carried out with the best of intentions — to help our children succeed. The question remains, though: Are we actually helping or harming them when we hover about, micromanage, clear their path of obstacles or work ourselves into the ground in order to keep up with all the other families in the neighborhood?
According to Dr. Megan Wilson, PsyD, a clinical psychologist with Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, extreme modern parenting tactics and setting a poor example of healthy balance when it comes to smartphones and digital media, are leading to a generation of teens and young adults ill-suited for independence. She says there is room for improvement when it comes to parenting in five specific areas.
1. Take care to avoid “bulldozer” parenting.
Most of us aren’t able — or willing — to offer vast amounts of money to get our children into college through the notorious side- or backdoor. However, we may not hesitate to rush a forgotten textbook to school or pay for a pricey private tutor or sports coach to give our kids an advantage in class or on the field.
“‘Bulldozer parenting,’ or wanting the best for your children and bulldozing over any obstacle to get it, does not allow teens to learn about responsibility,” Dr. Wilson says. “They are not learning the important lessons of failure and the experience of persevering toward a long-term goal.”
While it can be difficult, parents must allow their children the room to take risks — and fail. We need to take a look at what is driving our instinct to overprotect them — perhaps our own fears of failure, competitiveness or ego — and avoid tying their wins and losses to our own self-worth. Allowing our kids to face challenges and giving them more opportunities for decision-making are gifts that will serve them well through life.
2. Remember to set limits on screen time.
We’ve heard time and again how unhealthy it is to spend hours in front of a screen. Yet, studies have found that screen time is replacing happiness-promoting activities such as getting together with friends and sleeping.
Members of “iGen” — those in the 15-to-21-year-old range — spend an average of eight hours interacting with screens every day, including texting, social media and TV. Dr. Wilson says that the research shows a correlation with smartphone and digital media use since 2012 and teens feeling lonely, left out and that their life is not as useful or as enjoyable.
“We are not the role models we may aspire to be when it comes to health, balance and overall presence,” she says. “Teens — and their parents, too — need to understand how to extract the good from media and smart technology, while also practicing real world balance. It is important for you to use your devices and not let them use you.”
Here’s some ways to help set limits:
- Shut down devices one hour before bed
- Have a “no phones in bedrooms” rule
- Limit screen time to the recommended two hours or less per day (for leisure use)
3. Foster financial savvy.
The New York Federal Reserve reports that the average American has about $38,000 in debt, not including home mortgages. We’re spending money we don’t have on houses, cars, education, hobbies, clothing, beauty products, entertainment — the list goes on and on as we continue to set a poor example for our children.
“If not educated about finances, teens are likely to acquire thousands of dollars of debt as they enter their young adulthood,” Dr. Wilson says. “They need experience with delaying gratification, self-soothing and feeling personal empowerment and self-worth that is unrelated to consumerism or the piling on of academic degrees. They also just need practical guidance on spending, saving and earning rewards.”
4. Talk about emotions.
According to Dr. Wilson, young adults have higher risk-taking behavior. Their ability to recognize their personal wishes, needs, limits and responsibilities — and feeling confident enough to assert them — is developmentally helpful when taking healthy risks and entering new environments.
“An ability to ask for help, stay connected with support and manage emotions can build on those frontal lobe messages that say ‘stop’ in the brain when urges to ‘go’ toward impulsive behavior arise,” Dr. Wilson says. “This can be lifesaving.”
By modeling this behavior in our own lives, and being transparent about our own vulnerabilities, we can reinforce the message that being aware of and talking about impulse control is important.
5. Focus on health and wellness.
Many of us spend our days seemingly running in circles, trying to keep our heads above water as we juggle home life, work life, kids’ activities and more. We do all this while encouraging our children to take care of their mental and physical health, even though we may not take care of our own.
“Anxiety and lack of sleep are so prevalent in teens right now, and an ability to use relaxation strategies is crucial for all the stressors today’s teens face,” Dr. Wilson says. “Sadly, these stressors range from general worries about what an average school day holds to the threat of mass shootings.”
Dr. Wilson and her colleagues offer relaxation training to their adolescent patients. This includes guided meditation, sleep hygiene, practicing affirmations, mindfulness training, using art as an outlet and practicing thinking balanced and calming thoughts instead of extreme negative thoughts. Parents can model stress management and healthy balance by making time for pleasure, exercise and connecting with others in person.
“If you relax the body, the mind will follow,” Dr. Wilson says.