Parents are the key to readying our children for adulthood
I have been a pediatrician for nearly 20 years, so I have watched a good portion of my patients grow into and through adolescence.
Lately I have noticed a disturbing amount of them having significant difficulty navigating the years from 11 to 21. I keep asking myself why, especially in our community where the kids have supportive families and enjoy all the modern conveniences. Was it the same for me when I was that age? What is different for the youth of today? Is it just me, or are others noticing the same thing?
I began searching for answers to these questions a couple of years ago. I found that indeed, I am not alone in noticing there is something going on with our youth that is different from when we grew up. There are several researchers who have written books on the subject, two in particular are Dr. Chap Clark and Dr. Kara E. Powell.
Dr. Chap Clark argues in his book, Hurt 2.0, inside the world of today’s teenagers, that teens are struggling with maturing because adults have in a sense abandoned their duty of teaching our adolescents the things they need to know to mature into an independent adult.
He points out that the culture as a whole has morphed normal teen activities such as school, sports, or church youth groups into programs that no longer support today’s kids in the way in which they need to be supported.
While I disagree that we have abandoned our children, I see the point he is trying to make; that while we are doing our best to help our youth succeed, the processes we are using are severely missing the deeper connection that our kids need in order to grow up in a world that has changed so much from what we experienced.
I have three children of my own in this age range and I have found myself wondering if I am giving my children what they need. I think today’s parents are at a disadvantage right from the start. It is nearly impossible to keep up with what our kids are into and how to communicate with them today.
By the time I figured out what instant messaging was with my oldest, it quickly changed to having a MySpace page; and before I even had time to check that out, it became a Facebook page; then it was tweeting, #what?; now I hear it is Instagram and SnapChat. No wonder we feel lost when trying to communicate with them. But we must continue to strive to be involved in our kids’ day-to-day lives, no matter how much fun they make of us trying to understand what they are talking about.
Another thing that makes connecting with our kids hard is that our entire culture is so different than it used to be. The family unit has changed drastically. Often both parents work and there is no extended family nearby. As a result, we leave our adolescents to figure out life on their own.
Adolescence is all about finding one’s identity but how can we expect our kids to navigate this road alone? It seems to be harder to do so in today’s culture. First, kids seem to be growing up faster these days since they are exposed to more of the world at younger ages. It is hard to shield them from that.
They also seem to be less resilient. I think it is because today’s kids are trained unconsciously that instant gratification is the norm since they carry a portable electronic device with them 24/7. They have little chance to practice patience. Therefore, they don’t understand that one must have patience when it comes to forming one’s identity. Growing up and knowing who you are takes a long time to figure out and it is constantly changing.
It’s also easy to see the problems this generation encounters due to social media. They are heavily influenced by a biased media and detrimental marketing and are brainwashed into thinking that if they don’t fit the prototype, they are not worthy.
This, along with the natural tendency to question themselves and be insecure at this age, may translate into a sense of isolation. They are more likely to turn to their peers who are struggling in the same way instead of adults who have been through it. Adults must fight to regain the ground we’ve lost by remembering that our youth actually need us more than they think and that we do have valuable knowledge to impart.
How parents can help their kids navigate tween to preteen years
As a parent, do you feel your child may be struggling through ages 11-21? Kelly Bennie, M.D., a pediatrician with Harpeth Pediatrics in Franklin has been researching this exact issue and has come up with a few recommendations of how parents can help.
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