From peer pressure to figuring life out for the first time, there is no shortage of things for kids to worry about in 2019. Burdens like an unstable home life or struggling with self-identity can make for some real growing pains, which is especially difficult for kids who are at an age where they’re experiencing hard situations and emotions for the first time and don’t have the life experience yet to know how to deal with it.
What weighs on the minds of today’s youth can vary depending on their age and demographics, but social media is certainly a large stressor. Struggling to be liked and fit in with others is no longer contained to the classroom but now follows students around online, and the effects of bullying through social media can in some ways leave a greater mark than face-to-face harassment.
A lot of the stress that comes hand-in-hand with social media stems from the ever-present anxiety about not fitting in or being accepted by one’s peers. Tabitha Wolchesky, a licensed clinical social worker with Sound Community Services in New London, says that social media plays a big role in how children view themselves in terms of being accepted by others. “The peer pressure to be loved and accepted impacts our children on a day to day basis,” she says. “The more friends or followers I have on social media, the more important or loved one can feel.”
This pressure is compounded by the newfound insecurities which develop in adolescence.
“The universal fear is that ‘I’m not good enough and someone is going to find out,’” says Renée McIntyre, a clinical social worker with a private practice in Madison and co-founder of The Cove Center for Grieving Children.
The desire for parents to nurture their children through difficult times in instinctual, and often the cure to adolescent hardships comes from open communication.
McIntyre believes that parents should begin a dialogue with their children at an early age, and says that forming a connection where children feel comfortable talking to their parents doesn’t just happen overnight.
“The truth is that you don’t start when they’re 12 years old and you’re worried about sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll,” says McIntyre.
Having device-free dinner as a family, she says, is important in order to create a space and time for dialogue between parents and children, and that parents should start having open-ended conversations with their kids when they’re 3 to 5 years old.
Wolchesky also encourages parents to have daily conversations with their children about their interests and school, saying it builds support and “allows the parent to have the harder conversations with their children around bullying, self-esteem, body image, sexuality, and one’s own identify or autonomy.”
But just as it can be hard for parents to see their children struggling with a problem, it can be even more so to have a conversation with them about it.
“I have found parents are uncomfortable having conversations with their children on topics they are not comfortable with,” says Wolchesky.
“If the parent is struggling with these conversations, they may need to ask themselves why they are uncomfortable having the more difficult conversations with their children,” she says, adding that parents struggling to have the hard conversations should ask for help from friends or professionals.
It’s also important for parents to find the balance between not being overly involved while also being supportive when children are struggling with a problem.
“There’s a difference between rescuing and supporting,” says McIntyre. Like “rocks in the backpack” as she puts it, rescuing would be taking on the child’s problems for them, or putting their rocks in your backpack, and not letting them learn how to carry the weight on their own. Supporting, however, is helping children deal with their problems in a way that is nurturing but also allows them to learn how to navigate a difficult situation so that they are equipped for future situations in life.
McIntyre says that she believes many parents are afraid to let their children struggle, and that there is a benefit to letting kids learn on their own that they are capable of handling a hard situation.
Although it may be hard to watch kids struggle through the ups and downs of adolescence and seem like an overwhelming task to try to talk them through it, a loving heart and open mind is all a parent needs, says McIntyre.
“We do not have to be a mental health professional to guide our youth,” says Wolchesky. “We just need to be as transparent with them, showing them they are not alone in learning how to navigate life on life’s terms.”
Need extra help?
Sound Community Services:
The Cove Center for Grieving Children: