Are Parents to Blame for Our Children’s Angst and Anxiety?

I wrote this months before the pandemic hit and we began sheltering in place. Now that I’ve spent 109 days in my home without my normal activities of meeting friends for lunch, traveling, volunteering and hanging out with my swim friends, I’m learning that more and more people are suffering from anxiety and children are being hit the hardest. A friend of mine who is a psychologist for teens said she’s talking to a record number of kids who are talking about suicide. It puts a new perspective on our kids’ angst and anxiety.

randk 3I watched a video posted on Facebook by one of my children’s former swim coaches about millennials in the workforce and the problems they face. It really made me reflect about my own parenting and kids. There’s an increased number of kids in this age group with depression, committing suicide and overdosing. That’s terrifying, don’t you agree? What can be done about it? And why is it happening?

You can watch the aforementioned video here

Here are the four main points of the video:

ONE
Bad Parenting

I hate that bullet point and know I’m guilty of some bad parenting myself. The main idea is that our kids were told they are special at every turn, whether it’s deserved or not. Consequently, millennials often suffer from low self esteem. While we’re trying to make our kids strong, mentally and physically, we’re doing something very wrong. We have highly educated, competent kids who don’t believe in themselves. Maybe everyone shouldn’t get a participation trophy in tee ball. It’s one of the reasons why I like swimming. Every mili-second dropped and ribbon received is truly earned. The clock doesn’t lie.

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We were unplugged as a family every summer at the beach.

TWO
Technology

Checking our number of likes, texts, etc. give us a jolt of dopamine. That’s why we get addicted to our phones. Social media and cell phones are not much different than other highly addictive substances like tobacco or alcohol. When teenage brains are exposed to dopamine, they get hooked and their brains get hardwired. Hearing this part of the video makes me want to look at my own cell phone usage and make some changes—a good thing to think about for New Year’s Resolutions (I’ll write more about this later). Social media is preventing our kids from developing personal relationships and may lead to depression and being unable to handle stress.

THREE
Instant Gratification

Our kids have grown up in the world of instant gratification. If they want to watch a movie, they turn on Netflix. If they want to buy something, they click on Amazon and it’s delivered the next day. I interviewed a psychologist and wrote about instant gratification here. Job satisfaction and relationships aren’t a click away. Instead they are messy and time consuming, but our kids aren’t learning these skills of waiting and working for things.

FOUR
Environment

Maybe our corporate environments aren’t a good fit for young people. Our kids blame themselves when it could partially be the fault of the company they work for. Companies need to work extra hard to build the children’s social skills and work on their lack of confidence. We need to work on interpersonal relationships and one good way to start is to put the phone down.

What are your thoughts about millennials and their angst? Do you think it’s our fault they are suffering from depression and anxiety? Or, does the environment and technology play a bigger role?

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Selfie of Mom and me playing BINGO. She is the best mom and my role model.

When Parents Do Too Much for Their Kids

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My young Piranhas. They are never too young to learn responsibility for their actions.

I read an interesting article that a friend posted on FB called “8 Things Kids Need to Do By Themselves Before They’re 13” by Amy Carney. Carney is the mother of triplet teen boys and two other younger children and she’s got parenting down.

Her article listed things that parents need to stop doing or we won’t have independent well-functioning kids. I thought it made some really good points, and I wish I would have heard about this list before my kids were in middle school. I have been known to bail my kids out, rushing to school with their forgotten homework or lunches. Their lack of planning on big projects became my emergencies and stress. I wasn’t helping them at all by picking up the pieces. In truth, I bailed out one child more than the other, and that child almost failed out of college his freshman year. He was not ready to go because I was doing everything for him, including waking him up in the morning.

Here are four of the eight things on her list. To read her complete list click here.

1. Waking them up in the morning
2. Making their breakfast and packing their lunch
3. Filling out their paperwork
4. Delivering their forgotten items

Monday morning we pulled out of the driveway and screeched around the corner of the house when daughter dear realized she forgot her phone. “We have to go back, Mom!” Another exclaimed that he forgot his freshly washed PE uniform folded in the laundry room. I braked in hesitation as I contemplated turning around. Nope. Off we go, as the vision surfaced of both of them playing around on their phones before it was time to leave.

Parents don’t miss opportunities to provide natural consequences for your teens. Forget something? Feel the pain of that. Kids also get to see, that you can make it through the day without a mistake consuming you.

We also have a rule that Mom and Dad are not to get pleading texts from school asking for forgotten items. It still happens, but we have the right to just shoot back “that’s a bummer.”

What happens when we do too much for our kids? In my opinion, they aren’t allowed to grow up. They have no consequences for their actions or lack of action. They don’t know how to plan, be responsible or own up to their mistakes. If you’re a parent who is continually jumping in to save your child, stop. You can’t move into the college dorm with them and by then it’s too late.

 

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When they were young and at the beach.

Both of my kids swam from elementary school through high school and one continued in college. I liked having my kids in year-round swimming because it taught them there was a direct correlation between their actions (how hard they tried) and outcomes (getting faster.) Also, practice every day, six days a week with a few doubles thrown in, taught them time management. They were responsible for their own equipment, too. There are tons of life lessons in the pool. But, because of how busy and dedicated they were, I overcompensated in other areas of their lives.

 

Here are a couple of SwimSwam articles I wrote on the subject:

In 11 Tips for Parents on What Our Kids Need to Know Before College, I have created a list of life skills that we should check off before the kids move out.
In 12 Hints You Might Be a Hovering Helicopter Swim Parent, I write about the little things we do for our kids without a second thought, that will put them at a disadvantage when they move away.
What are your thoughts about getting kids ready for the real world? Are we helping or hurting our kids by doing too much for them?

Who believes Operation Varsity Blues parents are innocent?

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Proof my daughter swam her way into  college.

Seriously? The attorney for the famous couple of the Instagram influencer is saying that they are innocent to charges of bribing USC to get their kids in. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times today called New evidence backs Loughlin’s and Giannulli’s innocence, lawyer says explains why they think they are innocent.

Rick Singer was the college consultant who set up a fake charity and took large sums of money from parents to guarantee admission to universities. In Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli’s case, they paid $500,000 to have their daughters admitted to University of Southern California on the crew team — and neither daughter had ever been rowers. I guess we’re supposed to forget that the parents had pictures of their daughter taken on an erg or that they had someone photoshop their daughter’s head on a rower in a boat. That’s not suspicious at all, right?

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

BOSTON —  Lawyers for “Full House” actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, said Wednesday that new evidence shows the couple is innocent of charges that they bribed their daughters’ way into USC.

An attorney for the couple said in a legal filing that prosecutors provided the defense with notes written by the admitted ringleader of the college admissions cheating scheme that support the couple’s claim that they believed their payments were legitimate donations, not bribes.

“This belated discovery is devastating to the government’s case and demonstrates that the government has been improperly withholding core exculpatory information, employing a ‘win at all costs’ effort rather than following their obligation to do justice,” attorney Sean Berkowtiz wrote.

The filing came on the eve of a status hearing in the case scheduled for Thursday at Boston’s federal court in the sweeping college admissions bribery case. It was expected that the judge would set a trial date for the parents still fighting the charges at that hearing.

Now, the couple’s attorneys are asking the judge to postpone the setting of the trial date in light of the new evidence, saying “it is the only fair way to protect the defendants’ rights.”

Loughlin and Giannulli are accused of paying $500,000 to get their daughters into USC as crew recruits even though neither was a rower. Authorities say the money was funneled through a sham charity operated by college admissions consultant Rick Singer, who has pleaded guilty to orchestrating the scheme.

Lawyers for Loughlin and Giannulli have argued that the couple believed the payments were “legitimate donations” that would go directly to USC as a fundraising gift or to support Singer’s charity. They have accused prosecutors of hiding crucial evidence that could prove the couple’s innocence because it would undermine their case.

It comes down to some notes by the less than honest Singer that supposedly hold exculpatory evidence for Loughlin and Giannulli. Do you think that it will be enough to prove their innocence? I guess we’ll find out in the fall when the parents go to trial.

My daughter diving in a competition with her club team at the East LA City College pool.

I am particularly annoyed with these parents in the college admissions scandal because I watched my son get rejected by eight of the nine universities he applied to. He worked so hard in high school to get into the schools of his dreams. He was valedictorian, had great SATs, participated in extracurriculars like swimming, Junior Statesmen of America, and wrote and performed music with his band. My heart ached for him and now I learn that many of the spots were taken by parents cheating the system for their kids. Also, my daughter earned her scholarship through years and years of hard work as a student- athlete. How many of those spots were taken across the nation by kids not even in a sport — and taken away from someone else who worked for ten or more years to get there?

How to Raise Fragile and Entitled Kids

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If only I knew then what I know today.

There’s always a new article about how helicopter parents are failing their kids. I read one today that not only pointed out how badly our kids will do when we do too much for them — including higher occurrences of anxiety and depression — but it turns out parents suffer from our own helicopter parenting, too. Yes, I’m guilty and I’m suffering, too.

When we are helicopter parents, we tend to worry more and also experience higher levels of stress and anxiety. The key is to let our kids fail and learn how to handle disappointment and difficult situations. When we solve everything for them, we rob them of the ability to learn from mistakes and practice problem solving.

Here’s an article I read today by Ana Aznar, who is a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Winchester, called How Over-Parenting Harms Your Kids by Making Them Fragile and Entitled. Click here to read the entire article.

I liked this paragraph and felt is really summed it up:

Life inevitably brings problems and disappointment. It is better to teach children how to face these issues rather than to solve all their problems for them. By doing so, parents will help children to develop resilience and the ability to deal with frustration – tools that will allow them to thrive once they leave the parental home.

When I watch one of my kids struggle with problems at work, friends or roommates, I want to kick myself. Did I rob them of the ability to handle these issues that inevitably are going to happen? By trying to make life perfect for them, I didn’t help them in the long run.

Here are a few more excerpts from the article:

During the last couple of decades, new types of parents have emerged. From the anxiously involved helicopter parents to the pushy tiger mums, these differing styles all have one thing in common: they tend to involve over-parenting. This is where parents micromanage their children’s lives – giving them little autonomy, putting too much pressure on them to achieve academic and personal success, while allowing few chances for their children to experience failure and frustration.

These are the parents who run back to school when their children forget their sports kit, do their homework, and ask others in the parent WhatsApp chat for the homework when their child does not bring it home. These parents believe their children are always right. They will confront teachers if the child feels they have been unfairly treated, or will confront other parents if, say, their child is not invited to a party.

Most of the research on over-parenting has focused on how it has affected university students. But the link between over-involved parents and negative consequences is found when examining children of all ages. Indeed, pre-school and primary school children of over-involved parents tend to experience high levels of shyness, anxiety and poor peer relations.When examining adolescents and university students, these negative consequences continue.

For example, 16 to 28 year-old students who reported having helicopter parents were more likely to have low levels of self-efficacy – the trust that people have in their own abilities and skills – and poor relationships with their peers.In similar research, young people who reported having over-involved parents experienced higher levels of depression and stress, less satisfaction with life, as well as less ability to regulate their emotions. They also reported a higher sense of entitlement, and increased drug use than young people with less involved parents.

Here are a few of the problems over-parenting can cause us:

Bad for parents too

Over-parenting does not only have negative consequences for the children, though. Parents who over-parent are more likely to experience high levels of anxiety, stress and regret. This in turn has negative consequences for their children, who may pick up on their parents’ anxiety and make it their own.

This may be one of the reasons why the number of university students struggling with anxiety and depression is at an all-time high. Indeed, a recent poll concluded that one in five university students in the UK suffers from high anxiety levels.

So, should all parents back off and not get involved in their children’s lives? Not quite. Because to make matters more complicated, research clearly shows that children who have involved parents tend to do better at school, have higher levels of self-esteem, and better peer relations than children whose parents are not as involved.

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If you were guilty of being a helicopter parent, have your kids experienced problems because of over-parenting?

Is Low Self Esteem Caused by Helicopter Parents?

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Practicing to be superheroes.

Helicopter parents are all around the world these days. I thought of it as a United States phenomenon, but after reading this article from the Times of Oman (which is between Yemen and Saudia Arabia—I looked it up) I realized helicopter parents are everywhere.

Written by Farzeen Ashik, author of the prize-winning novel ‘Rainbow Dorm Diaries-The Yellow Dorm’ “The Hard Truth About Helicopter Parenting” spells it out simply and effectively:

The hard truth about helicopter parenting

Have you heard about helicopter parenting? As parents, we want the best for our kids. It almost seems like we keep wanting to raise the bar, so we turn into Supermoms and Superdads. But in the process, do we end up becoming a bit over-protective, aggressive, pushy, or overconcerned? Don’t think so? Let’s take a quick, hard look then. Are you the one finishing your child’s homework and school projects? Is it ultimately your responsibility to ensure that your child’s deadlines are met and work is submitted on time or even that the school bag has the right books for the lessons the next day? Do you take it as a personal affront if your child gets a low grade and get an immediate itch to send an email to the teacher about it? Do you pack your teen’s lunch box and iron his/her uniform? Does your child look at you when someone asks him/her about what he/she wants to do when he/she is older? A whole lot of parents will nod reluctantly. Let’s face the fact that we are a generation of helicopter parents. So, what is helicopter parenting? The term “helicopter parent” was first used in Dr Haim Ginott’s 1969 book Between Parent and Teenager, by teens, who said their parents would hover over them like a helicopter. The term became popular enough to become a dictionary entry in 2011. There might be a whole section of readers who strongly believe that they are doing nothing but their duty as good parents to be so involved in the lives of their children. The fact that there could be such a thing as over-involvement does not even occur to them. But as parents, don’t we also have a responsibility to make sure our kids grow up making their own little mistakes and facing their challenges and fears? Here are some reasons why you should stop hovering over your children.

Low self-esteem

If you are constantly around then your children will get used to turning to mommy or daddy for all the answers. Not only that, they will start losing confidence in themselves and their instincts. Every time they make a decision, they will feel the need to run to you and check whether they are right. That’s because your constant presence sends out the signal that you don’t trust their judgement.

Lower adaptability

Kids today will be adults tomorrow and before you know it, they will be out there battling it on their own. They have to graduate, get jobs, find partners, and finally raise their own children. Looking at your gawky teenagers now and imagining them doing all that will certainly seem remote to you but you have to start envisioning them doing things by themselves. Give them opportunities to adapt to different scenarios and challenges. Else, they will be misfits in the real world.

I know I did too much for my kids. I was trying my best, but I wanted to make sure they didn’t fail. I was constantly in their classrooms talking to teachers about assignments and tests. I emailed coaches or met to let them know if my child wasn’t being treated fairly. I helped with homework. I found new teaching methods when I didn’t think their teacher was up to snuff. Today, when I hear my son give himself horrible self-talk, I wonder if I am the cause of it? Was it because I pampered him? I reread the part of the article about low self-esteem, and I did trust my kids’ judgment. I wonder if they knew that? Did I make it clear? I have enough self-doubt on my own that maybe it can be spread like a cold and they caught it from me. 

In any case, my daughter made the comment that negative self-talk is very common. I listened to a webinar by David Benzel, a sports parenting expert, focus on self-talk. He said we can stop our kids when we hear negative self-talk and help them rewire what they say to themselves. I think it’s worth getting out his parenting book “From Chump to Champ” and rereading the chapter on self-talk.

robkatwaterWhat do you think the pitfalls of helicopter parenting are?

Is Parenting Over When Kids Grow Up?

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My kids at ages 18 and 21.

How much support should parents give their kids — emotionally and financially — when they’re technically grown up? When I was young, in my early 20s, I was on my own and didn’t receive help financially or emotionally from mom or dad. In fact, I moved to California, got a job and was married within a couple years. Several months after college, I was basically on my own.

Today, parents are helping their kids by paying rent or giving monthly stipends until their kids are “on their feet.” My best friend from college explained to me, “The less you do for them, the faster they become independent.” While that may seem like contradictory advice, it’s really the truth. If you do too much for your young adults, the more dependent they become and the less likely they will grow and learn life lessons. I have two separate friends with daughter’s the same age as mine who said something like, “The Bank of Dad ends in six months after graduation.”

In a Wall Street Journal article called Parenting Isn’t Over When Kids Grow Up by Mark McConville, he explains the challenge of how to help your kids without undermining their independence.

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My daughter after she finished college.

Let’s say that you have recently launched your son or daughter toward college—or a job, or the armed services or perhaps graduate school. In any case, you are done with parenting, ready to collapse into an easy chair, pour yourself a drink and reflect on a job well done.

Then the phone call comes about an intolerable roommate or unfair professor, or hours cut back at work, or a request for a small loan for recording equipment or perhaps a donation for a three-month trek through Europe. And it suddenly dawns on you: You’re parenting in overtime.

How does this happen? Forget the myth that adulthood begins at age 18 or 21. Psychologist Jeffrey Arnett has famously charted the developmental stage that he calls emerging adulthood—“a gradual transition from adolescence to full adulthood that stretches from age 18 to roughly age 30.” His research shows that only in their late 20s do most people feel like an adult “most of the time.” Young people must accomplish a host of big and small developmental tasks to help make the transition, from getting their own living quarters to changing the oil in their car. And one of the paradoxes of growing up is that true independence involves learning when and how to ask for help.

Meanwhile, for economic reasons, more emerging adults remain intimately connected to their parents than ever before. A recent U.S. Census Bureau study shows that over 30% of young adults ages 18-34 still live with their parents. A 2019 Pew Research survey found that the majority of these parents provided financial (60%) and emotional (77%) support within the past year.

So, like it or not, your job isn’t finished. But what should overtime parenting look like? Fortunately, there are some principles that can minimize your sense of powerlessness and frustration while maximizing your ability to support your transitioner’s growth.

One of the ideas I liked the most in the article was the rule that if you’re invested more than 49% of any task, financial support, etc., then in essence you own it. You’ve taken over and you’re doing more than you should. That’s a pretty good guideline to go by.

Follow the 49% rule. Most 20-somethings need emotional support and practical coaching as they face unfamiliar hurdles—filling out applications, opening bank accounts, interviewing for jobs. But however much initiative, energy, or emotional investment is required to accomplish a task, limit your contribution to 49%. Once you drift over 50%, you own it, and you’re likely to see your transitioner’s motivational investment diminish.

That is what happened with a 19-year-old client of mine the summer before beginning college. He was highly anxious about the transition, and this manifested as foot-dragging on a variety of mundane but necessary tasks: submitting medical forms, selecting courses, confirming dormitory placement and so on. His father, anxious about his son’s stalled initiative, stepped in to “help” by tracking due dates, completing forms and generally nagging his son to take care of business.

Unwittingly, his father had crossed the 49% line and taken ownership of the transition process. I said to the dad: “Think of yourself more as a consultant than a supervisor—ready with your wisdom and guidance but allowing your son space to wrestle with the key challenges of initiative and ownership.” He did, and in a few short weeks, the young man got his act together and headed off to a successful college experience.

Another important tip is to allow our children to learn from failure. If we get worked up over their failures or impending tasks and act like everything is a crisis, then we’ll probably jump in and take over. That doesn’t allow our kids to learn from mistakes and become competent adults. Life is a learning curve. I’m continually learning about how to improve — even with parenting my 20-something-year-olds. My kids should be allowed to learn at their own rate, too.

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Me at around the time I graduated college.

How do you help your adult kids and set limits so you don’t do too much?

6 ways to annoy your kid’s coach without really trying

IMG_5008My kids had 14 coaches throughout their age group swimming years! Yes, 14 at last count. There may be a few more who we don’t remember, but the reason we had so many is that kids grow and move up in groups—and naturally get new coaches. Also, it was tough for us to keep assistant age group coaches. They weren’t paid enough and the hours were too short for them to make a living. You have to love kids and swimming to interrupt your day and stand on the pool deck for a couple hours for $8 an hour (which was what we were paying way back when.)

Then we lost our longtime head coach, who left the swimming world forever to become a pilot. It did take us a few head coaches to get one that would become permanent. Hence, the 14 or so coaches my kids had.

We learned a lot about being helpful swim parents from our longtime head coach. He was patient beyond belief and worked with parents to help educate them about swimming and swim parenting.

Here are some of the things we did and what we’ve seen other parents do to annoy the heck out of coaches:

ONE

Showing up late to practice.

I’m not talking about being stuck in traffic or having an orthodontist appointment. I’m talking about parents who bring their kids to practice late all the time.

TWO

Talking smack on the pool deck.

Having spent an enormous part of my child-rearing years watching swim practice and going to swim meets, I heard a lot of negative talk. Parents talked badly about coaches, other parents, swimmers, teams and just about everything else. Negatively spreads like wildfire and it ALWAYS gets back to the coach. If you hear someone talking bad stuff behind other people’s backs, tell them to stop or walk away. 

THREE

Coaching your kids.

This is so confusing to kids and annoys coaches immensely. Coaches are working with our children and may be focusing on a specific skill or technique to get our kids to the next level. Since we can’t read our coach’s mind, we may not know what they’re trying to do. I watched one dad constantly coach his daughter during meets and giving contradictory instructions to what the coach wanted.

FOUR

Ask to have your child moved up.

Generally, coaches know when a child should be moved up into the next group. However, there are a few parents who think their kids need to be moved up before they are ready. They email the coach or ask in person several times. Often, coaches will acquiesce to appease the parent. I watched this over and over and the next thing that happened was the swimmer quits. They would end up in a group that was too fast. They couldn’t keep up with the intervals. Instead of being at the top of the their group, they were last, slowest and never got a chance to rest.

FIVE

Interrupting the coach during practice.

For lots of teams, this is something that couldn’t happen because only swimmers are allowed on deck. But on our team, which is outside in sunny southern California, parents are allowed to sit on the pool deck. Often, parents, including me and my husband, would ask a quick question of the coach. We weren’t trying to interrupt, but when you get a half dozen parents doing the same thing, we were taking our coach’s eyes off the kids and not allowing the coach to work.

SIX

Taking vacations at the wrong times.

When kids are little, in my opinion, it’s okay to take family vacations whenever your want. But, when kids are older and they are serious about swimming, you have to take vacations at the right times. You can’t have your child out of the water for a week before their upcoming target meet. Christmas break was a big week for our kids with doubles and lots of work. The coach would be annoyed if kids left during that week and didn’t get the workouts he wanted.

img_4129There are a ton of other things that parents can do to annoy their kids coaches. What have you seen parents do in your children’s sports?