The Real World
Filed Under (feelings, parenting tips, tweens, Uncategorized)

Cautions from childhood echo in my ear, “What are you complaining about?  Wait til you’re an adult in the real world.  Then you’ll know problems!”  Dismal warnings like this were enough to make me want to curl under my covers and hope that Peter Pan would rescue me from becoming an adult.  Feeling overwhelmed and unfulfilled at age 10 was tough enough without the ‘older and wiser’ set dashing my hopes of finding even a morsel of satisfaction in adulthood.

Parents can be tempted to diminish the difficulty in a child’s life.  After all, childhood can seem like nirvana to a 40-something with mountains of responsibility and stress.  But if we take time to reflect on the realities of childhood, we see that it isn’t so carefree after all.

  • Expectation Overload:  Children try to meet endless expectations from parents, teachers, coaches, and peers.  “Finish your homework.  Eat your vegetables.  Practice your instrument.  Clean your room.”
  • Big Brainpower:  A tween or teen’s mental energy is divided between learning 5 subjects worth of knowledge at school and at the same time, figuring out how to be the most popular, most athletic, smartest, prettiest, most talented person their age.
  • Emotional Rollercoaster: Adolescents typically experience embarrassment, loneliness, fear, joy, disappointment, excitement, self-doubt, and anger all before lunch time.

When you consider the energy that is required to balance lofty expectations with peer stress and emotional upheaval, it’s no surprise that children gravitate toward mind-numbing technology and entertainment for relief.  Children need a break as much as adults do.  Lest you think I’m promoting video games as a solution, let me direct you to another – albeit less concrete - option: compassion. 

I’ve polled hundreds of children with questions about what they need and want from the adults in their lives.  Their responses can be summed up in three words:   appreciation, reassurance, and respect.  Although they may work hard to hide this fact, tweens and teens are fearful.  They wonder what will become of them.  They fear disappointment from others and from themselves.  And they long for reassurance (from those who are ‘older and wiser’) that they are enough just as they are; that life in general, and their lives specifically, are not doomed because of mistakes they’ve made.

When I work with tweens and teens, I am continually reminded of the innocence and vulnerability of our young people.  More than anything that adults think is important – values, discipline, responsibility – the one thing that matters most is compassion.  If we stay centered on this need and revise our parenting and teaching styles to reflect it, we fulfill the most basic need of a child and give them hope that they can thrive in the real world.

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