What happened to the days of our childhood when we cycled everywhere, and played unsupervised without cell phones? When the most trouble we could get into was getting our clothes dirty and being home late for the family dinner.
Why are so many teenage girls suffering from anxiety and depression? Why can we no longer draw on our own experiences as children to guide our own children through their adolescent years? Because the majority of kids do not have unscheduled play time. Because the majority of kids do not eat with their families.
It was something that my 16 year-old daughter said to me that made me finally stop comparing my own childhood with what was lacking in hers?
I had been asking my daughter why she hadn’t greeted a girl in her grade that had been next to her in a line. I knew the kid’s mother well, and the girls were in the same grade in the same small High School. I watched her stance change and she became anxious as I repeated the same old observation. “I understand she is in the so-called ‘popular crowd’, but why can’t you be more friendly? What’s the worst thing that could happen if you said hello?” She looked at me with big sad eyes and quietly sighed “Mom you just don’t understand”.
What did she mean? I’m the cool Mom of four girls who thinks that she understands everything. I let her have a purple streak in her hair to make her feel good about herself and bought her floral Doc Martens! I invite her friends over on a regular basis. I thought I totally got it with bells on. Wasn’t I just teaching basic politeness? But it wasn’t until I attended a talk by Elizabeth Englander – top doctor and specialist in kid stuff to do with the internet, Facebook, social networking etc etc.
The talk was called “Helping Your Child Achieve Social Success In School and Online” and it started well for me. ‘Talk to your kids’ – check. ‘Spend time with your kids (more important than any basketball game or trumpet class)’ – check. ‘No kid under 13 should have a Facebook account – it’s breaking the law’ – check. ‘Monitoring Facebook accounts etc is not snooping – you are teaching them that EVERY thing they post is public and there is no such thing as privacy’ – check. At this point I’m feeling rather smug and hope that all the parents who think that having their kids’ password infringes on their privacy are finally getting the message.
Then Elizabeth explained how we need to understand that our children’s childhood IS TOTALLY different than when we were children. And we cannot and should not try to compare them.
But what is responsible for this total change? The answer has to be technology. It happened so fast! One day we got a cell phone, the next our kids were needing to be on-line, attached 24/7 to some electronic device for fear of what? Missing something? We have become voyeurs. Needing to constantly be looking at other people’s everyday lives which only results in us being less satisfied with our own. We read about other people’s trips, children’s achievements, and the parties/weddings they attended that we weren’t invited to.
All of the above are resulting in our children not being able to handle many social situations. The one that is particularly damaging is being unable to handle ‘resolution’. In OUR day when we had a ‘tiff’ with a friend during an unsupervised playdate we usually figured it out before we went home at the end of the day. By the next day it was forgotten. Elizabeth explained the harrowing reality of today, especially with girls. To start with they rarely play unsupervised and in their ‘spare’ time, so a ‘tiff’ will usually arise at school. The hurt party will typically go home and tweet her friends about her unfair treatment, or her annoyance that someone has talked to her boyfriend or copied her hairstyle. She will then go on Facebook and rant a bit resulting in others joining in and fanning the flames. By the morning the ‘tiff’ is well underway with many more people involved. This can go on for days until some other drama replaces this one. Our children are simply not in a position to learn face-to-face, one on one, how to resolve personal issues on their own in a timely manner.
For the first time I realized that my daughter saying ‘hello’ to the cool kid, is enough to put her on the cool kids radar…Being on that radar could quite possibly result in a Facebook posting or Twitter message about her. Which may result in several responses, which could result in looks and sniggers at school the next day, which would definitely result in increased anxiety. The worst thing that could happen is not that they will ignore you. It’s that they will notice you. You will be perceived as trying to suck up to the cool crowd. And ‘who do you think you are? ’ Pretty devastating stuff to a shy 16 year-old. No wonder she won’t even make eye contact with those she perceives as the cool kids. They yield an incredible amount of power.
I felt sick that I had been pestering her to get in their face and be friendly. Because what could be wrong with that? Everything in today’s world could be wrong with that.
Bad news, parents. Elizabeth tells us that the only way they are going to learn about resolving disagreements is from us. We need to ask our kids about their day. About their dramas. About postings that YOU have seen on their Facebook pages. YEs, their Facebook page is a window into their lives but remember you can only view through a one way mirror. Never be tempted to comment. Just be grateful that you can see.
And ‘if’ our perfect daughters were to ‘add’ to a mean Facebook posting we need to educate them WHY it isn’t acceptable. And ‘when’ our kids come home from a stressful day of navigating all of this they need to enter a calm and happy home, because to many of our kids, school is a battleground. Our kids need a place to retreat to for peace and support. Letting our kids scream at each other, swear at each other or you, or eye roll at each other isn’t teaching them independence or letting them ‘express themselves’. It’s teaching them that these family-rage behaviors are acceptable when they are not. The same goes for how WE treat our partners and our children. Our children are watching and learning from us.
Please check out Elizabeth Englander’s web site www.elizabethenglander.com She’s done all the years of research, the focus groups and all the number crunching. We just have to put into action the wonderful gems she has uncovered.
By keeping an open mind and with her help we have the best chance of navigating through the often-painful years of adolescence, which are so totally different from our own.