Remember those hidden 3D pictures that were all the rage in the 1990’s? If you stared at the seemingly randomly designed picture (aptly called Magic Eyes) long enough, a hidden image popped out of the design. After that, you didn’t have to work quite so hard to see it. Some never could, despite repeated efforts. The key, as it turned out, was to not try so hard, to relax your eyes and let the vision come to you.
I wonder sometimes if perhaps we should encourage our overly stressed, overly anxious teenagers to do the same. I wonder if, just maybe, they are trying too hard. After all, suicide is now the number one killer of teenagers, and child psychologists report a steady and alarming increase in young people in need of counseling for stress-related problems. Kids are unhappy bundles of anxiety and perhaps it’s time that stopped.
For one thing, teens are very aware that they live in a highly competitive world, one that is growing more so with each passing day. If you compare the college admissions process when you were a child to what it is today, well, you might not have been accepted to your college at all. I’m also guessing that you were given more options than today’s parents are willing to give their kids. Today, college is an expectation, even though some kids are definitely not “college kids” and don’t have any desire to attend. For months we watched the news cover over-the-top parents going to extreme measures to make sure their kids got into prestigious colleges. Some of those kids didn’t want to go to college at all, but they weren’t given the choice.
Here in Houston, we hear about the desperate need for welders, for oil tanker workers, for service industry workers, and so on, yet we continue to insist that our children – despite their abilities or desires – must go to college. In this scenario, whose dreams are being fulfilled, ours or our children’s?
We insist on well-rounded kids who are adept in a number of areas: arts, athletics, volunteerism, leadership, and academic achievement. Think about the pressure this puts on children. It’s not enough that they discover their strengths and foster them; we now expect them to have strengths in every area and become masters of all of them. You know what they say about jacks of all trade, right?
Now step back and look at the picture of your child’s future. How is what they see different from what we see? And how can we make the picture more clear for everyone involved?
It begins with listening to our kids and really hearing what they have to say. If Brittany really wants to go to culinary school, why are you pushing her into pharmacy? Because I have news for you – I’ve met many Brittanys, and after you spend $100,000 sending them through years of college, they will eventually end up in… culinary school. So listen first. Save yourself the money and heartache and them the stress and unhappiness and allow them to make decisions about their own futures.
Once they have, do everything you can to provide them with the resources they need to successfully reach their goals. But make sure that they are the ones doing the work. They must earn their dreams. You can lovingly support them, but it’s their sweat that must get them to their goal. When you give your kids ownership of their futures, you’ll be surprised at the very interesting thing that happens next. They will have LESS stress and anxiety as they gain more control over their choices and responsibilities.
My point is that everyone needs to quit trying so hard. Relax and look for the vision. As Christians we would paraphrase this idea as “Let go and let God.” Pray for your children and encourage them to do the same. With prayer and surrender, God will reveal a plan and provide the path for your child to follow. Once that happens, it will be clear and easy to see – the picture will jump off the page, so to speak.
So relax. Pray. Listen. Support. And just watch. Your young adult will go proudly into the future with less stress, more confidence, and ultimately, more success.
Rebecca Deurlein is the author of Teenagers 101: What a top teacher wishes you knew about helping your kid succeed, and President of Teenager Success 101, a one-on-one academic coaching company dedicated to helping kids find success. She blogs and writes internationally, speaks to parents across the nation, and loves every minute of living in Sugar Land, TX. Find her on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Huffington Post, or through her own blog A Teacher’s Guide to Understanding Teenagers. All can be accessed at www.TeenagerSuccess101.com.