There is a secret hiding in this photo, a secret that a growing number of teenagers and young adults can relate to. Even though they can relate to the secret, few people want to acknowledge it. Can you figure out what I am talking about yet? The secret lies in a constant feeling of being unable to “measure up” and questioning “Can I even do this?” These perceived expectations come [somewhat unconsciously] from a child’s parents or siblings, teachers, coaches, peers, and images and messages in society as a whole. What we don’t always recognize as parents, grandparents, friends, coaches, peers, and members of the community is, the message and standards we are communicating are leading to extreme pressures on the next generation leading to extreme measures to be “good enough.”
As adults, most of us take technology for granted, whereas for most teens, technology is their life and social realm. “Do your homework,” now means “Get your Ipad/laptop.” “Call your friends to see what they are up to” is now “I’ll text them and start a group chat.” “Spending time” with friends is now messaging them on Facebook, Skyping with them, or playing video games online together. In this case technology, right or wrong, can help people who are shy open up and make friends easier. Unfortunately though, young kids use technology so extensively that they may receive mixed messages from major support figures in their life like parents, coaches, and even loved ones. The teenager may hear the suggestions and turn them into “rules” or “expectations” of how they should act or be acting. Today’s teens though have a drastically different skill and comfort level than we do. Inadvertently, these well intended suggestions frequently end up turning into more thoughts that the teen is not “measuring up” or doing what is expected of them.
Personally, I see a number of teenagers and young adults being treated more and more like adults. No longer is it good enough for children to just go to school, get good grades, and maybe participate in a sport or club. Instead, teens are put into multiple sports or extracurricular activities which take away significant time from their academics and overall social growth and development. Children are also being asked to do more and more to get into a “good” high school, and even middle school. The application process for some high schools require teens to go through an interview, application, essay, and even an orientation. That was required for me to get into college, not high school. More and more children are pushed to do more to get into a school only to still have the risk of saying “We regret to inform you but our enrollment has met its capacity,” but what children read and hear is “You weren’t good enough.” Children are no longer just allowed to participate, but they have to “succeed” and “measure up” to others, when the reality is that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses.
On top of using technology to build relationships, having extremely busy schedules, being exposed to a lot of high pressure situations, consider another role technology plays today. Not only is the constant exposure to be “cool” plastered all over Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Youtube, and Facebook but these “cool” things get put next ads that are sexually suggestive, promoting the use of drugs and/or alcohol, and even sometimes extensive ridicule from other people. Again, this sends mixed messages that reinforce the idea of not “measuring up” to what other people their age are saying and doing.
So, adults, specifically parents, coaches, grandparents and loved ones, what can you do to help the teens and young adults in your life? The first suggestion I have is for you to understand and recognize how your teens world is different from the world you grew up in. Next, I want you to take a look at your child’s schedule and find your child’s “downtime.” If you can not find any time where they are not involved in extracurriculars, doing homework, or any other type of “work” then your child needs some! Downtime is supposed to be just that, time that they can do something that THEY enjoy (age appropriate of course). An additional suggestion I have is to help your child identify his/her values by asking them about situations they see on social media regarding the people or pop icons they follow. Lastly, and most importantly admit to making mistakes. Everyone, yes I mean everyone, has their own strengths and weaknesses and admitting our own mistakes will help shrink those thoughts of being “unable to measure up.”