With the most recent results from the Lake Travis ISD 2018 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), which measures student risky behavior and student perception of the school experience, reporting a strong disconnect between teacher/student relationships and overall support, our youth still report parents as supportive and involved in their lives. The same YRBS reported that kids are experiencing extreme pressure to succeed, both academically and in some cases, athletically. Where is this extreme pressure coming from? School? Coaches? Parents? Most likely, all three. Yet time and time again, student surveys show parents as the primary influence on their decision making and their overall life happiness.
As parents then, how do you balance the urge to support your youth’s development without coddling, yet push them to develop to their potential without creating extreme levels of anxiety?
Current research of the developing teenage brain validates that the brain continues to grow, create neural connections and mature until approximately 25 years of age. During the adolescent period of development (ages 10-17) young people will have billions of neurons shed away, as they create permanent pathways of knowledge/habits while discarding information/habits they do not use or need. (https://www.howyouthlearn.org/research_teenagebrain.html)
For example, if a 12 year old plays the piano for 4-6 hours a day, she/he will have pathways that are strong around finger movement/dexterity and music comprehension, while having less development in the brain pathways that encourage muscle development to assist in competitive swimming.
Similarly, if a young athlete lifts weights, runs, and plays baseball for 4-6 hours/day, those physical muscles and dexterity will develop with the brain’s support and focus, while the brain pathways around enjoying literature, for example, may not develop as sharply unless reading is also an integral part of his/her daily development.
Letting an adolescent brain be balanced in its development by exposure to new, healthy ideas and topics is inherent in a happy and well-adjusted kid. Not all young people enjoy physical activity, yet brain science has shown how important physical activity is to the developing brain. Doctors recommend 60 minutes of movement a day for kids/teens.
Parents can help unload unnecessary stress and anxiety by understanding how your own child(ren) is motivated, what makes them happy, calm, encouraged and feeling loved. Losing the ‘big game’, making an 80 in that AP class, sitting on the bench during a sporting game may actually HELP young people grow and mature. Helping your young person know how to manage cognitive dissonance, or mental conflict, is a huge key to sustaining that stress/anxiety balance with the overall happiness kids need to complete growing their healthy brains. (https://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/brain_development_teenagers.html)
Deep breathing, yoga, mindfulness, hiking, biking, and almost any activity that gets the brain shooting dopamine, the natural feel-good chemical is imperative. Even non-athletes need to spend time outside, active and if possible, with one or both of their parents.
How can you assess whether you’re putting too much pressure on your young person to succeed, in academics or in sporting activities? Crying, sullenness, detachment, unwillingness to talk to you, angry outbursts may be signs. If these sorts of behaviors are occurring several times a week, or if important daily life activities cannot be accomplished because of them, it may be time to check yourself as a parent. Ask yourself: How am I teaching my child to bounce back from failure, as well as enjoying their natural skills? Also, never hesitate to connect with support for yourself or your family through a local church, friend of counselor.
Our community breeds success in our youth, but at some point, we may need to ask ourselves, at what cost? Knowing the warning signs of mental health issues and/or crisis are more important than ever:
- Inability to perform daily tasks
- Extreme mood swings
- Increased isolation
- Increased agitation
- Drug/Alcohol use
*Taken from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Let’s rally together as parents in our amazing community by staying AWARE of not only our own children’s behavior and disposition, but also of our neighbor’s children, our church’s youth, our athletic team’s youth….the village.
If you are interested in counseling services for you or your teen, or would like a presentation regarding creating and supporting youth-empowered mindsets for your church youth group, teen workplace or parent group, contact Kathleen Hassenfratz, LPC at [email protected] or www.laketraviscounseling.com