Will Wooton, Director of Pacific Treatment Services, writes for Pomerado News and is the and co-author of “Bring Your Teen Back From The Brink.” PTS is a substance abuse company working with teens and young adults.
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Talking about this generation
Last week I had the privilege of meeting a woman who is 94 years old. In the conversation she asked what I do for a living. When she learned that I work with teenagers, she immediately brought up her struggles with her children. After several minutes of hearing how wild they were and how they caused her such headaches, she ended her speech-like thought with “back when I was a kid things were different.”
We have all heard this in some shape or form but I, maybe for the first time, actually listened and thought about what she was saying.
During my two hours with her I was painted a vivid picture of a childhood not only tougher but also seemingly more enjoyable. New labeling psychological terms or medications were not present. Everyone wasn’t so quick to validate feelings of frustration or fears. There wasn’t a constant need to make kids so comfortable.
At 15, this woman was working full-time to help pay the household bills and school was a luxury that she went to once or twice a week. I can only imagine what our current generation would do in that type of environment. Simply restricting Twitter for a day brings on such anxiety that three counselors and their psychiatrist must be called for an emergency session!
We’ve made such advances as a society that we coddle every bump and scrape that kids should experience. No parent wants to see their child in pain but don’t they need to experience it at some level? Does reinforcing every feeling they have as good really help long-term? Sometimes acting irrationally needs to be called just what it is — irrational.
Through our conversation she described a childhood filled with hardship. Poverty was rampant and most people had great reasons to be down. There were no medical diagnostic codes for anyone to cite as a reason for their depression. Kids running up and down the streets playing would surely be looked at today as ADHD and the slightest hint of feeling isolated wasn’t treated with mood stabilizing medication to make social interactions more tolerable. How did the privilege of education turn into a fight every morning to get a kid out of bed for school? I’ve actually had teens threaten to run away, or suicide, over losing their cell phone for a period of time.
I really believe we need to swing the pendulum back to the center a bit. Every waking desire and perceived need shouldn’t be taken care of. Love isn’t buying the newest phone for a child but rather the emotional connection that is shared.
What I learned most about this woman being a teen 80 years ago was that it wasn’t about how parents excuse the behaviors of kids, but how the community and family expected a higher level from them. Grades in school were second to the learning that happened. Values were adopted from direct contact, not what social media and marketing companies decided was good. Role models were actually people you knew and could look up to, not just a person’s image and crafted persona that you see once you stream their videos.
We need to get back to kids fighting for a good life and some level of struggle is part of that. We’ve robbed kids of the desire to better themselves. When we continue to emotionally hinder kids by safeguarding their every feeling, how can we expect them to grow?
Teens in particular can be the most vulnerable to negative behaviors. If we want to break them of the dangerous behaviors, we need to give then a reason to fight in life. Goals come to those who set and work toward them, not to those who dream big and wait for mommy and daddy to make them happen.