What kids need from their parents more than anything else

By Scott Schimmel

There’s no question that students face a lot of pressure these days. Actually, students today are under a lot more pressure than their parents were at their age. The academic requirements to get into college have skyrocketed, and the increased pressure to be involved in clubs, service organizations, and sports, plus the demand for high test scores means that students are busier and more stressed than ever before. 

In a recent survey of teen stress levels, about half of students are chronically stressed, with immediate and potentially long-term consequences on their emotional, physical, and mental health. 

There’s a real problem with stress today. Most adults don’t handle stress well, and emerging adults are especially vulnerable to handling stress very poorly (think: lifetime habits formed, coping mechanisms like substance abuse, and subpar academic performance). 

Students need support from their parents more than ever before. 

In a development phase full of relationship transition, even though students are directionally pushing away from their parents in order to grow their sense of freedom, autonomy and form their own identity, they need their parents to stay close by, both physically and emotionally. They need their parents to do a lot more than help them manage their schedules and accomplish their tasks, they need their parents to check in on them, to stay close emotionally, and to be available. 

A young college student told me recently: “I don’t know if my parents really care about me. They definitely care about my grades, they care if I clean up after myself, and they care about how much money I spend and how much time I’m on my phone or my computer. But I’m not sure if they really care about how I’m doing.”

The danger is that we create patterns in relationships where our only points of contact are over logistics and tasks and that our bond is superficial so they learn that their value is wrapped up in what they do, not who they are.

The punchline? No matter what age or stage your kids are in, and no matter how much irritation they have for you, your kids need you to be safe for them and close to them. 

Here’s a brief overview of what safety looks like and feels like, and how safe relationships are formed between parents and their kids:

  • You share your own struggles, hopes, and fears with them
  • You contain their emotions when they share them
  • You never overreact when they show big feelings
  • You don’t try to minimize or convince them they don’t feel a certain way
  • You demonstrate understanding and empathy and validate their feelings
  • You mirror their emotions as they relate stories to you- your face looks surprised when they are surprised, your face looks sad when they tell you sad things, etc. 
  • You affirm that they are valuable, good, and loved with your words, actions, and affection
  • You ask them questions about how they’re doing, how they’re feeling, what they’re excited about and what they annoyed with
  • You really listen to them, actively and with curiosity
  • You pursue them continuously, even when they don’t respond
  • You give them appropriate space when they ask for it and let you know they need it- you don’t smother them or shame them for wanting to keep things private from you

Life is stressful, there’s no doubt about that. And there’s no doubt that transitioning into adulthood is extremely stressful, full of pressure and fear and confusion. Parents can be the greatest support, encouragement, and life guides to their kids. Safe, close parents are a huge difference maker for kids who transition well into healthy, thriving adults.

If you’d like to learn more about how to grow in empathy, safety, and understanding of the complex dynamics of transition to adulthood, spend time reading through the other posts on our blog. Give us a call, and we can chat about how our programs can support you and your student. 

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