Kids today are under more pressure than ever before. They’re also more anxious than any generation of kids before. We’re now looking at 1 in 4 kids, with girls twice as likely to suffer from anxiety as boys, more than any other time in history.
When I speak at parenting seminars, the most common question I get is, “Why?” There are a lot of reasons that go into why America is leading the statistics on children and anxiety. But one of the primary reasons I believe is because we’ve become a reactive, rather than a proactive society.
Now, let me assure you that I do believe the reactions are important. Our children are facing issues that are far more complex and intense than those we encountered when we were sitting at our desks in school. We did not need to be prepared for an intruder coming into our school with a gun. We didn’t have to understand and know how to handle online bullying. Our bullies were relegated to the playground, and we got away from them as soon as we walked into the safety of our homes.
But, at this juncture, I believe we’re spending more time teaching kids about bullying prevention than we are teaching them healthy conflict resolution. We’re teaching them how to hide under their desks in case of a lockdown at school, but we’re not teaching them how to handle a family member who disappoints them.
We’re preparing our kids for real-world catastrophes and issues, but not teaching them how to handle the daily struggles that will inevitably come their way. In fact, I’d go so far, as we’re not even letting them know that those struggles will come.
Instead, we wear t-shirts that say, “Best. Day. Ever.” We post all over our own social media about how we’re “Livin’ Our Best Life.” I believe that those messages stand in opposition of John 16:33, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart. I have overcome the world.”
It’s the verse I used as an anchor in my new book on anxiety and girls, Raising Worry-Free Girls and the companion book for girls, Braver, Stronger, Smarter. In fact, I go on to say that we need to teach kids to expect trouble.
She is most likely going to be disappointed by every friend she has, at some point.
She is not going to do as well on at least one test as she’d like.
He’s going to miss a basket.
He’s going to hurt a friend.
The family vacation is not going to live up to all of her expectations.
You’re going to argue as a family.
All marriages struggle, to some degree.
We don’t feel 100% close to God all of the time.
After counseling kids for 27 years, I believe a huge part of the problem today is that they’re not hearing these messages.
They’re looking for the friend who will never disappoint them—and, therefore, are disappointed and feel lonely constantly.
They’re expecting perfect grades at all times.
They put immense amounts of pressure on themselves academically, relationally, athletically…in all areas.
They think their family is the only one who argues.
They think something is wrong with them.
God must not love them, because they don’t feel close to him all the time.
Of course, they’re anxious. Things in their lives are not what they’re supposed to be. And it sure looks like they are for everyone else.
In this world, we will have trouble. We all worry. We all fail. There is not a relationship that will fulfill us 100% of the time, as we all know, as grown-ups. God is the only one who won’t…and we can stand on the truth of His love, regardless of how we feel.
I also believe we live in a culture that validates feeling over truth. The truth is that we will be disappointed, simply as a result of the fall. We will live our best life for about five minutes a day. The best day ever doesn’t last long. In this world, we will have trouble. But we can take heart because He has overcome. We don’t have to. We can know that trouble will come. We can talk about it with the kids we love, and come closer together for that trouble. After all, the pathway to hope and character do seem to come through suffering (Romans 5:3)…not our best days ever.
Let’s prepare the kids we love for trouble. Let’s teach them about real-world catastrophes and issues, as well as the daily disappointments and worries that will come. Let’s teach them healthy ways to handle conflict. Let’s talk about where we go with disappointment and appropriate outlets for anger. Let’s arm them with coping skills so that they can find their way past the emotions and back to the truth that brings heart and hope for us all.