Teens love the thrill of taking risks. They seek experiences that will stimulate their senses, emotions, and thinking. This desire stems from brain changes that produce changes in the reward system of the brain. We often look at this “novelty seeking behavior” (AKA, risk taking) as a problem that puts our teens in danger. However, this behavior also holds many positive possibilities and opportunities. For instance, taking risks help our teens learn new things. It prepares them to leave home and begin life on their own. It helps them gain confidence. Ironically, it also helps them develop the motivation necessary to “take on” other challenging and beneficial tasks in life. So, if you want to have a motivated teen who is moving toward responsible independence, let them take a risk to grow on.
Don’t make “no” your go to answer. Constant “no’s” may either push your teen into rebellion or it may discourage them and rob them of motivation. Before you say “no,” get curious. Ask a few questions. Find out more about their ideas and what they want to accomplish. As you explore their ideas and desires, you might find they’ve already considered several risk factors. You can help them think through other potentially dangerous aspects of their ideas. In addition, you stimulate them to think about creative opportunities to move toward their goals through various adventures. Still, there will be some risk. (When you have to say “no,” consider this.) Even starting to drive carries risk. We, as parents, need to trust our teens to moderate their risk on their own and…
Provide them with “training wheels” when necessary. Children and teens learn to trust their abilities, their bodies, and their knowledge along with the limits of each by engaging in activities and behaviors that present a challenge and, as a result, present some risk. As they engage in these activities, there may be times when you can provide “training wheels.” For instance, “Cinderella laws” around driving function as “training wheels” to help prevent accidents for young drivers. Providing the necessary safety equipment—i.e.-bike helmets, pads for sports, a safety class—for their activities also provides safety education and “training wheels.” Teach them to use “toys,” tools, and equipment safely. You might even know another adult who can function as mentor for them in that activity. Provide some supervision without taking over. Doing so will help them build balance in that activity and minimize the risk.
Let them make mistakes.Mistakes and “failures” are opportunities to gain experience, learn, and grow. But, if we step in and “protect” them from the consequences of their mistakes, we rob them of the opportunity to gain experience. So, let them fail while providing a “soft place” of empathy and care on which they can land when the inevitable failures occur. A place of empathy and curiosity (rather than judgment and shame) will allow them to reflect upon the mistake and what they can learn from it.
Trust them to learn and grow. Children and teens learn from their mistakes. Get to know your children and teens. Learn about their strengths and interests. Learn about their potential areas of weakness. Observe how their strengths have matured and how they have utilized their strengths to compensate for various weaknesses. Recognize how some weaknesses have actually become strengths through repetition and practice. Doing so will help you trust your teen to learn and grow.
Teens love to take a risk and it’s a good thing they do. Taking reasonable risks help them to grow and become independent adults with interests and passions. Encourage those risks and watch them blossom.
We have a crisis on our hands…and it has been around much longer than the covid-19 pandemic. Perhaps it’s easier to ignore, easier to pretend it doesn’t exist; but it is a crisis, nonetheless. The percentage of teens (12- to 17-years-old) who suffer at the hands of this crisis has increased from 8.7% in 2005 to 13.2% in 2017! Let me put that into perspective. At the time of this writing (4/20/2020), 792,938 people of all ages have been diagnosed with covid-19 in the United States. In 2017 alone, 3.2 million adolescents between 12- and 17-years-old in the United States were diagnosed with depression. And that number only represents adolescents, not adults. (see NIMH Major Depression for more statistics). Suicide, a danger for those suffering with depression, has increased 47% between 2000 and 2017. In fact, 6,200 teens and young adults (between 15- and 24-years-old) died by suicide in 2017. (The Parent Resource Program). We have a crisis. But what can we do to stem this crisis? Here are five suggestions. They may sound simplistic, but they can produce results that will save lives.
Nurture a growth mindset in your children. A growth mindset focuses on effort rather than the end result or product. In other words, it focuses on the effort invested rather than the final grade, the trophy, or the grade point average. It teaches that effort is more important than the final grade. In the long run, this will help to build your child’s success mindset and decrease the potential for depression.
Value failure and setbacks as learning opportunities. They are not the end or something to be embarrassed about. In fact, failure is a kind of success. It allows us to learn, make adjustments, and continue to grow. Do your child a favor and love mistakes. Cultivate an environment that celebrates effort and learns from mistakes.
Help your children discover and pursue intrinsic goals, things they love. Intrinsic goals are those goals a person pursues by their own choosing and for their own enjoyment. So much of our children’s world is made up of external goals, those goals focused on material rewards and other people’s judgments. Grades, teacher expectation, and coaches’ determinations as well as media appraisals of appearance and popularity make up some of the external goals shaping our children’s lives. Unfortunately, a focus on external goals contributes to depression. Help your children discover their intrinsic goals and motivations. Become a student of their strengths and interests. Present opportunities for them to nurture their interests. Encourage their individuality. (For more benefits of learning about your children read Parents are Students…And Guess Who Their Teacher Is.
Let them play. Free play, play without adult direction and supervision, invites children to control their own play through negotiation and compromise. It encourages problem-solving and competence in the pursuit of personal interests. In other words, play is much more than fun and games. Free play nurtures a growth mindset and intrinsic goals as well as teaching person limits and social skills. (Read Who Needs a Prescription for Play to learn more benefits of play.)
These five steps can help stem the rising tide of depression in our families and our communities. Will you join these efforts to stem the rise, to flatten the curve, of depression among our children and youth?
What can puzzles teach us about self-critical children and their parents? I must admit…that’s not a question I ever asked myself. However, researchers at the National University of Singapore did and boy am I glad. They followed 263 children for 5 years starting at 7-years-old. In the first year, the children were given puzzles to solve in a limited period of time. Their parents accompanied them and were told they could help if needed. The researchers’ objective was to watch whether the parent became intrusive and, if they did, how intrusive. An example of highly intrusive parenting would involve a parent taking the puzzle away from the child to reverse a mistake they had made. The researchers wanted to know whether the parent interfered with their child’s problem-solving opportunities or allowed their child to learn from mistakes. This puzzle assessment was repeated when the children were 8-, 9-, and 11-years-old. The researchers also tested the children for levels of self-criticalness and perfectionism. Guess what the research uncovered. You got it. Children who had highly intrusive parents engaged in more self-critical behavior and perfectionism. The children in this study who reported increased levels of self-critical behavior and perfectionism also reported more symptoms of depression and anxiety as the study progressed. Consider the progression suggested by this study. Parents intrude upon their children’s activities by interfering with their children’s independent problem-solving. This conveys an implicit message from parent to child that “you can’t solve your own problems; I have to step in to do it for you.” As a result, children never feel “good enough.” Although they feel inadequate, they also recognize their parents’ desire for perfection. As a result, even the smallest mistake leads the child to criticize themselves for not being “perfect,” for not “meeting standards.” This, in turn, increases the risk for depression and anxiety. I like the quote from the lead researcher: “Our findings indicate that in a society that emphasizes academic excellence…parents may set unrealistically high expectations on their children. As a result, a sizable segment of children may become fearful of making mistakes. Also, because they are supposed to be ‘perfect,’ they can become disinclined to admit failures and inadequacies and seek help when needed, further exacerbating their risk for emotional problems.”
So, what’s a parent to do? Here are 3 ideas.
Focus on your children’s efforts rather than the end results. Acknowledge your children’s efforts rather than comparing their results with someone else’s results. Effort produces success over time. So, focus on effort and nurture an excitement to try new things without fear of failure (which brings us to tip number 2).
Create an environment in which mistakes and temporary failures are opportunities for learning. Ask what your children learned rather than the final grade they earned. When they do poorly on a test or project, discuss what they did well before moving to discuss how to correct the areas in which they did poorly. Discuss what they learned from their mistakes and “flops.” In other words, turn failures, poor performances, and mistakes into opportunities to learn rather than opportunities to evaluate and blame. (Do Your Child a Favor: Love Mistakes)
Let your children struggle to find their own solution. Do not step in to “fix it” or “solve it” for them. Let them work at it. Let them pursue options they think of independently. You can ask some questions to spark their imaginative solutions, but don’t just them the solution. Rather than fix what they did wrong, ask they how they might fix it. When they get stuck, discuss possible ideas and the basis for those ideas. Nurture their ability to think and pursue solutions independently. (Read Do You Rob Your Teen of Victory? to learn more.)
Put these three practices in place and you will help raise children who pursue excellence without becoming self-critical and perfectionistic. And we learn all this because someone asked what puzzles can teach us about self-critical children and their parents!
How do children form a positive self-concept? How do they come to see themselves in a positive light? How do they develop confidence and learn to esteem themselves well? These questions arise in many a parent’s mind as they interact with and discipline their children. We want to help our children develop a persistent confidence in their abilities while not becoming arrogant. Sometimes we doubt ourselves. We wonder if we are really doing the right thing (at least I do!). We constantly search out practical advice for increasing our children’s self-confidence. Friends, family members, experts, books…we search them all to find reassurance that we are doing a good job and in hopes of finding the “magic bullet” to help our kids grow. Well, I don’t have a magic bullet, but I have found several practical ideas to help raise confident children.
Warm up. Develop a warm relationship with your children. Warm parents show an interest in their children’s activities. They share their children’s joys and excitements. Doing so makes their children feel noticed and valued. It increases their self-esteem. It contributes to their self-confidence. (For more on the impact of a warm relationship, read An Amazing Parenting Insight Learned in Three Parts)
Praise effort, not ability. Acknowledge your children’s effort and investment rather than just the end product. Let them know you see how hard they work to make things happen. This helps our children learn their effort impacts their world and their success comes through effort. It teaches them to value effort and notice the successes found in effort, even if the end result was not what they initially intended. Effort, as opposed to waiting for something to “fall in our laps,” leads to success. And, success builds self-confidence.(Build Your Child’s Success Mindset offers more tips.)
Do not overpraise. Our children need us to acknowledge their effort and appreciate their accomplishments, but overpraise will backfire. Excessive praise actually contributes to lower self-esteem. Overpraise can contribute to arrogance. Sometimes extremely positive, inflated praise can contribute to narcissism, a sense of personal grandiosity. Excessive praise can also set our children up to worry about falling short of the standards for which they have already received lavish amounts of praise. So, go ahead and appreciate achievements. Acknowledge accomplishments. Praise effort and investment. But don’t overdo it. Don’t overpraise. It just gets in the way of healthy self-confidence. (Read How to Ruin Your Child with Praise for more.)
Value failure. Treat failure as a time of learning rather than a catastrophe. Failure is simply an opportunity to learn what does not work and explore changes that can lead to a better result. I like Oprah’s quote, “Think like royalty. Royalty is not afraid to fail. Failure is another steppingstone to greatness” (I hope she’ll excuse my changing her use of the word “queen” to “royalty.” If not, I guess I’ll learn from the failure.) Confident people fail gracefully. Confident people know failure is not the end of the world. Confident people recognize failure as a signal for problem-solving, making changes, and moving toward “greatness.” (Do Your Child a Favor)
Give your children important tasks to complete. Let them have chores around the house. Chores and tasks build a sense of competence and competence contributes to confidence. (Chores: The Gift of Significance will explain even more.)
Model healthy confidence in your own life. Work to improve your self-confidence and your children will follow in your example. Value your failures and talk about what you learn from them. Acknowledge your achievements while focusing on the effort and investment that led to those achievements. Accept their acknowledgements of your success with a smile and a simple “thank you.” Maintain warm loving relationships, especially with your children. Children imitate those they see and admire. They become like those they imitate. Give them a self-confident parent they can look up to and imitate.
Put these six practical actions in place and your children will grow in confidence daily!