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?
I had the opportunity to volunteer in a nursing home throughout my teen years. My father was a chaplain in the home and I would help “wheel” the residents to church or some other activity. I also had the opportunity to help at an inner city mission several times during my teens and early twenties. In a different vein, my family often went camping. We spent a week each summer living in a tent, swimming, fishing, building fires, and enjoying (most of the time) family adventures. Little did I know that these different teen experiences were contributing to a budding sense of identity and purpose in my life.
Lecturers at Stanford have identified three factors that come together to foster a sense of purpose in teens: a need in the world, a person’s skills and gifts, and what a person loves to do (Read Greater Good: 7 Ways to Help High Schoolers Find Purpose for more). Let’s take a closer look at these three factors and how we can use them to help our teens find meaning in their lives.
Skills and abilities. Our teens need the opportunity to explore various skills and abilities rather than getting pigeon-holed in the first activity they enjoy. They may enjoy music but be great at sports as well. Or, perhaps they show talent as an athlete but love to cook. Let them explore a variety of interests and skills. Recognizing their own abilities and interests will help them discover what gives meaning to their lives.
As they explore their interests and abilities, allow them to experience failures and setbacks. Offer support while trusting your teen to survive these setbacks. Encourage your teen to learn from failures and teach them to see failure as an opportunity to grow. As they overcome setbacks and bounce back from moments of failure, they come to better understand their potential and how it fits into the world of need around them.
What your teen loves to do. As your teens explore their skills, talents, and abilities, they will discover things they love, things that inspire them. They will turn to these activities when they have no other demands on their time. These activities will light them up, bring them to life. Sometimes your teen will love an activity you don’t enjoy. You may hope they become an athlete and they take up theatre…or vice versa. Don’t hold them back. Be excited with them. Remember, you are helping them find purpose for their life not a way to live your
A need in the world. To gain a sense of purpose, teens need to connect their skills with a need around them. This demands a mature awareness of needs in the world around them. Parents can facilitate this awareness by providing opportunities to serve others. Scouting, volunteering, working in the community, or engaging in service activities will help build this awareness. Traveling, spending time in nature, and contemplation also help increase awareness of needs and how “my skills” may meet that need.
All three of these factors demand our teens have time to explore. It requires we provide them with opportunities to step away from the boring repetition of school, get off the treadmill of over-achievement, and experience the world from a new angle, to see the world with new eyes. The best part of all this: you get to spend time with your child in the exploration. You get to see their eyes light up with excitement as they try new things and discover what they love. You also get to develop a deeper understanding of your teen and a closer relationship with them in the process. Then you get to stand with pride as they actively engage the world in a meaningful way!
I want my family to live in a happy home. Who am I kidding? I want to live in a happy home! I want to come home to a place filled with happy people. Happy families resolve stress more quickly. They find family time more enjoyable. They laugh more. But, happy families do not just happen in today’s world. No. We have to nurture and grow a happy family. To live in a happy family we have to develop practices that promote happiness (see 10 Habits for a Happy Family). One habit that promotes happiness is to develop goals. My first thought upon hearing “goals” was “Oh great, something else to pressure me.” But, goals do not have burden us. When established wisely, goals motivate us and turn dreams into reality. They help us engage in activities and areas that interest us. Goals provide the opportunity to think about, plan, and pursue what we value and enjoy. Good goals promote a sense of purpose while we work toward achieving them. They bring a sense of accomplishment as we actually complete them. Goals also build confidence in our abilities and excitement for our future plans. All of this leads to greater family happiness. Sounds good doesn’t it? But how can we establish goals to promote family’s happiness? Here are six tips to help you do just that!
Think about what interests your family. Consider what your family values and enjoys. Does your family enjoy music? Make a goal related to music. Does your family enjoy sports, history, comedy, traveling…? Whatever interest your family might have provides wonderful fodder for a great goal.
Consider any areas of family growth your spouse/children might like see. Does your spouse want a more thankful family? Your daughter a family that offers more affirmations and compliments? Then set a goal about gratitude, encouragement, and affirmation. Maybe your son wants a more active family; or you want a family that helps with household tasks more often. Turn these desires into family goals. Following these first two steps will assure that your family finds the family goals meaningful.
Make sure to attach incentives and rewards to your goals. Don’t limit the rewards to money. In fact, financial rewards may be the least effective anyway. The natural results of working on the goals, verbal acknowledgement of effort, and time together will prove much more effective as incentives. For instance, a family movie night (which provides time together and fun) can serve as a reward…pop in a favorite DVD and serve some popcorn at home. Playing a family member’s favorite game also offers a great reward. If you have a family goal of offering more gratitude, the simple act of receiving that gratitude acts as a reward.
Make it fun to work on the goals. Offer encouragement, not criticism. Notice one another’s efforts and progress. You might even have a little competition to add fun and motivation. If your family has a goal to offer more affirmations and compliments, ask your family to determine who offered the highest number of sincere compliments during the week and serve that person’s favorite dish for dinner. You get the idea. Make it fun.
Don’t go overboard. Happy families work toward achievable goals. They do not establish so many goals that family members feel overwhelmed; nor do they make the goals a source of pressure. Instead, happy families make reasonable, age appropriate, realistic goals. If a goal seems too big or creates too much pressure, change it. Break it down into smaller goals or modify it in some way. And remember to give each smaller part of the goal its own set of incentives and rewards.
When you see progress toward a goal or recognize extraordinary effort toward a goal, celebrate. After all, movement toward achieving this goal means your family has grown in an area of interest or value. It means your family has become better at a desired skill. Moving toward achieving a goal means the whole family has put effort into the family and has identified the family as a priority. That deserves celebration!
Following these six tips can help increase your family’s happiness through goal setting. Now let’s get moving. Set a goal and get happy!
My daughter just got her driver’s license. I have to admit…she is a good driver. She gets better every day. (The fact that my brake leg gets tired while I sit in the passenger seat says more about me than her.) Watching her learn to drive makes me realize how much really goes into driving–an awareness of what’s in front of us, beside us, and behind us, which cars might suddenly turn onto the road and which cars seem to come to a stop before turning off the road, how to successfully (and safely) switch lanes, changing speed limits, multiple signs, pedestrians, gas gauges…The list goes on. While all this was going through my mind, I met with a couple who described difficulty putting past experiences behind them. Negative past experiences kept creeping into their current relationship, creating fear and growing into self-fulfilling prophecies. They were driving their “relational car” with their eyes glued on the rearview mirror instead of keeping their eyes on the road ahead and their focus on their current surroundings. Just like driving, we can not have a successful family life if we keep our eyes glued on the past in our “rearview mirror.” We have to keep our eyes on the road ahead of us and any obstacles that might arise around us. Of course, we glance into the rear view mirror to make sure old habits don’t overtake us from behind; but, for the most part, we keep our eyes on the road ahead. Here are 3 suggestions to help you keep your eyes on the road and off the distant past.
·Maintain a long-term perspective on your marriage and family. Set some long-term goals. Plan ahead. What summer activities will you enjoy with your family this year? What family vacations do you want to take before your children leave for college? Consider what you want your family and marriage to be like 3 years, 5 years, or even 10 years from now. Think about activities and trips you hope to enjoy with your spouse once your children leave home. What special events will come up this year or in the next three years that you can enjoy with your family? What characteristics do you want others to think of when they think of your family and how can you develop these characteristics? Answering these questions, and others like them, will help you develop a long-term perspective of your family. The answers can help you implement activities and interactions today that can move you in the direction of that shared vision, which brings us to…
·Walk the talk. Commit to practicing daily actions that support your long-term family goals. Commit to maintaining long-term involvement with your family. Successful family relationships are a marathon, not a sprint. They grow and develop through consistent interactions that occur over time. Successful family life demands committed involvement and attention. It takes some discipline, but the rewards are amazing. So, commit to long-term involvement, long-term interaction, and daily activities that support those long-term goals.
·Although we keep our eyes on the long term goals and commit to living out daily actions that move us toward those goals, we do glance in the rearview mirror now and again. Why? To make sure old habits that might harm our relationships don’t creep up on us and sneak back into our lives. We look in the rear view mirror to keep our individual habits from overtaking us again. Notice, I do not look for my spouse’s old habits or my children’s old habits. I look out for my bad habits. My spouse and children remain responsible for their own past. Each individual has enough past of their own to keep them busy. So, go ahead and glance in the rearview mirror now and again to make sure you are leaving your old habits in the dust. If they start to overtake you, speed up toward greater future intimacy.
Three ways to keep our eyes on the road ahead: maintain a long-term perspective, commit to practicing daily actions that move us toward our goals, and glance in the rear view mirror to keep old habits in the dust. Keep these three goals in mind for a “safe driving experience” in your “relational car” (and maybe my brake leg won’t get so tired if I’m sitting in the passenger seat–lol).