Troubling statistics: Looking at how we parent

December 29, 2016 Neeta Tyagi-Jain, MD FAAP

This was going to be a regular post about normal child development, but I’ve been troubled by health statistics that have made me ask myself: Why are so many children engaging in risky behaviors, and why are so many anxious, depressed and suicidal? Are we as parents, and as a society, failing our coming generation? 

Consider these numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Half of the nearly 20 million new cases of STDs reported each year are among young people between the ages of 15 to 24.
  • The 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that among high school students, 33 percent reported drinking alcohol during the past 30 days and 18 percent said they binge drank.
  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death among children aged 10 to 14, and the second among teens 15 to 18. Among high school students surveyed in 2013, 17 percent said they seriously considered suicide in the previous 12 months.

What’s wrong?

We, the parents of millenials, are bringing up our kids much differently than our parents raised us. Many of us are friends to our children. We work hard to provide them with all of the luxuries we can. We try to protect them from any emotional pain and give them every advantage.

So my question is: Why are our children suffering the way they are? When will we step back and ask: What’s happening? 

  • Have we forgotten to be parents in our quest to be our kid’s friend? 
  • Are we setting no boundaries? 
  • Are we so controlling that our children have no say in their own lives?
  • Are we pushing them so much that they are falling apart?
  • Many of us are guilty of one or more of these behaviors. 

Demanding success

In today’s competitive world, many parents push their kids to their limits. Children are enrolled in multiple activities, some in so many that they leave for school at 7 in the morning and don’t get home until 7 at night. 

These children are expected to be the best in academics. Overall, 1 in 5 kids is on ADHD/ADD medication. Children who are going day and night have no time to rest, no time to think. 

Competing at the expense of fun

School sports are increasingly competitive. Many parents and coaches push kids to win, and, because some adults believe that loosing is unacceptable, many children play even when they are sick or injured.

I see 4-year-olds starting soccer, T-ball and other sports. They are excited because they get to wear a new uniform, play with friends and have fun. But in the stands, many times there are parents or other relatives screaming and yelling at the kids to perform, arguing with coaches and mistreating the opposing team. The child gets stressed out because now he or she isn’t playing to have fun but to win and please others.

No consequences

In school, when a teacher takes action because a child is misbehaving or not doing well, we mistrust the teacher and complain that any problems are his or her fault. We want to control everything because we believe we know the best, and we don’t want our children to suffer.

Too much control versus too much freedom

Many children now are growing up in one of two extremes:

  • With parents who control everything in their life – what, when and how much they eat, what they wear, what friends they make, what play dates they have, which classes they take, which college they attend. This list goes on. These kids rebel. They want to be heard, to be respected – and to be able to sometimes be KIDS. 
  • With parents who let them do as they please. These parents don’t say NO to their children because they don’t want to cause them any emotional pain. These children feel entitled and for them a “no” is catastrophic. They get angry and sometimes resort to verbal or physical abuse, and everyone is hurt.

Raising happy children

Every time we have a teen suicide, homicide or a young death, we feel bad, but we do very little to actually have a dialogue about how to change the conditions that lead to these tragedies.

We need to start from a very young age to help our children be peaceful and happy. Here’s a guide to help parents do that.

In infancy
Love your babies -- carry them, TALK to them, read to them, sing to them, be there for them.

In toddlerhood
Give children boundaries, nurture them, let them explore. Be a role model. At this age, children learn by seeing. Talk to them, read to them, sing to them

In elementary school
Teach children manners, boundaries, respect, compassion, empathy, tolerance. Talk to them every day, spend time with them and let them be kids.

In middle school
Teach young teens to be responsible -- for their words and their actions. Let them deal with the consequences of their behavior. Talk to them to teach them right from wrong. Most important, know their friends. This is the most critical age because children learn from their peers. Be a good role model and encourage your children to be great leaders and role models.

In high school
Believe it or not, your children need you the most now! Be there for them! Trust me, they are more worried and scared about their coming life than you are. Help them space out their work, study well, manage their time judiciously. Encourage them to use the “blue screen” in moderation. And, please, talk to them every single day.

In so many years of practice I have learned so much from the parents who are doing it RIGHT. I have taught many parents these tricks and used them in raising my own children. I’ve asked for help when I’ve needed it, and I’ve lent a helping hand to other parents in need.

It takes a village to raise a child. Let us all get together and raise these remarkable human beings we call our CHILDREN.

Talk to your pediatrician or primary care provider if you need help with ideas for raising a happy, healthy, thriving child. Find a Swedish pediatrician here, or call 1-800-793-3474 to make an appointment. Check here to find a convenient location for primary care.

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