I want to share something that one of our Winning At Home counselors talked to me about recently. Sarah Ingram, who counsels kids and teens at our Zeeland office, shared this insight and asked me to pass it along to parents and grandparents. She works with kids and teens on a regular basis and has seen a pattern emerge that causes friction between kids and their parents.
Her advice for parents is when kids tell you something, be really careful that you don’t overreact. I’m sure that we all feel like we do a pretty good job of that. Even when we have strong reactions, we feel like they are the exact appropriate level of intensity. But think about how often our children tell us about an issue, and we immediately get angry or defensive. When we do that, we push them into hiding. They wanted to share something with us, but because of our response, they’re not going to share it next time.
People who have studied the effects of cyberbullying have found that many kids and teens don’t tell an adult about being bullied online out of fear that they will lose access to their devices or the internet completely. Think about that for a moment. Many kids and teens have decided that the price of admission to use the internet is to stay silent about being victims of bullying! That is an extreme example, but I think it gives us some helpful insight into the lengths that young people are willing to go when they feel anything short of completely safe sharing their struggles with adults.
I want to challenge all of us, myself included, to work extra hard the next time our kids or grandkids come to us with a problem or mistake that they have made. It is natural for us to see the potential consequences for them and want to protect them from making the wrong choice. It’s natural for us to want to get involved and fix everything for them. But both of these reactions will more than likely have the outcome of making them less likely to share their struggles and failures with us in the future. That’s why it’s so important to avoid overreacting to things that aren’t worth choosing as the battle that we are willing to fight.
If we can manage to keep our reactions and facial expressions from being too negative, the young people around us are far more likely to continue to share their lives with us. And they need our input more than any of us even realize. Think about how much more complicated the world is today than it was when we were growing up. The rapid progress of technology has resulted in a very different world for kids growing up today. They have many more conveniences than we did, as well as a lot more that they are juggling on a regular basis.
Between busy schedules and the pressure to perform well in school and sports or other extracurricular activities, kids find themselves burning the candle at both ends at younger and younger ages. Keep that in mind the next time that you’re tempted to overreact to your kids or grandkids. They need your experience and even-keeled approach in the moments when their life feels chaotic. Being a safe person for them and providing stability will help you to keep winning at home.