Partnering with Parents: Balance and Happiness for Children

Dear Manitou Parents of 2019:

When we read about kids and teens today, common themes emerge everywhere we turn: anxiety, mental health, lack of resilience, overprotective parenting, helicopter parenting, snowplow parenting, perfectionism, lack of exposure to nature … the list goes on and it can feel overwhelming.

Despite this sobering reflection of today’s youth, there is a comforting aspect. By being mindful of a few simple ideas, it’s easier than you think to create a sense of balance with your children so they grow into confident and well-adjusted young people.

HAPPY: The Magic Word!

Who doesn’t want to have happy kids? The problem lies in thinking our kids have to be happy all the time. But is that real life? As adults, we understand that there are good times and there are challenging times; it’s important that we trust our kids to understand that too. They have to endure failure to learn success. They have to feel uncomfortable and push themselves beyond their limits to become healthy adults. Kids stand a much better chance of achieving true happiness once they experience the flip side and make it through.

Perhaps an analogy is easier to understand. Let’s take the frustration of learning to ride a bike: you struggle to find balance, falling off time after time, getting scraped up. It feels like you’ll never get it. Yet once you do, you can feel how pushing yourself through hardship has resulted in deeper relationships as you bike with friends, take on new independence and seek out new adventures.

Similarly, going to camp might, at least for the first little while, bring occasional unhappy times. Being homesick, figuring out how to get along with others, gaining skills of resilience, team building, cooperation, and proper communication are just some examples that push kids out of their comfort zones. But we all know camp changes lives in the long term. Even those kids who found it especially challenging at times look back and say camp allowed them to learn the skills to be happy, resulting in the deep, long-lasting friendships and life skills that made all the difference.

Another dilemma we all face as caring parents is that we want to make sure that our children have the best, are exposed to the best and have every advantage. Often, we don’t understand how disabling that can be. “The point is to prepare the kid for the road, instead of preparing the road for the kid” as the saying goes.

It’s undeniable that we live in very complex times. We don’t envy parents today a bit! Here’s the good news, though: if we turn down the dial on everything even a quarter turn, our kids will end up happier and more well-adjusted as they mature.

THE TECH WORLD

Let’s start with cell phones and social media. It’s clear that kids rely on their devices and social media platforms to the point of addiction; this lack of personal interaction and constant posting contributes to heightened levels of anxiety and depression. We need to explain to our children that social media posts are online fantasies and that real friendships still happen with direct face-to-face communication. Perhaps it’s a good idea to have some off-limit areas for cellphones at home: bedrooms and the dinner table might be good places to start.

OPPORTUNITIES

Don’t feel compelled to give so much opportunity to your child, as crazy as that sounds. “I have to give my child every possible competitive edge,” we often hear parents say. By doing so, you are limiting their creativity, putting unnecessary pressure on them, and defining their happiness by only one aspect of what makes people truly happy.

HEALTHY RISKS 

Let children fail and take healthy risks. Young people are drowning in a rising tide of perfectionism and this in turn creates anxiety. Controlling parents, in a study of over 25,000 participants, was one of the key causes of mental health disorders, including depression, eating disorders and suicide. There is no such thing as perfection, of course, and as soon as our children know we love them for their imperfections, the better off they will be. Teaching children to learn from their mistakes, while emphasizing hard work and discipline, is far more effective than preventing children from making those mistakes.

Give your kids the coping skills they need to become resilient, strong young people. Don’t snow plow the obstacles out of the way; challenges are a part of life and must be approached with the confidence to meet them head on. Reassure your kids that it’s okay to feel uncomfortable sometimes; adaptive anxiety is healthy and necessary.

Finally, when was the last time your kids played hockey on the street, went for a hike or played in a mud puddle? A recent study of one million people from Denmark proved that walking outside, hearing the rustle of the trees, and feeling the wind in our face or the rain on our backs increases happiness. Simply spending time in nature positively affects children’s mental health outcomes.

It’s hard not to compare ourselves to our peers, friends and fellow parents, and so of course we feel the need to give our child what someone else’s child may receive. But maybe, just maybe, the key to parenting is not working so hard to give all those opportunities, and instead give the time to our kids to just smell the roses.

We so look forward to welcoming your children to Manitou 2019, we are ready for one more ‘Best Summer Ever’!

Mark and Jeff

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