Brooke Donatone, psychotherapist, writes of a session with one of her patients:
I suggested finding a job after graduation, even if it’s only temporary. She cried harder at this idea. “So, becoming an adult is just really scary for you?” I asked. “Yes,” she sniffled. Amy is 30 years old.
As a parent of three teens, I find this prospect horrifying. If my kids reach 30 and are afraid of the responsibility that comes with being an adult, I’ve failed as a parent. Amy’s parents have failed her.
Kids need guidance. Teens rely on their parents to set a good example, and to be there to talk things over when something’s wrong. But a lot of parents are missing an important side of parenting – kids depend on their parents to also step out of the way as they gain more independence. In fact, they require their parents to step aside so that they can gain the confidence needed to assert independence. Parents who won’t step aside – helicopter parents – are unwittingly dooming their kids to decades of self-doubt, underachievement, and even depression in their 20s and 30s.
Rates of depression are soaring among millennials in college. A 2012 study by the American College Counseling Association reported a 16 percent increase in mental-health visits since 2000 and a significant increase in crisis response over the past five years. According to recent studies, 44 percent of college students experienced symptoms of depression, and suicide is one of the leading causes of death among college students.
In 2000, psychologist Jeff Arnett coined the term “emerging adulthood” to describe extended adolescence that delays adulthood.
People in their 20s no longer view themselves as adults. There are various plausible reasons for this, including longer life spans, helicopter parenting, and fewer high paying jobs that allow new college grads to be financially independent at a young age.
Millennials do have to face some issues that previous generations did not. A college degree is now the career equivalent of what a high school degree used to be. This increases the pressure on kids to go to college and makes the process more competitive. The sluggish economy no longer yields a wealth of jobs upon graduation.
What’s behind this systemic failure of millennials to thrive? Donatone offers that
The era of instant gratification has led to a decrease in what therapists call “frustration tolerance.” This is how we handle upsetting situations, allow for ambiguity, and learn to navigate the normal life circumstances of breakups, bad grades, and layoffs. When we lack frustration tolerance, moderate sadness may lead to suicidality in the self-soothingly challenged.
It’s painful to see your kids struggle and fail – but this pain is necessary if you want to see your kids learn, grow, and excel. This is a theme that we return to again and again at 401kKid: you need to allow failure to encourage growth. We don’t advocate throwing your kids to the wolves, just that you allow them – when you see they’re showing poor judgement – to continue on and face the consequences of that bad decision. Donatone offers an insightful window into another benefit of stepping aside: simply teaching kids how to accept and cope with failure. Kids who don’t develop these skills at an early age, it turns out, face devastating consequences in their 20s and 30s.
As parents, it may very well be within your power to protect your kids from the disappointment of failure for 18, 20, even 30 years. But eventually, they’ll leave the nest. And when they do, you’ll want them to be well-equipped to live a happy, healthy, independent life.