The Crushing Pressure on Teens to Measure Up

pressure on teens to measure up

I’ve been explaining to my fifteen year old that the choices he makes now are important to his future.

And I don’t mean the do you want pizza or mac and cheese for dinner tonight choices.

It’s only natural for us to want to make everything go right during their high school years.

So my verbal encouragement (aka nagging) has been on auto-repeat: How he needs to focus on his grades. How he needs to eat healthier and get more sleep, how he needs to steer clear from all of the trouble going around (vaping, pot, alcohol, drugs…)  and for goodness sake, how I think it would be really helpful…

if he would get the heck off SnapChat for a little while!

To which he looks at me as if I’ve suggested he eat feces.

From his general (teenage) lack of response to my encouraging words, I’m guessing the only thought going through his mind while I’m speaking is when is she going to stop?

Not sure if he truly hears my words at all or if he just hears how the adults all sound on Charlie Brown – wah wah wah wah wah.

One thing I am sure of is that he (and every other teen) is feeling an intense and unreasonable pressure to measure up.

Our teens are bombarded from every angle with a multitude of measurements – from their school grades, to their sports performance, to their clothes, to how many pimples are on their face, to their weight and height, to the number of Instagram followers they have, and on and on and on.

“Our kids are statistically far more stressed out and anxious than past generations.” –

I don’t want to add to the crushing pressure of measuring up by talking too much about the weight of his daily decisions, but I just can’t stop myself.

As adults, we have our own anxieties knowing that these teenage years can present kids with a big wide fork in the road.

One path increases their chances of happiness, success and well-being – and the other path frequently leads to painful lessons, instability and sometimes even damage to their health.

Not that they can’t take a wrong turn a few times and still make it back onto the happy highway, but as parents it’s our reflex to point out what we think are the safest, most painless shortcuts for them to get to adulthood relatively unscathed.

We can’t help it. Worrying and continually giving them the road maps (as we see them) is part of the parent gig. It’s a built in part of the job we signed up for when we brought a child into our life.

At the same time that we speak to our teenagers about making smart choices, we need to have them absorb and believe this even more important truth:

No one’s life is perfect – it’s ok to not always measure up.

I’ve explained to him, sparing the details, that I wasn’t a perfect teen. I didn’t make all the right choices and in fact, took a few wrong turns and detours along the way to where I am now.

I didn’t always measure up. I still don’t in many instances. And that’s ok

We’re all human, even the most seemingly perfect of us has flaws.

We have lessons to learn from our choices and part of those lessons is learning to forgive and accept ourselves and keep moving forward.

As parents, we desperately want to spare our kids of all of those wrong turns and detours. We know (some of us firsthand) that those detours can be tough and painful.  And sometimes they can’t be undone.

Most teens are trying to do all the right things and measure up and many are not likely to have big long emotional discussion with us about the details. In fact, unless you have a very chatty child, the teen years often feel like the big shut out.

We can’t be with them all of the time, guiding and counseling and pointing out what we think are the  best choices. And that’s tough on us. It’s a challenging part of letting go.

It feels as though we can’t possibly have enough time with them to give them every last bit of wisdom from our Big Fat Life Lessons PlayBook before they step any farther away from us.

We hope we’ve done enough talking that if and when they take a step in the wrong direction, they learn from it and re-calculate their path like Lola (what we call the Google Maps navigation voice) does.

This brings me to a few wishes for our teens:

May they not measure themselves on what others think of them, not on their test grades only, not on their number of social media followers or likes, not by how many parties they are or are not invited to, not on how perfect other people’s lives seem to be on social media.

May they learn to accept and forgive their not so great choices (and ours as well).

May they learn to separate their mistakes from who they are and understand that failing doesn’t make them a failure, losing doesn’t make them a loser, and having fears doesn’t make them cowards.

May they love themselves and understand their worth beyond all of the pressures and measurements.

May they have the courage to push back on the forces around them that are fake and unhealthy. May they know that we understand how tough it is.

May they realize that they each have incredible unique value and purpose in this world. May they believe it, especially on days when they feel like no one sees them and they can’t do anything right.

May they always know that there are no measurements on love. We love them unconditionally and will always see their value.

And finally, may they sit down more patiently and listen to us (without wanting to stick a fork in their ears) as we too try to measure up as parents doing our thing and coaching them from the pages of our Big Fat Life Lessons PlayBook. 

– Marlene


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