Elite Youth Sports…and the Parenting Trap

little league batter

I’ll admit, I am not an expert on youth sports, or sports of any kind. But I have two kids who will need me to make choices about the activities they are involved in, and I therefore found the following article sad and fascinating. If you don’t have time to read the whole thing, the basic idea is that parents are being convinced (often by for-profit sports organizations) to push their children into so-called elite sports at younger and younger ages, whether or not it is good for the child or the game.

I’d like to say that I would never fall into the trap of believing that elite youth sports are necessary for my child, but even with children who are still very young, I can see myself occasionally slipping into it. Maybe not the trap of elite youth sports, but certainly the trap of believing that I owe it to my kids to give them the best — and believing what others tell me about what the best is. From buying the most “educational” toys, to paying for the best junior music lessons or pre-schools, to “elite” sports camps, if I don’t shell out money for my child’s benefit, it is easy to make me feel like a selfish parental failure.

What makes parents susceptible to this Parenting Trap?

For starters, I have not led a perfect life. I have regrets. And what parent doesn’t want to fix their own regrets in their child’s life? I sure do. In a blog on a similar topic, youth culture expert Walt Mueller points out:

“Unfortunately, some parents see their kids as a second chance to fulfill dreams they themselves never realized.”

It is only a force of will that allows me to take my eyes off my self to see my child for who he really is and to ask myself, “Okay, since he isn’t me, who is this little bundle of hopes and dreams and what is it that will really help him flourish?” I might wish that someone had pushed me a little harder to stay in dance lessons when I was little, but that doesn’t mean that my child needs me to force him to stay with an activity he hates.

How can we get beyond the reach of the parenting trap?

Well, for starters, I know I need to come to terms with my regrets so they have no more power over my decisions. Maybe I gave up dance too soon, but there were a lot of things that I did instead of dance that I loved — would I give those up? No. More importantly, however, I need to remember that it is never too late for a parent to pursue their own dreams. If I want to dance, I can still learn to dance.

In fact, maybe my child will benefit more from watching me pursue my own dreams than he would if I push him to pursue my dreams for him.

My mother delayed getting a PhD when my sister and I were born. Did she turn her regrets into pressure for my sister and I to pursue graduate education instead of having families? No. She raised us, and then picked up where she left off, ultimately receiving her PhD a few years ago. Her example has given me more motivation than I ever would have received had she pushed me into a graduate degree.

So maybe instead of allowing guilt to push me into pushing my kids, I can worry a little less about giving my children an easy path to their dreams, and a little more about setting an example that it is never too late to work for our own dreams.

Parents Survival Guide to 50 Shades of Grey

Dr. Grossman
Dr. Grossman speaks out about the dangers of unhealthy portrayals of sex in movies like “50 Shades of Grey.”

Miriam Grossman is a psychiatrist, author and speaker who has been speaking out about the dangers of unhealthy portrayals of sex in media. Her books are included on our list of resources for parents. I was recently made aware of a series of blog posts she is producing for parents leading up to the Valentine’s Day release of 50 Shades of Grey. You may want to check them out here!

Too Fat to Fit In?

I recently learned of a brand of clothing that achieves exclusivity not through price, but through size. Brandy Melville offers almost all of its clothing in either size “small” or “one-size-fits-most” (as long as “most people” are small). The brand is one of the hottest lines of clothing for teens, according to research firm Piper Jaffray.

It is not new for teens to try to build their identity and gain acceptance and a sense of belonging through their clothing choices. It is simply the brands and the looks that change. But while previous generations of teens were barred from the most exclusive looks by price (or were forced to spend far more than they could afford on designer labels or celebrity endorsed merchandise), Brandy Melville is relatively inexpensive. Instead, the brand has set the price of entry into its club at being very, very skinny. Now, instead of a teen blowing all her savings on a purse she really can’t afford, she is pressured to go to unhealthy measures in order to fit the same size pants as everyone else.

The immature part of my brain remembers being poor and skinny as a teen and thinks “Where was this when I was 16?!” But the mature part, the wiser woman in me, has learned that in life, the target for superficial popularity is always moving. Basing one’s identity on a look or a brand will never really satisfy the human need for security and belonging. But how do parents teach that to their children?

It was one thing for parents to refuse to purchase expensive clothing when the family couldn’t afford it. At least teens could blame their parents for being too poor or frugal. My fear is that teen girls will blame themselves for not fitting into Brandy Melville — and that their disappointment or anger will turn towards their bodies (even more so than it already does for young adults). Parents, especially those of girls who are too normal-sized to fit into the skinny brand, must help their children understand the dark side of marketing and branding. Companies like Brandy Melville prey on insecurities — they need us as consumers to feel inadequate without their product. But clothing is not our identity, and it can never create acceptance. Clothing is at its most basic level a tool to keep us protected from the environment. Yes, it can be used for self-expression, but if you are dissatisfied without the clothing, you will be dissatisfied with it.

Are your teens victims of marketing who strive to purchase only the “cool” brands? Consider:

  • Banning Brandy Melville on principle, even for your children who could fit into the clothing. Refuse to buy into the unhealthy standard that all girls should be shaped a particular way.
  • Check your own attitude about clothing and identity. Do you model an attitude that clothing does not define an individual?
  • Challenge your teen to develop his or her own style. For example, challenge them to only buy clothing from resale shops for the next 6 months.
  • Purge magazines from your home. Magazines are often glorified catalogues that feed the desire for particular looks and brands.
  • Encourage your teen to develop a more global awareness of what life is like for others who cannot afford to be obsessed with their looks. The popular Hunger Games movies and books are easy conversation starters: ask questions about the parallels between the image-obsessed residents of the Capitol and our culture’s obsession with brands like Brandy Melville.

Have more ideas? Share them in the comments section!

I just found out my daughter is pregnant!

This week, we are continuing our series on facing tough parenting challenges. What happens when you find out that your teenage daughter is pregnant?

Positive pregnancy test
Pregnant by Janine is licensed by CC BY 2.0.

Many emotional reactions would be totally normal and very justified: shock, disappointment, anger. Keep in mind, though, that the person who is probably most shocked (and maybe even disappointed and angry) is your daughter. (And if you are thinking that “she knew what she was doing and what the risks were,” that may not be the case. Research on the teen brain gives her at least a small reason to feel shocked.)

Calm down. Count to ten…slowly…before saying anything that you may regret. If she came out and told you directly, and you need to respond, try “Thank you for telling me. That must have been hard for you.” If she told you in writing, or you found out some other way when she is not around, use that breathing room to your advantage. If she told you directly and you have already reacted in a way that you now regret, it is never too late for an apology and to ask for a “do-over.” My guess is that both of you will have a lot to work through in the coming weeks and months, and there will likely be a lot to forgive on both sides.

Facing an unplanned pregnancy, particularly when someone is young and unmarried, is (for most of us at least) terrifying. Your daughter needs you now more than ever. And while everything in you might be aching to point out how irresponsible and stupid her decisions were, she’s been saying that to herself ever since she read that positive pregnancy test. There will be time for reflection later — for the “what have we learned from this” discussion and the “what does this make you want to do differently” discussion. Right now, getting to have those discussions will depend on your response and support during the crisis stage. Try some of these approaches:

  • Ask who else knows. Give her space to share what has happened up to this point of telling you.
  • Ask about the father. Who is he? Does he know? If he does, what was his reaction? Do his parents know? Gather as much information as you can. Try not criminalize the father, as this could cause a deep rift between you and your daughter.
  • Ask what her thoughts about the future are. What are her plans now that she has discovered that she is pregnant? Try not to interject your own thoughts about what she should do.
  • Ask what she needs or wants most right now: information, help with researching her options, a doctor’s appointment.
  • Love her. If parental love is truly unconditional, it should overflow even now, regardless of her actions. Loving her right now is not “rewarding bad behavior.” And by love her, I mean show it. Take her out for ice cream, just to say “You’re still my daughter and I love you.”
  • If (when) you need to vent, pick a safe friend who can keep a confidence and talk over your feelings. Avoid speaking to people who have a close relationship with your daughter unless your daughter is okay with it. While you have every right to need to discuss what you are going through, it is best to avoid overly exposing your daughter.

As you process your new reality, your daughter may find it beneficial to talk to a professional. Avenue Women’s Center is a local organization with experience in non-judgmental counseling for pregnant teens (and they offer services for parents, too). It is also important that your daughter see a doctor. After all, she is a growing child herself! The doctor will give your daughter a full examination and give much needed instruction about nutrition and prenatal care.

Your daughter’s life as well as your own is about to change. In several months, you may hold a grandchild in your arms. While your family may no longer look the way you imagined, start imagining your new family. Where do you want to be in a year, or five? How can you support your daughter in order to get there?

My Daughter’s Friend Had an Abortion

While many of the topics discussed on this blog are more theoretical in nature — focusing on research studies and circumstances we as parents would like to prevent — sometimes we face very personal parenting challenges. Over the next few weeks, we’d like to address some of the tough situations that parents face, or that they may need to help their children face.

As a parent of a teen, it is likely that even if your own child dodges the worst case scenarios, his or her friends won’t all be so lucky. And if they have been lucky and safe so far, statistically, it is only a matter of time before your child will know someone who has gotten pregnant, or had an abortion, or been abused, or tried drugs, or, or, or. So this week, let’s consider what happens if your child’s friend has an abortion, and either the friend feels safe telling you directly or your child comes to you for advice on how to help her friend.

While the moral and political beliefs surrounding abortion vary widely, it is fairly safe to say that no one plans on having an abortion. The young woman who has experienced an abortion has gone through a crisis in her life — a sudden change in plans that for many people elicits surprising emotional responses. It is likely that you or your child, upon hearing about the abortion, may also experience an emotional response that you did not expect, particularly if someone in your family has strong convictions about abortion or has personally experienced an abortion. I would caution you to deal with these emotions separately from helping your child’s friend. Then, when you or your child are in a position to reach out to the young woman who had an abortion, keep the following in mind:

First, it is important to understand what emotions a teenager might be experiencing after having an abortion. Many teens can experience conflicting, confusing, and painful emotions during this time. She may feel relief: relief that the crisis is over and she can move on without any big changes to her lifestyle. Sadly, the relief she feels can be short-lived and can turn into many other emotions such as denial, depression, and anger.

Denial can come in the form of refusing to believe the pregnancy and abortion even happened. This is one way her mind can try to block out the painful experience. After the denial passes, depression or regret can cause her to feel sad and have crying episodes. Many post-abortive teens have found it difficult to be around pregnant women and babies because it acts as a reminder of the baby she aborted.  Alongside depression can surface anger. Anger can occur when she feels upset at herself for going through with the abortion, even if it was her choice all along. Also, she may feel anger towards the baby’s father and others who may have encouraged her to abort, or who didn’t provide her with the support she wanted during the pregnancy. With all of these feelings surfacing, it may be compounded by the fact that she feels very alone. She may feel (justifiably) uneasy talking to others because they may judge her or openly tell others about it.

Restore After AbortionWhat can you (or your child) do to help? You can offer her emotional support so she knows there are people who care about her. Be understanding and tell her you will be there for her while she is working through all the emotions. Tell her it is common to experience these emotions and give her hope it will get better.  Also, it is important to direct her to post-abortion support services. Locally, Avenue Women’s Center offers a program called Restore, which offers a safe, confidential, and nonjudgmental environment for teenagers to talk to professional staff and other post-abortive teenagers about their abortion experiences. This can reassure her she is not alone and help her get to the point of acceptance and healing in her life.


Repost: Sending Mixed Messages to Our Kids

I hope everyone had a great long-weekend with their families! In honor of the holiday, we are reposting a favorite article from several years ago, which still has incredible relevance today. Enjoy!

We were recently in a DuPage County high school, conducting a behavioral survey with seniors. Of the students we surveyed, 53% were currently sexually active. When asked if they knew how their parents felt about their choices, 55% said they did not know, or were confused, about their parents’ expectations.

Just after learning those statistics, I came across an excellent article. While it does not talk directly about sex, (and although I did not agree with everything the author said) it does have some important points to make in regards to the mixed messages we as parents sometimes send to our teenage girls.

It’s titled, “Under Pressure: Are Teen Girls Facing Too Much?” You can read it here.

boredomThe author states that 25% of our teenage girls are suffering from some sort of serious psychological or physical clinical issues: suicide attempts, depression, violence, self mutilation, etc. His explanation for the staggering statistic – which he believes is on the rise – is that our young girls today are being presented with mixed messages, or what he calls a “Triple Bind (p.2)” Teenage girls today are hearing three conflicting expectations, and are struggling to meet all of them: 1. Excel at being a girl. 2. Excel at some guy stuff too. 3. Fit into culture’s current definition of success in regards to education, life goals, and beauty.

Be a girl, but don’t be just a girl. Their task is impossible. They know this, and although they desire to please society – their parents and teachers – they live under the threat of failure every day. It’s that tension that is leading them into dangerous behaviors.

In my opinion this argument is supported by the statistics above. Think about the messages we send our teenagers regarding abstinence. When I read parent comments after a school or parent program, over 50% of the time I read something like this: “I would love for my teen to choose abstinence, but I live in the real world. So I want her to be smart and use protection.” (Actual parent comment.)

Parents, do you see the connection? “Wait. But use protection.” We think we’re being helpful giving two expectations, but we’re not. We’re confusing our kids. It’s akin to saying, “Okay, honey. You have your driver’s license. I expect you not to drink in high school, but you will. So here, have a beer, and let’s go get behind the wheel and teach you how to drive well while under the influence.”

That may seem a ridiculous example to some, but look again at those percentages. Teenagers in our own county are unsure where their parents stand on the issue of premarital sex and abstinence. Girls who are already feeling myriad pressures to behave correctly  must add this cloudy expectation to the pot. “Wait. But use a condom.”

Organizations like CASA and The Heritage Foundation have done studies that show that negative behaviors come in clumps – students that use alcohol, smoke, or hang with teens who do are more likely to become sexually active. (And vice versa.) And those sexually active teens are also more likely to report depression, suicidal attempts, or other dangerous behaviors.

Parents, we need to choose one set of expectations. And then we need to encourage our daughters to believe they can reach them. Perhaps then that 25% will start to decrease.

Talk About Real Beauty with Your Children

In recent years, Dove has tried to create a niche for itself by promoting real beauty and self-esteem. Granted, it still sells beauty products, and what I am sharing in this post is still an ad, but it provides a helpful reminder, nonetheless. Warning — if you try to avoid images of scantily clad women, this video is not for you.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ei6JvK0W60I]

(Video from link here.)

We are all impacted by advertising, and now part of parenting is helping your children sift through advertising’s messages. It’s a tough job, but it is necessary. Here are some activities and conversations to try with your kids (boys and girls):

– Pick a time to do an “ad purge” of your house. Make a competition to see how many ads or examples of marketing your kids can find throughout the house. (If you want to de-clutter at the same time, throw away or recycle as much as you can.) Examples of what you might find: magazines, catalogs, political mailings, all forms of product packaging, coupons, in-app ads on mobile devices, TV, radio, the backs of books, and the list goes on.

– Collect several examples of health and beauty products in your house. Read the packaging, front and back, with your kids. How does it sound? Do you believe it? Is it scientific sounding or fanciful? For younger kids, ask them to write packaging for a beauty product that they invent and talk about it. For older teens, ask them how they select which products they will use.

– Pick a day to go without make-up as a family. I’ve known whole schools to make a no-make-up day, encouraging teachers and students alike to show their bare face to world. Talk about whether make-up is easy or difficult to give up.

What other ideas can you think of for encouraging your kids to see real beauty?

Why Teens are So Self-Centered

Well, that explains it!  Recent research has determined that when our son or daughter exhibits a breathtaking lack of compassion and understanding, it’s because of a deficiency in the ability to experience empathy.  Empathy refers to the ability to share someone else’s feelings or perspective…to “step into his shoes.”  As in other areas, boys are a bit older when their ability to empathize increases–15 rather than 13 like girls–according to the research.  In a Huffington Post article, Psychologist Barbara Greenburg gives 5 tips on helping teens develop empathy.  Here are three:

  • Point out social cues.
  • Make your teens aware of how much impact their behavior may have on others.
  • Praise your teen when he or she exhibits empathetic behavior.

Thigh Gaps and Flat Tummies

The pressure never lets up it seems.  Just when my generation thought we’d freed ourselves from the girdles our mothers wore, now we find our daughters (and ourselves) squeezing back into uncomfortable and (according to an NBC report) potentially unhealthy “shapewear.”  The preoccupation with looks, and finding our self-worth in our attractiveness, is a plague on womanhood that marches on.  And now it’s not just constraining lumpy tummies and muffin tops, its also achieving the “thigh gap.”  Who knew?  Watch this report by NBC to find out more about this new obsession.

For heaven’s sake!  I haven’t seen the light of day between my thighs for at least 20 years.  And after trying shapewear, which my daughters insisted is a necessity (yes, I have a muffin top that threatens to overflow), I couldn’t wait to get out of it!  How I wish our daughters could know how little it matters if they are not the best-dressed, prettiest, or thinnest.  Moms and dads, let’s wage war on the warped message that their worth depends on externals.  TALK to your girls about what really matters. Build up her worth based on her character and her talents, not her conformity to our society’s standards of beauty.  And realize that females may be the ones putting more pressure on other girls than guys do. Dare I also ask you…moms…to examine the messages you are sending as well?  Does our example or our words also make our daughters feel like nothing if they don’t measure up physically?  If so, we need to change our own values first!