A Cry for Parental Health

I met a young lady who’s going through what her therapist calls a “quarter-life crisis.” Yep, you read that right. Not a mid-life crisis, but a quarter-life crisis. She’s twenty-five years old and seeing a counselor for depression and disillusionment. I write about her because she’s the fifth young adult I’ve met in the last six months who’s been diagnosed with this crisis.

So why am I seeing an increase? As I meet with young adults and ask them, they all talk about the heavy pressure they feel to perform—in class, on the field, on stage, you name it. As I press them for the source of this pressure, it almost always comes back to their parents. Keep reading. It gets even more enlightening.

Over the last fifty years, we parents have evolved into the biggest headache for teachers, coaches, employers and counselors. I believe the primary reason our kids have not “grown up” to be healthy adults is, quite frankly, because we parents have not done so ourselves. We have somehow transferred our own struggles into the lives of our kids. Think about the competition we create, for example. Whether it’s ballet, piano, little league baseball, or Pop Warner football—we parents are really into ourselves. We hide behind our kids, but we are living out our unlived life through our children. When did this start happening?

Dr. Louis Profeta, M.D., asks the same question. As an emergency room physician, he has seen it all and wonders:

How do we balance being the supportive parent who’ll spend three hours a day driving all over…to allow our child to pursue his or her dream without becoming the supportive parent who drives all over…to push our child to pursue OUR dream? When does this pursuit of stardom become something just shy of a gambling habit? From my experience in the ER, I’ve identified the latter:


1. When I inform you as a parent that your child has just ruptured their ACL ligament or Achilles tendon, and the next question out of your mouth is, “How long until he or she will be able to play?” you have a serious problem.

2. If your child is knocked unconscious during a football game and can’t remember your name…but you feel it’s a “vital” piece of medical information to let me know he’s a starting linebacker and that his team will probably lose because he was taken out of the game, you need to see a counselor.

3. If I tell you that mononucleosis has caused the spleen to swell and that participation in a contact sport could cause a life threatening rupture…and then you ask me, “If we just get some extra padding around the spleen, would it be OK to play?” someone needs to hit you upside the head with a two by four.

4. If your child comes in with a blood alcohol level of .250 after wrecking your Lexus and you ask if I can hurry and get them out of the ER before the police arrive so as not to run the risk of her getting kicked off the swim team, you need to be put in jail.

I bet you think I’m kidding about the above interactions. I wish I were, but I’m not. These are a fraction of the things I’ve heard when it comes to children and sports. Every ER doctor in America sees this. How did we get here?”

The Natural Outcome

It’s the same in the classroom. By the time our children reach high school, 95% of them say they’ve cheated to get through school. In college, 75% admit to cheating to get through their university studies. Why? Parents won’t settle for anything less than stellar, and students are full of angst to meet these expectations.

It’s hardly a surprise that young people nationwide suffer from alarming rates of anxiety, sleep loss, and depression. In the most recent “Stress in America” survey by the American Psychological Association, more than one in four teens reported feeling “extreme levels” of stress during the school year. Studies of childhood stress have shown that unchecked anxiety in children is linked not only with adult mental health troubles, but also with disruptions of brain development, higher rates of disease, and even altered epigenetics.

In my book Generation iY, I share the nationwide College of Health survey, where 94% of students say the best word to describe their life is “overwhelmed,” 44% say they’re so overwhelmed it is difficult to function, and 10% have thought about suicide last year. What is so overwhelming about sports, class, and piano? They’ve been going on for decades, right? I can tell you the difference: today’s parents. We are not being intellectually honest about this issue.

Our Stress Becomes Their Stress

We can say we do these things because our kids are serious about competing, but I think they are usually reflections of us, the parents. It’s our baggage that causes us to feel they must perform so intensely. Kids want to please us and can tell—winning is extremely important. I’m all for identifying their gifts and helping them excel, but if we become obsessed with their performance, we’re unhealthy.

And the worst part is, we actually transfer our unhealthy state. They catch it like a virus; our emotions become their emotions. They grow up stressed and later become emotionally paralyzed, unable to move out of the house, take on a self-regulated life, or care for a spouse or kids themselves. If they try, they end up in a therapist’s office. This is happening by the millions.

Why Do We Do This?

Let me offer some common reasons we parents pressure our kids:

  1. They are a reflection of us, and as a result, our identities can become too closely tied to their performance. If our kid isn’t great, it must mean we have failed as parents.
  1. We work hard to remain hip and relevant, not wanting to be seen as a has-been. It’s as if we get a second chance at “youth” through our children.
  1. We’ve never worked through our own issues and become healthy, well-adjusted adults who can model what life should look like at forty-years-old.

So allow me to say the obvious: The best way you can improve as a parent is to grow emotionally healthy as a person yourself. Relax about your child’s scores and pay attention to your own. They will surely reflect the life you live.

Our newest book is out:

12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid – It outlines practical and effective leadership skills for both parents and educators on how to avoid common pitfalls including:

-making happiness a goal instead of a by-product
-not letting students fail or suffer consequences
-praising their beauty and intelligence

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A Cry for Parental Health