The Root Cause of Stress in Kids

photo credit: Sara. Nel via photopin cc

photo credit: Sara. Nel via photopin cc

Know why so many kids are stressed out and “failing to launch” into adulthood? It’s because of the unrealistic expectations and mental health of their parents.

Now before you react, let me show you the results from a recent study.

Carrie Wendel-Hummell, a researcher at the University of Kansas, concluded that postpartum depression in mothers and fathers doesn’t just stem from stretch marks or the emotional burden of caring for a new baby. She suggests the pressures to be a perfect parent are affecting the mental health of parents.

Consider the pressures today’s parents face to be perfect:

  1. We see Facebook pictures of seemingly perfect families who just returned from a perfect vacation. Everyone’s smiling.
  1. We compare our lives more than ever to the “Jones’” next door who just bought their kids the latest iPhone, PS4, or tablet.
  1. Mommy bloggers are ubiquitous, consistently pushing readers to perfect their parenting skills and give their kids an advantage in life.
  1. We hold “Disney-like” ideals of how a family is supposed to operate, where mom is always beautiful, dad is Prince Charming, etc.
  1. We believe that our kids are the “report card” others examine to measure the kind of parents we are.

Wendel-Hummell studied the health disorders that come with the prenatal phase of a mother’s life. During this time, parents must pay particular attention to their mental health. In Wendel-Hummell’s study, she conducted interviews with new mothers and fathers, most of them from Kansas and Missouri. Their incomes varied from low to middle class, and each candidate reported having issues with a variety of the following symptoms: postpartum depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosis, and bi-polar disorder.

Interestingly, middle-class parents were more likely to put huge quantities of pressure on themselves to attain a level of “perfect” parenthood. “Middle-class mothers often try to do everything to balance work and home life, and fathers are increasingly attempting to do the same,” Wendel-Hummell said. “This pressure can exacerbate mental health conditions. If everything is not perfect, they feel like failures — and mothers tend to internalize that guilt.” The pressure from society on middle-class parents seems to be too much for some parents’ mental health.

As I’ve addressed tens of thousands of parents and teachers each year, it seems that many feel this way. In fact, some just feel like plain failures if they see their children falter.

Why We Can’t Face Failure

I just released a book entitled Twelve Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid. My goal was not to take moms and dads further on their guilt trip. In fact, it was quite the opposite — the book is about removing the barriers to healthy family experiences. In it, I promote high (but healthy) expectations for both parents and kids.

Each of the twelve mistakes tends to fall into one of four categories:

  • We risk too little.
  • We rescue too quickly.
  • We rave too easily.
  • We reward too frequently.

If you stop to think about it, we parents make these mistakes because we don’t want to fail, nor do we want our kids to fail. So we refuse to let it happen. When our kids perform poorly, we praise them anyway. When they forget something, we rescue them. When they finish an average assignment, we rave like they’ve just won a gold medal, assuming it will build self-esteem. This does not produce a healthy adult.

Why are we so afraid of failure?

If I may be blunt, I believe we, as parents and teachers, allow our emotional baggage to get in the way of helping them transition into healthy adulthood. They’re unready because we actually failed to get them ready. We are fragile adults, getting offended if anyone (including their teacher) criticizes them. In reality, they likely need some constructive criticism. We interpret our child’s poor grade as our own failure to parent well, when in reality, they likely failed because they were lazy and didn’t fully apply themselves. We’re enraged when our kids lose on the playing field because we project our own lives and losses on them, when in reality, a kid just wants a Slurpee when the game’s over. He doesn’t care nearly as much as you do about who wins.

I’m a Baby Boomer, and I believe that many from our generation (certainly not all) have failed to grow up well. Could it be that we wanted to be called by our first name at work, even when we became boss, because we were clinging to our youth? Could it be we refused to let our hair become gray because we want to stay Forever 21? Could it be we wear skinny jeans or get tattoos, not because we look good with them, but because we hope to stay “cool” like our kids? Could it be we faced a mid-life crisis because we realized we weren’t as awesome as we thought we’d be at forty years old… and now, we’re committed to make sure our kid is awesome, even if we have to pretend? I’m just asking.

I see far too many ill-prepared young adults each year. The fact is, most of them are loaded with potential. Gifts. Smarts. Creativity. But the truth is, we didn’t give them a good model to follow into adulthood.

Let’s work on our own mental and emotional health so our kids know what happy, passionate, satisfied grown-ups look like. Let’s drop the perfect expectations. Let’s embrace the fact that failure happens to all of us. (In fact, it has to happen in order for us to fully mature.) Let’s embrace risk — and the consequences of bad decisions — so we know how to handle the tough times ahead. And let’s embrace all our warts and wrinkles while staying passionate about life. The next generation deserves a healthy leader.

What do you think?


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

Learn more here and download a free chapter.


The Root Cause of Stress in Kids