The Perils of Privileged Kids

Recent studies show that teens from upper-middle-class and affluent homes struggle with more anxiety, depression and substance abuse than other teens.  Adolescent and couples counselor Yshai Boussi L.P.C. joined us with his tips on how parents can change that.

There’s current data suggesting that 30 to 40 percent of teens from upper middle class and affluent homes are struggling with depression, anxiety and substance abuse. This is higher than the rate of the general population of teens.

There are a number of explanations for this. Teens from families that are well off are often surrounded by a family, school, social and community context that is very outcome focused. Grades, test scores, appearance, accomplishments and awards are coveted. When failure or setbacks do present themselves, these kids are often either sheltered from it or bailed out, sometimes literally. Many of these teens have parents that overinvolved and unintentionally project a lot of their own unmet needs onto their kids.

The net result of all this are teens that have everything on the surface but no sense of self.

If you’re fortunate enough to be a parent with a level of affluence you have unique challenges that need to be addressed in order to help your kids be more than just polished achievers, but happy and whole as well. Here are some suggestions.

1. Stop praising your kid’s accomplishments and intelligence. Instead focus more on their character, process and effort. “You did well, next time think about how you could do even better” has a negative effect because it emphasizes what they do which promotes anxiety and perfectionism. “I appreciate how hard you worked and how creative your solution was” emphasizes who they are and promotes a healthy sense of self and character.

2. Don’t care so much about GPA and test scores. These are very unreliable indicators of long term success, happiness, adjustment. Many teens realize that their parents are more invested in this then they are. In response they will typically try to do well in these areas to please you. Teens that are externally motivated in this way tend to do poorly in college and afterwards. 

3. Your teen needs to experience meaningful setbacks and failure. It’s a natural instinct to want to protect our kids from pain and injury.  And the more time and resources we have at our disposal, the easier it is to provide this failure proof environment for our kids. This ultimately backfires though because teens must learn how to cope with frustration, disappointment and failure if they’re going to have any chance at being successful and happy adults.

4. Notice how much of your focus on your teen’s life has to do with your own unmet needs. Adolescence is an important time for us as parents to take stock of our own life and needs. This is a lot harder for parents who have been at home and the center of their kids lives for over a decade. This is an important time for you to start addressing previously ignored unmet needs. This may include your own health, interests and hobbies,  or your marriage and friendships. When we don’t address our own issues we typically project them onto our teens.

5. When it comes to involvement in your teens life, focus on quality not quantity. In cases where parents could be considered to be “helicopters” or over involved, the problem isn’t that they’re spending too much time with their kids. The problem is that the quality of time spent is poor because it’s filled with anxiety and fear. Your teen is well served to have you actively involved in her life but make an effort to work on managing your own anxiety and refocus your attention to discover and help cultivate your teen’s unique strengths, interests, passions, humor and personality.

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