The Healthy Family Connections Podcast
Episode 123 · Duration: 00:12:57
Our Daughter Is Stressing Us All Out
If you have a multi-talented teenager, and they sign up for everything, what’s a parent to do?
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Today we’re answering a question from Mary Lu from Brooklyn, New York. Mary Lu writes:
What is the best way to deal with this Neil?
My daughter, now 15, wants to do everything; a sport, 2 musical instruments with lessons and recitals in both, all AP classes, student government, and Mock Trial. What this means is that she is always completely stressed, short with everyone, demanding to get what she needs, and never has any down time. Her stress is the main emotional event in our family. I’ve suggested that she back off of some things but she just gets mad at me for not accepting how important these things are to her. I’m glad she’s ambitious and doing only good things, but isn’t there a point where it’s too much? I’ve suggested counseling, but she says I’m the one with the problem. Should I insist on it?
Thanks for your question Mary Lu and you are not alone with this dilemma. Yes, it’s great that your daughter is smart and talented, but overloading one’s self is not healthy. Stress, lack of sleep, inability to truly enjoy the things she’s doing, negative impact on those closest to her, lack of spontaneous opportunities. There are probably more negatives here I haven’t thought of.
Why do Teens Over Schedule Themselves?
So why would a young person do this to themselves? There could be a few driving forces so lets take a look.
Sometimes, parents are pushing their youth to compete with the idea of getting into the best colleges, or simply compete to excel. They have the idea that the most important thing for their child is to get the best grades and go to the best schools.
Some kids don’t feel good enough, smart enough, attractive enough, or simply enough, for one reason or another. They might overachieve to try to overcome their perceived sense of unworthiness. At an unconscious level they’re thinking, “If I get all A’s in the hardest courses, and if I’m always busy doing important things, others will think I’m okay and won’t see my inadequacies even though I’ll always know they’re there.”
Some kids are simply wired for doing, and they’re multi-talented and gifted and truly enjoy all the things they want to do. The problem is that the one talent they don’t have is knowing their own limits and understanding their own real needs, needs that can only be met in a balanced lifestyle. Rest, being part of the family, growing friendships, not just doing things with other kids, but hanging out and talking about things that are important and personal to you.
Mary Lu, it doesn’t sound like you fit in the first category of the driving parent so that’s good. That’s abusive to kids and it keeps them from getting to know themselves, their likes, personal interests, doing things that wouldn’t go on a resume and of course, rest and feel good about themselves. Always living in stress becomes normal--and it can become a life long way of being.
Whether your daughter has self-esteem or emotional issues driving her relentless pursuit of everything, or it’s just her nature to keep taking things on, she’s going to need parental support for slowing things down and saying “No” to some activities. If she has self-esteem or emotional issues, they should be somewhat evident in her behavior- isolating, eating issues, crying, complaining about being treated unfairly in the family or in other situations.
What Can Parents Do When Over Scheduling Happens?
Here is what you can do. First of all, you have to realize that our kids need parental guidance and limits. Not just kids who are smoking weed and ignoring their responsibilities, but all kids. All kids have learning and growing to do and they need their parents to set the stage for it.All kids have learning and growing to do and they need their parents to set the stage for it. Click To Tweet
Kids who are not setting appropriate limits and boundaries for themselves, need parental limits just the same as the kid who is slacking off. We need to understand what’s driving your daughter’s over-engaging behavior and address it and support her in changing the behavior.
You’ll want to have a talk or have several talks that have the right tone and of course, you’re going to want to be positive.
Acknowledge that your daughter is very hard working and industrious and that you’re proud of her and respect her work.
That beyond all the things she’s doing well, that you love her for who she is.
Also that you miss her and miss who she is when she’s not completely stressed out and over-committed.
That her constant stress and busyness leads to shortness, irritability and while it’s hard on family members, your first concern is that it’s a sign that she’s doing too much and needs more down time, more self-care, more rest, more light happy moments.Self-care and personal limits are skills we all need to have. She deserves balance and the benefits of self care. She needs to grow in her understanding and awareness of her own needs and the skills to take better care of herself.Click To Tweet
Self-care and personal limits are skills we all need to have. She deserves balance and the benefits of self care. She needs to grow in her understanding and awareness of her own needs and the skills to take better care of herself.
Then you’ll have to help her figure out where to cut back. My guess is that she’s going to consider everything a priority and be unwilling to let go of any of it.
You’ll need to make your own judgments about how critical all of her engagements are and the level of commitment she has to others; whether you’re okay with her riding out the semester with her current load and making changes at the break, or if things need to change now.
Can Counseling Help Improve Family Dynamics?
Mary Lu, it’s important for you to face that what your 15 year old is doing is unhealthy. It’s unhealthy for her and the family. Somehow, her parents have become disempowered to address it, set limits with her, and support her in making the necessary changes and doing critical learning and growing. Right now, she’s marching on avoiding her emotional and physical needs and suffering. She's suffering differently from a kid who isn’t investing in their talents and skills, but she's suffering in her development by not learning how to know and honor her physical, emotional needs, and how to be mentally healthy.
Counseling for your daughter, at least at this point, is not the right thing to do. In fact it could be destructive. We don’t want to make her the problem and then send her to a therapist to solve it. It won’t happen and she’ll be the problem in the family, the one who causes all the stress and brings the family down. We don’t want to do that to her. We want you and her dad to step up and provide leadership so that she doesn’t bring the family down.
If you don’t know how to do it, then you can all see a therapist together to work together to manage the Beast in your family; the Control Battle that’s going on between your ambitious stressed out daughter and her frustrated and disempowered parents.
Now let’s say your family goes to counseling together and you see a talented therapist who helps you see how you are in a repeating pattern. How does each of you feed it? How can each of you work to change your part in it? Wouldn’t that be fabulous? If it becomes clear that your daughter is stressed virtually all the time, even when she isn’t overworked and wishes she could feel and be more relaxed, then the family therapist could recommend individual counseling to help your daughter learn stress reduction skills. Now the family dynamic is healthy and your daughter being motivated to manage her stress is wonderful. Now she’s taking action to solve her problem, and that takes two things, courage and vulnerability and guess what, that’s what you and her dad just modeled for her.
Overstressed, over worked, and overscheduled teens is a condition that is counter productive to the goal of youth development. But sending a teen off to a therapist to fix it will miss the boat. When the battle in the family is resolved, and parents are facing their own issues and their own role in the problem, then a motivated teenager will benefit from their own therapy.
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And till next time,
Take care of yourselves, you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it.
Bye for now.
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