Give Your Child Permission

So my teenage students walked into class the other night, and (being a pretty good reader of teen faces) I knew there was a general funk. I asked what was going on, and immediately everyone started chiming in about what was consuming them in that moment. Want to know what they were saying? 

They were anxious and stressed about a whole host of things.

And before I get too deep into this discussion, I want you know who my audience was. This class happened to be my most advanced group of students. If kids make it to this level in dance, it’s because they’re talented, over-achieving, hard working, organized, and usually VERY smart kiddos. They generally takes honors and AP classes; they do a lot of school activities like dance team, cheerleading, track, SGA, you name it; they are active in their churches; they dance at the studio a minimum of 7 hours a week, but most do more. These are the kids that we need making decisions when we’re 80. These are the kids that we want saving the world when we’re too old to do it.

BUT…I think we’re making it WAY too hard for them.

Let’s be real for a minute. Teens and tweens have it WAY harder than we did at that age. Their world is full of impossible expectations. So impossible that the lines are blurred for them between the things they feel they HAVE to do and the things that they can CHOOSE to do. They feel guilty about doing things that they love because it takes time away from the things that bring them stress. 

Hear that again.

Many high achieving young people believe that the things that cause stress and anxiety must be more important than the things that bring them joy. Joy, in their minds, is a frivolous notion. They believe that they aren’t being good little children if they aren’t working super hard at being THE smartest, THE best, THE most popular, THE most talented, and on and on.

Because I’m a HUGE advocate of empowering kids, I want to tell you why I think we’re actually taking power away from them instead.

How many of you feel like you’re on the hamster wheel of wanting your kids to do and be everything but can’t seem to let them pull back when it all gets to be too much? Or maybe we don’t know exactly what to have them pull back on.

Slow hand-raise in progress. 

The problem is that I (and probably you too) want my child to be the best. I want her to be Miss Everything. I want her to have experiences and talents that I never had. I want her to be considered the smart kid. I want her to be popular. I want her to be the teacher’s pet. I want. I want. I want.

Aaaaaand I just got slapped in the face with a big ol’ dose of “IT’S NOT ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT. IT’S ABOUT WHAT SHE NEEDS.” 

The problem is that we, the parents, are adding to this notion of choosing stress over joy.

So, back to my teenage students and our discussion…

After listening to them, I posed this question, “What would happen if you didn’t take that AP class in high school and instead, took that class in college?” The room was silent. I’m serious. Crickets. That was not even a concept that many of them had ever considered. 

What are you thinking right now? Are you thinking “No way. People will think she’s not smart if she doesn’t take that class.” 

I asked another student, “what would happen if you didn’t actually make that ‘to do’ list that is causing you anxiety?” She looked back at me with horror. This young lady didn’t know how she could ever go through the day without that list. The problem is that she’s beating herself up for not accomplishing everything she set out to do that day. She’s feeling overwhelmed and like a failure. 

I bet y’all have been there. I know I have.

In college I was advised that I should never make a “to-do” list again because I was doing the same thing that this student was doing. It was one of the best decisions I ever made for myself. 

More on that in a later post.

See, sometimes young people just need permission from us to be a kid.

Don’t get me wrong. The option of taking AP classes is amazing! But they aren’t for everyone. 

Our job is to teach our children how to be successful adults. I don’t know too many successful adults who grew up thinking that they’ll never be all that they should be. That there’s no time for joy. That they should allow expectations of others determine their path. 

I’m betting that so many of us can take a step back and realize that there is some area of our children’s lives that could be a little lighter. I’m not suggesting that kids never have to learn mental toughness because I’m all for that. I believe that kids need to learn time management, and remember that I believe we can’t ever settle…that our best can always be better.

But the bottom line is this.

We have to make sure that our kids have the right amount of joy in their lives. We CAN’T allow them to give up the things that bring them a little bit of happiness to make more time for the things that cause them anxiety. We have to make sure that they know it’s okay to do something they love without feeling guilty – guilty because it’s taking time away from doing the things they think will please someone else. 

They need joy. They need quiet time. They need time with friends. The need to dance, play sports, study music, and find ways of expressing themselves without the pressure of perfection or the pressure of OUR “wants” for them.