A new book, The Self-Driven Child, argues that influences like screen time, along with well-meaning parents and schools, are denying children and teens a sense of control over their own lives. And when kids don’t have the chance or the choice to do what they find meaningful, or to succeed or fail on their own, it leads to a host of problems like anxiety, depression, and even a failure to launch (which explains why more adults in their 20s and 30s are living at home).
Here’s Ned Johnson, the book’s co-author, as interviewed in Scientific American. I’m sharing this passage because it’s the perfect example of a simple but powerful decision parents can make that improves everything from your teen’s mental health, to your family relationship, to—yes—even college admissions outcomes.
“They [teens] are facing stressors each day, from school demands to social dynamics. You want home to be the place they can go to seek a respite from it all, where they feel safe and loved unconditionally, where they can fully relax, so that they can gather the energy to go back out. But if home is a stressful environment—if parents are an anxious or controlling presence—kids will seek that respite somewhere—or somehow—else. And most of the time, it’s a place you don’t want them to go. Or, if nowhere can be that safe base, they are really in trouble, as being chronically stressed is about the worst thing imaginable for brains, especially developing ones. That’s why we tell parents that one of the most important things they can say to their kids is, ‘I love you too much to fight with you about your homework,’ and why we want them to move in the direction of being a non-anxious presence for their kids.”