Here’s What Your Kid Might Not Tell You, But Tells Me
One of the best things about working in mental health is the built-in confidentiality requirement that’s baked into the job. What this means is that short of stating stating specific things (i.e. a plan to harm someone), our job is to always protect the privacy of the people we serve — including kids. Without confidentiality, developing the necessary trust and rapport to help clients is almost impossible, making this one of the most important and instrumental variables when it comes to effective counseling. For many kids, talking to a counselor who ensures privacy allows for important, real, and sometimes controversial conversation, and often the nature of these professional interactions are far different than the things mom and dad learn at home from their child.
What kids say privately…
Below are examples of common things I hear from kids during clinical counseling sessions.
- They are not generally fans of hyper-activities, including sports. Simply because a child at one time expressed interest in a particular sport, team, or league, that does not mean he or she wants to do it indefinitely, especially at an escalating rate of speed and intensity. Going year-round, adding experience on top of experience, and rarely allowing for extended breaks are all issues kids have told me cause them great distress.
- They want to enjoy the activity, not feel like they have to do the activity in order to get into a future program, or excel in sports to receive an athletic scholarship. “Do this, do that, and don’t forget about blah blah blah.” While most adults only had to worry about getting good grades when they were a kid, today’s kids are constantly reminded about not only the importance of grades, but also the types of courses they take (i.e. AP, Honors, college, etc), and the other life experiences they need to do in order to rise to the top of the list. Doing things for the intrinsic joy of the experience is rarely supported these days, as everything needs to be done in order to get somewhere later.
- They are told to be “well-rounded,” but where do they find the time? Join clubs, do activities, play sports, do an internship and volunteer in your community are examples of the kinds of things kids hear as they are told to be “well-rounded.” The problem, however, is that there simply are not enough hours in the day for kids to do everything, and for those who try they often experience increased stress, anxiety, sleep and diet issues, and mood changes.
- They value (and desperately need) rest. Kids today rarely come home and race out the door to play pick-up games or just hang out with friends. Instead, many kids today jump right into after-school activities that end over (or past) dinner, leaving them little time to chill out! Some parents complain to me about their kids doing too much screen-time, but for many kids screen time and gaming is the first time in the day that they have had control and autonomy over their time and decision-making.
The findings I present here are general findings, meaning that your child could be an outlier and different from other kids on any of the comments above. For many kids, the mental distress they experience often distills down to simply going too hard, too long, and with few meaningful breaks. Go to ID camps and play travel sports as much as possible, take as many honors and AP classes as you can, and fill in every gap in your schedule with experiences that allow you to become “well-rounded.” At the end of the day the hyper-expectations we place on kids today have resulted in having an unintended effect: More kids experiencing mental fatigue, exhaustion, depression, and anxiety.