What, Me Worry?

I’m worried about my son.

He’s fine, first of all. He’s totally healthy, hitting all his developmental milestones on time and growing up way too fast. He’s not violent or oppositional or hard to manage. He throws tantrums here and there when he gets upset, just like any typical two-year-old would, but even those instances are just because he’s still learning how to cope with the tragedies of not getting his way.

 

 

And yet, even though everything is pretty much going the way it’s supposed to, I’m worried.

I worry about what it’s going to be like when Eitan finishes preschool and starts going to a regular school. I hear stories about kids getting assigned three hours of homework every night – in elementary school! – and I shudder. I speak to middle school students who tell me about navigating the usual social pressures of puberty and first relationships, except that their struggles are plastered all over Facebook and Instagram for the entire world to see. I read about high school students who are forced to become captains of sports teams and do volunteer work and learn a musical instrument and somehow fit in five hours of homework every night if they are to have any hope of being considered for the college of their choice.

I worry about the fact that kids today are forced to contend with so many different messages about the kinds of people they’re supposed to be that they can’t think straight. Kids need to be smart and athletic and good-looking and get good grades all at the same time. They need to be everything because, if they don’t, they’re considered failures. No wonder cases of depression and substance abuse in teens and adolescents have skyrocketed in recent years. I get stressed just thinking about having to deal with one of those challenges, let alone all of them at once.

And for what?

I’ve heard the familiar refrains about living in the world of “What if?” What if I don’t get an A? What if I don’t get into the right high school? What if I can’t get into college? What if I can’t get a job? They are really just covers for the true underlying question:

What if I’m not good enough?

We all ask that question every day, whether we realize it or not. The only thing anyone is really searching for is the knowledge that they’re doing okay and that they’re on the right track. We’re all just looking for approval, whether it’s from our parents, our spouses, our co-workers, friends or even our children. We all want to know, “If I’m not good enough, will anyone still care about me? Will anyone still love me if I don’t measure up?” Hopefully, we have someone who can reassure us that we’re valued, no matter what mistakes we make.

But as hard as it might be for adults to feel like they’ve found someone to answer that question in the affirmative for them, it’s even harder for kids. That’s why they pore over textbooks until their eyes glaze over and pour the rest of their energy into extra-curricular activities. They freak out over every quiz and test because everything holds so much weight. When their report cards and progress reports show all A’s, they feel more relief than pride. Good grades don’t just mean that they’re still on the track for success in terms of college and a good job; good grades mean that they’re still worthy of love.

I know that my wife and I hold more influence than anyone else over the ways that Eitan will approach his schoolwork and the ideas he’ll have about his future as he grows up. I know that it is up to us to continue reminding him of the importance of staying true to himself and the fact that we will both be there for him, no matter what happens. But even though I know how much power my wife and I have in helping him to develop coping skills for handling these pressures, I can’t help wondering if the weights of school, college and employment prospects will become too overwhelming for him. I tell myself that he will be fine; his mother and I certainly turned out pretty well, so I would imagine that he will too. We can pass on the wisdom that we’ve gained through the years to prepare him for the different obstacles he is about to face and continue to be his cheerleaders as he grows. And yet, even though I know all that…

I worry.

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