Editor’s pick: Teen cluster suicides begs the question of parenting goals

Effie2 (2)I’ve come to realize that there is one fundamental question in which the answer is the foundation of our parenting approach. It defines how we, parents, raise our kids.

That question is: How do you define success and happiness?

Think about it…

Attachment Parenting International strives to educate and support parents in raising secure, joyful and empathic children in order to strengthen families and create a more compassionate world. Investing in our children’s well-being will lead the way to their bright futures.

Our society has high expectations for our kids and puts enormous pressure on them to excel in everything they do, to achieve more and do more. With this aim, mainstream culture has forgotten to honor who children truly are. Moreover, our society tends to neglect to recognize and appreciate what children need in order to thrive as sprouting human beings. With the ultimate goals of “excellence” and achievement, some parents have been overlooking the value of socialization, choice and perhaps even sanity.

In recent years, the community of Palo Alto, California, USA, has been shaken by clusters of teenage suicides. In this wealthy and privileged environment, teenagers end their own lives at 4 to 5 times the national average. Journalist Hanna Rosin investigated what makes adolescents in this community feel so helpless and hopeless. Her reflective, detailed analysis published in December in The Atlantic following interviews with teenagers, families, educators and clinicians is eye-opening and noteworthy. Palo Alto highlights the growing trend of focus on high performance and academics, along with the subsequent pressures and stresses on kids.

It’s easy to get tangled up in societal norms and pressures and get lost at sea — simply swimming, like a school of fish, following one another, without hesitation or any real sense of direction. There are times when we need to pause, evaluate where we are and where we need to go, and find the path that will lead us in that direction.

Rosin’s article is among other reports that has now prompted the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, according to ABC News, to investigate the troubling cluster suicides in Palo Alto. Hopefully their findings will lead to some answers and possible solutions.

As a parent of a child who will be heading to high school in a few short years, I was saddened to learn in this Psychology Today post that the average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s. Yet it is comforting to know that children who experience secure attachment grow into more well-adjusted adults with less anxiety and better mental health. Meeting children’s emotional needs enables the building of a strong bond and trust between the parent and the child — a beneficial ingredient during the vulnerable years of adolescence.

Mental health and suicide are multifaceted issues that can be attributed to various factors. It’s a complex puzzle. Unreasonable academic pressures may be one piece of the puzzle, as Rosin pointed out in her article — and it is one that can be easily replaced.

We need to ask ourselves and examine candidly:

  • Should our children’s self-worth be tied to academic achievements?
  • Are our kids showing signs of being victims of physical or online bullying? Due fear 70% of teens hide online behavior from parents
  • Aren’t success and happiness — along with health, of course — essentially what parents want and wish for their kids?
  • Are we on the right path in our efforts to cultivate success and happiness in our children?
  • How can we support our children in order to create a more compassionate world?

Was Attachment Parenting worth it?

intimate-808012-mFor the last few days, my son has been hunched over an application for a summer program at NASA. I’ve been helping him, shoulder to shoulder, when he needs it, and I find myself staring at him when he’s not looking. It’s his junior year, and he’ll soon be filling out college applications.

How did we get here?

My son was “that” kid. The one who shrieked in anguish when another child got the green cup. The one who hid under the table screaming with his hands over his ears when party-goers sang “Happy Birthday.” The one who completely disrobed when a drop of water touched his clothes. The one who yanked the dump truck out of the hands of an unfamiliar toddler at the park sandbox.

He was also the one who had hour-long meltdowns several times a day…every day…for months, sometimes until he’d lose his voice. He was the one who would wake with night terrors about being abandoned in the woods, even though I was sleeping next to him. He could have been the poster child for “The Spirited Child.”

He had a difficult childhood. It started when we was born 14 weeks premature — a micro-preemie who should have had all sorts of health issues, a 2-pounder who couldn’t even be stroked or held until he was a week old. But he was a fighter, and he never even had to be on oxygen. The NICU staff called him the Miracle Baby. (They also called me the Dairy Queen, but that’s another story!)

So how did we get here?

All I can think of is the hours upon hours of holding, rocking, singing, carrying, cosleeping and loving that my husband and I did — thousands of hours. I gave him Kangaroo Care for 4 hours at a time in the NICU, until they made me put him back in his warmer. I carried him in a baby backpack as soon as he could hold his head up while I did housework and made dinner. My husband and I cuddled him through his screams and walked him long into the night.

So here we are.

…looking at the beginning of the end: The beginning of his adulthood, as a strong, confident, self-assured man. And the end of the difficulties of a childhood with a rough start, a complicated middle and a promising finish.

Were all those hours of holding, cuddling and crying together worth it? You bet. I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.

Will I be sad to see him go off to NASA (if he gets in) and then to college? Sure. But that’s what we work toward, right?

I stare at the back of his head, with his ginger hair, and he speaks to me in his dad’s voice. “Mom, do you think this is good enough?” Oh yeah, I do. And then some, kid. And then some.

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