Being a Kid is Tough Work

It’s not easy being green…or a kid.

Lots of adults – too many adults – think that childhood is an easy time.  They think that kids are carefree and have nothing to worry about.  Well, childhood should be an easy time, with no cares or worries, and in a perfect world it would be, but we do not live in a perfect world.

Kids face stressors of all kinds and always have. They have to go to school – and if they are not good students that’s one type of stress, and if they are good students, that’s another kind of stress, and if they have to deal with bullies that’s another type of stress, and if they are shy and have difficulty making friends – even if they aren’t subjected to bullying – that’s another type of stress, or if they’re popular and have to maintain a certain circle of friends even if they don’t want to because “it’s expected,” that’s another type of stress.  Well, you get the picture. Stress.

Nowadays there’s more than ever for kids to be worried about. Take for instance, the chat my daughter’s teacher had with her class last school year about possible shooters in the school and how they’re basically all screwed anyway.  And then there’s the fact that my daughter went to a college conference in Baltimore recently – one of her concerns included whether or not the convention center would be shot up…given Baltimore’s latest activities in that regard. Many kids face this fear in this day and age and truly, that’s just a sad testament to our society as a whole.

Then there’s home life, which can be more complicated now than ever before, considering the proliferation of different family units – single parents, same-sex parents, step-parents and step-siblings, and so on. Which can be just fine and dandy inside the home or it can be incredibly complicated depending on how the family meshes – but the external stressors that kids in these situations sometime face can be overwhelming.

And then there’s the parents. Regardless of the type of family unit, most parents are loving and treat their kids well…but there are always the exceptions. And while the percentage of “bad parents” may be low, that still means there are hundreds of thousands of parents who have no idea how to treat kids, and shouldn’t be parents in the first place, frankly.

And all that brings me to the real subject of this blog entry, which is how frustrating it is for teenagers to be lumped into a single mass.

“All teenagers are sullen.”

“All teenagers are moody and antagonistic.”

“All teenagers have teenage angst.”

I disagree with all of these statements but none more than the existence of “teenage angst.” Not all teenagers have teenage angst! And what the hell is teenage angst anyway? There’s no “adult angst” and believe me, I’ve seen plenty of adults that ought to have it.

Oh, and just because a teenager doesn’t want to be social or outgoing, even among family, does not mean they are sullen or moody or antagonistic. Perhaps they’re introverted. Perhaps they’re shy. Perhaps they have a lot going on in their mind and life and they’re distracted. Perhaps they just don’t like you. They should be allowed to do their own thing so long as they’re not being outwardly disrespectful. Speaking of which, I’m a firm believer of “respect is a two-way street.”  There is no minimum age for deserving respect. All too often adults think that kids, simply by virtue of being kids, do not deserve even a modicum of respect, thereby completely invalidating their feelings, and this is just wrong.

But how should we treat teenagers who do have angst? (Note the intentional lack of “teenage” preceding the word angst.)

Are they to blame for giving into their feelings – when adults certainly never hesitate to give in to theirs?

Kids have a lot to be anxious about. For some, it’s worse than the norm.

Having anxiety and depression is like being scared and tired at the same time. It’s the fear of failure but no urge to be productive. It’s wanting friends but hating socializing. It’s wanting to be alone but not wanting to be lonely. It’s caring about everything then caring about nothing. It’s feeling everything at once then feeling paralyzing numb.”

That’s a quote to think about, and to remember.

All of the stresses that affect kids are magnified a hundred fold if they do suffer from anxiety and/or depression.  First off, anxiety and depression are medical conditions. That’s what a lot of adults don’t seem to understand. Oh, they might “get it” regarding themselves or other adults.  They just don’t seem to understand that kids can suffer from these same conditions.  I mean, why would they?  They’re kids, in the prime of their carefree days for goodness sake.

Second, a lot of this angst is caused by external forces.

Take girls, for example. It’s well documented that boys and girls do equally well in school until they get into their teens, when the scores for girls (speaking overall here – there are always exceptions) go way down in certain subjects. Like math and science. Why? Because even today – even today! – girls are not expected to be good at math or science! And they are treated accordingly. No wonder their scores go down.

Then there’s the fact that once girls become teenagers, they “blossom” as the saying goes, and all of a sudden they’ve got to deal with the “opposite sex” coming onto them (or not). Not to mention ridiculous dress codes that make it abundantly clear that their education is much less important than a boy’s and instead they should focus on not distracting the male students from their studies.

Of course boys have a similar and equal kind of stress when they hit puberty, as there’s a blinding rush to turn them into men and no innocence seems left to any kids anywhere!

Bad parents also cause their kids a lot of stress and anxiety. Some parents emotionally abuse kids, even if they don’t physically abuse them, threatening to withdraw their love if the kid fails a test, for example…or irrationally and insistently pushing the kid into sports when he or she would rather be on the stage let’s say, just so they can relive their old high school quarterback days.

Something else to think about: When parents have a bad day, who are the first ones they take it out on?  Their spouse, sure, but who’s next? The kids. Right. (I’m not talking abuse here – that’s a whole other issue – I’m talking about being in a bad mood, snapping at the family, being curt or short in your tone, and having no patience for anyone.) When kids have a bad day?  Who can they take it out on?  No-one. Why? Because they get punished. For belligerence. For having a bad attitude. If they go to their room and try to stay to themselves because they’ve had a bad day? They get punished. Why? For being sullen.  For being anti-social with the family. For ignoring their parents. For bringing the mood of the family down. Kids are expected to be on perfect behavior at all times or face the consequences.  Who can live sanely under those kinds of expectations!? Yet many adults expect them to do it.

My point in all this rambling?  Simple. Let’s cut our kids some slack, shall we? Kids have feelings and personalities all their own just as adults do. They shouldn’t be dismissed just because they’re kids.

having a good kid meme

13 thoughts on “Being a Kid is Tough Work

  1. I’m surprised you don’t have any comments yet…this is a subject that is near and dear to your heart I can feel the passion in this entry. While I think sometimes we give our kids excuses for bad behavior and excuses for failure I do get your point.

    • I got kind of long winded on this one even for a rant. I’m not one to make excuses for bad behavior and certainly don’t condone others who do. My point is more to remember that kids are unique personalities with feelings, thoughts, worthwhile opinions, and worries, and should be treated as such. Too often parents and other adults expect kids to have no voice, no feelings (or at least don’t show them).

  2. Now it’s shooting in schools. For my generation it was air raid/atomic bomb drills, getting down in duck and cover position under our desks if a siren rang out suddenly which it did randomly through out the school semester.
    I absolutely agree that childhood is rarely carefree for all the many reasons you point out.

    • That’s what we had too — we had drills where we went outside and then drills where we hid under our desks. Not sure what hiding under kindling would’ve done to save us in the event of a nuclear bomb. Go figure. Childhood is certainly not as stress-free as everyone makes it out to be, that’s for sure.

  3. It’s a good post. However, I tried to remember some stresses from my childhood, and I couldn’t. I was what you call a very good student. I believe in Europe back then everything was different. I was teaching my younger sister (4 years younger) and nobody ever told me what I should do. We were supposed to clean the house before parents came home from work and later I was also cooking dinner for everybody, from 12 or so. I learned sewing when I was 12 also because mom was too busy and too tired, and I also read a book a day for many years, it really turned into an obsession with reading and I draw a drawing or painted a painting a day. Those times nobody paid any attention to my art, even though I was painting portraits, etc. I mean, we had a lot of obligations, no hot water, no central heating, no automated laundry. We did a lot of weeding and planting in the garden, we made a lot of things for our house, nobody ever checked our homework, but me and sister were always the best students. I mean, there was no control at all, but I suppose, it’s because those times were so quiet. I think kids have everything ready nowadays and parents are trying to do so much stuff to make their life easier. I have parents of 17 and 18 years old young people calling me up to arrange art classes for them. That seems strange to me because I started to live on my own and study at the university when I was just 17 and by 23 I was already teaching others at a high school.
    Yes, it’s very tough because there’s so much violence and I am blaming the games which teach kids to kill and shoot somebody from a very early age, no wonder some lose any connection with reality. The values are completely deformed thanks to social media and their “trends” which have nothing to do with the real life. On one hand, kids are so dependent and on another hand they sort of have access to everything. Many people live only in terrible conditions while the others don’t have a clue what difficult is. I also believe all good things come from family.

    • “Many people live only in terrible conditions while the others don’t have a clue what difficult is.” That is so very, very true. It sounds like you had to grow up very fast but you have a wonderful and positive outlook on life. I think that’s amazing and inspiring. In certain areas and especially in different generations, kids were grown up, on their own or at least participating fully in the adult world at much younger ages. Society has changed, definitely. You’re right too in that good (great!) things come from family but unfortunately, and sadly, the worst things can come from family too.

  4. Excellent post, thank you. As a parent of three kids – including a 13-year-old daughter (yikes!) this gives me plenty of food for thought. Do I cut myself more slack for my bad moods than I do the kids’? Yes, almost certainly.

    And yes, I think we do sometimes look back on childhood with rose-tinted specs, like it was some magical carefree existence, forgetting the stresses, worries and insecurities that came with it. I was one of the lucky ones, in that my childhood was basically a happy and secure one, but I can’t honestly say I was happier then than I am now, even if there are some aspects of it that I do miss sometimes (like the innocence, not having to worry about money – though even those things are relative).

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