As a young parent, I thought the biggest challenges for kids were physical. I would vigilantly keep an eye out for shady people who might intend to harm them. I would hold their hands tightly as we crossed the road. The things I most feared were obvious. But as my kids got older, I was surprised to find that while I was still attentive to their physical safety, some of the biggest challenges for kids are much more subtle.
Raising children is like running an obstacle course. While there are opportunities everywhere for them to experience a full and beautiful life, there are also obstacles consistently on their paths. Many of them aren’t obvious, so we have to pay attention. Here are 5 obstacles to your child’s ability to flourish.
1. Social Media
You know social media is bad for your kids in a myriad of ways. A quick visit to the Mayo Clinic website shows that increased social media usage corresponds with increased risk of mental health challenges for kids, especially anxiety and depression. But it’s important that you know you have a choice. You probably don’t feel like it. You feel like the choice is one of socially isolating your kid or allowing her to dive headlong into the abyss. But that’s a false dilemma.
It’s probably not reasonable to expect you can keep her from social media entirely, but you sure can set boundaries. Of course, she’ll hate it. She’ll complain. But that’s all part of the parental gig. If you work to help her develop a balance with social media, engaging but not allowing it to take over her life, you’ll both be the happier for it in the long run.
2. Hopes and Dreams
What are your hopes and dreams for your child? We all have them. That’s certainly not wrong. In fact, it’s healthy. However, our hopes for them cannot drive our parental decisions. One of the biggest challenges for kids is when we begin to parent the child we want instead of the child we have.
You may want your son to be an athlete or a scholar or social butterfly. But what if he turns out to be shy, a bit awkward, or not particularly gifted at academics? Your dreams for him may actually become a barrier to his becoming who he was intended to be. The key to helping him flourish is accepting who he is and helping him become the best version of himself.
“Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” the saying goes. And of course there is some truth to that. But again, your choice is not to have a lazy child or a busy one. You want to choose a healthy child. While laziness isn’t good, a child who’s too busy might experience stress, anxiety, or even depression. He or she may feel overwhelmed with the pace of life and struggle to sleep and eat.
As a parent, you need to guard downtime and encourage play for play’s sake. Create space for meals together and allow the opportunity for her to get bored. This might mean you stand out from other parents who dutifully whisk their kids from one activity to the next. But that’s OK. Your goal is not to be the model of a “super dad” but to be the kind of dad who puts his child’s well-being above his image.
This may come as a shock to you, but kids enjoy being comfortable, just like you do. But also just like you, being too comfortable can actually prevent growth. Your child needs to learn that he is capable of facing challenges and moving through them. This might mean pushing him to try a sport or a club even though he’d rather stay home and just play video games. Or it might mean requiring him to have some responsibilities around the house or to take a more challenging class.
Ironically, one of the challenges for kids is that we often feel the need to make them comfortable. But just as you don’t gain muscle from resting comfortably, you also don’t grow character from comfort. The key here is that when we push a kid, it’s for his growth, not to make him live up to our expectations.
It seems like everyone’s cynical right now. We all assume others, especially those with some degree of power, are out for their own best interests. And of course, it’s often true. But one of the challenges for kids is that they need hope. A life of cynicism leads to hopelessness.
If we’re going to fight cynicism, we need to model hope. You can’t be a cynic and expect to have a hopeful child. Remember, she’s watching you. At the same time, you need to offer your child models of honest leaders, healthy institutions, and people with integrity. This shows her that your hope isn’t simply naiveté.
Sound off: What are some other common challenges for kids?
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What are some challenges kids face?”