One of the more common problems I am seeing in teens, and especially affluent teens, is the lack of a true sense of self. Many of these teens have all the outer appearances of success in that they tend to be personable, academically successful, and good at sports. But this outer veneer hides their inner turmoil, despair and often a lack of any true intrinsic motivation.

Usually the cause of this is an over involved parent or parents, who tend to be overly concerned with outward appearances like what grades their child is getting or how successful they are in dance, their sport, etc. These parents are bound by their fear of not having a high achieving child and their anxiety is usually transferred onto their children.

As a result, these teens get the life sucked right out of them and end up going through the motions and living their lives to please others, be it their parents, teachers, coaches or friends. This leads to a feeling of emptiness inside of them, zapping their motivation and creativity.

Many of these parents intervene on their child’s behalf whenever a problem arises. This causes a form of learned helplessness to develop in their child and robs them of valuable opportunities to build their self-confidence.

As children grow older they need and desire to make more of their own decisions. If parents would instead make the choice to encourage their child to problem solve and support their child’s efforts, this would allow their child to gain valuable experience and build his or her sense of self.

Many well-intentioned parents hamper their child’s ability to develop a sense of self by comparing their teen to other teens, pressuring them to reach for external measures of success like prestigious schools or high paying professions and are overly critical of any choices they do make.

Lacking a sense of self is highly correlated to almost all emotional disorders such as depression, anxiety, anorexia, and cutting. Today’s children are so over-scheduled they miss out on one of the most important ingredients of developing a sense of self: unstructured play and free time.

Children also need time to fantasize and daydream almost as much as all humans need sleep to rest and replenish their bodies. It’s immensely important to their development and discovery of who they are and crucial to their future happiness.

Teens from affluent backgrounds are especially at risk of later emotional problems because they are rarely given the opportunity to practice and learn self-management skills. This often stems from having a parent or parents who are so focused on their child’s “happiness” that they feel they are obligated to limit any frustration or distress in their child’s life.

Research shows us that the best way to achieve lasting “happiness” is through developing resilience and the ability to persevere through difficulties. I find that when young people talk about being happy many are confusing “happiness” with experiencing pleasure.

Winning a competition, getting a good grade, or having a girlfriend or boyfriend are all pleasurable, but have little to do with happiness.* The only  happiness that lasts comes from what’s inside of you; that’s why developing resilience and the ability to persevere is so effective. When those skills become a part of you it gives you an earned sense of self.

Please loosen the reigns and allow your teens to fail, just be there to help them figure it out when they do. Act as an ally to them and not a protectorate and they will gain valuable coping skills. Those skills will last a lifetime and serve to make them happy and successful, even in the face of life’s problems. You can help them win the long game by resisting the false allure of focusing on their short-term happiness and success or more accurately ‘the appearance of their happiness and success,’ and instead focus on their development of their individual sense of self.


You can follow Sam on Twitter @SuperTaoInc

*= I will put up a future blog with a more detailed explanation on the difference between pleasure and happiness.




Comments are closed.