Highly successful Los Angeles parents often stress achievement and success to their bright, competent, high achieving children, expecting them to shine academically, star athletically, be popular, attractive and get into highly competitive top colleges. The pressure from parents, teachers, coaches, media, and peers creates tremendous stress for developing adolescents, but seems to take its greatest toll on teenage girls. The pressure to be perfect creates anxiety, depression, eating disorders and a host of other psychological and physical ailments, often well hidden from the teen’s parents, teachers and coaches.
In her book, Stressed Out Girls, psychologist Roni Cohen-Sandler noticed a spike in stress levels and psychological crises among girls who, she writes, are “prone to becoming estranged from their inner lives…. so busy living up to others’ expectations that they either don’t develop or eventually relinquish their own goals. They are so focused on achieving external emblems of success that they don’t get the chance to figure out what really excites them and gives them pleasure. They barely know who they are or who they want to become.”
These young ladies want very much to please those people around them who have invested so much time, energy and often money, to assure their child’s success, that they become disconnected from their true selves in the process. The tremendous pressure to “do it all” and to do it all extraordinarily well, results in such debilitating pressure that the child’s self esteem, motivation and general well being are at risk.
Olympic figure skater Mirai Nagasu may well be an example of an extraordinarily gifted, successful teen with poor self-esteem. Well known for her emotional meltdowns, Nagasu’s self esteem appears shaky when she reveals, “There are always moments when I think about leaving skating, but when I think about that I’m not very smart and I’m not very pretty and there’s nothing else that stands out about me besides my skating.” How sad that such a beautiful, talented young lady is unable to have enough balance in her life to recognize her many worthwhile skills and traits other than her ability to skate. Tiger Woods’ recent acting out may have been due to the pressures placed on him from an early age. When Tiger was 2, his father announced to the world that Tiger was “the chosen one.” This season’s fashion week models are, once again, extraordinarily thin, despite attempts to encourage healthier weights to help fight the rampant psychological and health issues that the models and those who aspire to be like them, often face.
Developing adolescents need to feel free to explore their unique interests and discover where their true passions lie. They need the opportunity to figure out who they are and permission to follow their own dreams. Parents need to support these daughters and sons by allowing them to stumble and make mistakes. Healthy, happy people feel good about what they do, who they are and their relationships with the people they care about and who care about them. Encouraging a teen’s emotional well-being, perseverance toward a self chosen goal, curiosity, and recognizing her inner qualities such as kindness, empathy, humor as valuable aspects of who she is becoming, will help alleviate the stress the teen may be experiencing. Hard working, successful Los Angeles parents need to recognize that they are role models for their children and need to model living a balanced life. Everyone appreciates being recognized for who they really are rather than for what they do.