How can I support my over-achieving teen

Today’s question: 

“I’m impressed, but also worried about my daughter. She’s 16 and has a 4.4 GPA, great friends, and excels in dance. She is amazingly driven, but averages 4-5 hours of sleep every night. Recently she got REALLY sick. Two weeks of flu symptoms so severe, she almost needed to be hospitalized. Now she’s back to her hardcore lifestyle. I encourage her to sleep and relax more but I’m wondering if it’s it all too much for her? Am I just finding things to worry about, or is there something I can do to support my over-achieving child?”   Marlene

Parent Educator Answer:

Our culture trains us to look for signs that our kids are on the right track. Developmental milestones when they are young, like walking and talking, grades, friendships, and extra-curricular activities when they are older. When your child is meeting all the societal expectations of success, it can cloud your judgement and make it harder to know if you should intervene or not. 

Here are signs your high achieving daughter could use some mama intervention:

  • -cranky and unhappy the majority of her days
  • -not celebrating accomplishments: deflecting and denying praise
  • -mean to siblings and parents.
  • -recurring illnesses that don’t seem to be contagious
  • -recurring physical pain
  • -acting out – doing something impulsive and out of character
  • -acting in – cutting, self-medicating, eating disorders, etc.

People have two ways to motivate themselves: love and fear.

I have coached teenage girls who are VERY hard on themselves. They have really mean inner critics that constantly tell them: “I need to work harder. I’m not doing enough. I don’t have time to relax.” Or they will say things to themselves like, “You are wasting your time. You have to do everything perfectly. You are going to fail, etc.”

Read these to your daughter and ask her if any of them sound like thoughts that bounce around inside her head. If she says yes, or if you see more than one of the warning signs, then she is using fear to motivate herself and it’s time to intervene.

The trick with teenagers is many are very resistant to thinking that something is “wrong” with them and they may shy away from counselors or therapists.

Life Coaching is a great solution. Teens have coaches who help them with their sports. Elite athletes still hire coaches because they can offer expertise and perspective to enhance their game. So there isn’t the same association with something being “wrong” with them. 

There is so much benefit to learning life coaching tools while you are young. You will save yourself years of suffering from the sneaky voice of the inner critic. In teens, this inner critic hasn’t been around long, so it’s easier to rewire that part of our brain, than it is with adults. Young brains are very malleable, so getting coaching while young would help her learn to support and motivate herself with love and passion for the rest her life. Knowing how to coach herself at a young age means that she will be happier, but also be a positive voice for her friends as she moves on to college and adult life.

Life Coach Answer:

Before mom can suggest any intervention for her daughter, she needs to make sure she isn’t worried. Worrying energy repels teens like crazy and will make her not want to listen or be around you. 

I see no problem telling her that some perfectionistic teens commit suicide when they get their first C in college, or when they don’t get into the premiere ballet school, or don’t win the scholarship they wanted, just don’t use it to fuel your worry.

Mama needs to let go of any thoughts around this being an emergency or her daughter “needing her help”. Instead, trust that she could go through her whole life this way and be very tired, but successful. Most of my clients have harsh inner critics and finally seek life coaching once their kids are born and they can’t do it all anymore. If you offer coaching to her, letting her know it’s a normal thing that people do to optimize their life experiences, she’ll eventually come around when the pain, illness, fatigue or frustration are too much for her.

What you can do to help, is to be mindful of your own inner critic and make sure your inner perfectionist isn’t fueling hers. Let her see you making mistakes and laughing them off. Encourage and model relaxation. There has never been a better time to lay around and do nothing.

Supermom kryptonite: busyness.

We live in a culture that reveres busyness. When a mom complains about being busy, all the other moms nod their head in agreement. We wear busyess like a badge of honor, but there is a cost to pay. Being busy robs us of our productivity and sense of well being.

As humans, we aren’t wired to be busy all day. How do we know? Think about the last really relaxing vacation you went on. Didn’t it feel good to do less? Think less? Accomplish less? The fact that doing less, feels good, means it’s more aligned with who we are meant to be. When we are busy, our brains are thinking about the past and the future. We end up spinning in circles, emptying half the dishwasher, doing half the laundry, drafting an email but not sending it. This unfocused, frenetic, busy energy does nothing for our productivity, efficiency, and joy. It keeps us out of the present moment but we do it, to keep our inner critic from rearing her ugly head to tell us we should be doing more.

 

Supermom power boost: honor a sabbath

The old fashioned idea of ‘honoring a sabbath’ could be very beneficial for today’s modern families. With lives full of places to be and things to do, taking time out to just sit and DO NOTHING is probably the smartest thing we could all be doing to improve our sense of well-being. But as soon as we sit to do nothing, our minds fill with all the things we ‘could’ and ‘should’ be doing. Or, we pick up our cell phones and find something to fill the void.

I propose a modern take on honoring a sabbath by setting aside 5 hours (or even just 5 minutes) every week, where no electronic devices are allowed. Where you and your family are forced to “do nothing” together. When the intention is to do nothing but just hang out together, it helps keep that inner voice at bay saying, “you should be doing something else.” 

When my family takes time to honor a sabbath this way, we go hiking, fly kites, go out to lunch, hang out in the back yard, make up silly games, etc. Slowing down and focusing on BEING instead of DOING, can make wonderful things happen that you can’t anticipate when you are busy.

Quote of the Day:“We are living under the collective delusion that in order to succeed we have to burnout along the way.” Arianna Huffington