Age of Awareness
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Age of Awareness

Parenting a Teen During a Pandemic: The Anxiety of Online Learning

Little girl holding a card saying “I’m smart”.
Creator: Steven Depolo

Although I realize social media’s ability to propel a logical adult into a doom pit of despair and hopelessness, I still scroll well after my established bedtime. As a parent and former teacher, I zero in on the outrages of educators and parents caught up in the maelstrom of pandemic schooling. I, too, get caught up in the injustice of it all; the anger, the outrage. I’m tired of Zoom school. I’m tired of digitally monitoring my child’s every action on Teams. I’m tired of checking my child’s online attendance. I’m tired of the emails and robocalls from the district. I’m tired of worrying.

And then it came to me all at once; what’s the point of it all?

In less than a year, my son will be leaving for college. My youngest, in the throws of the adolescent assertion for independence, is already avoiding me. My time is running short. What do I really want for my children? What do I want to give them in the time I have left? Do I want to spend the majority of my hours stressing grades and acquiescence?

In her book, The Price of Privilege, psychologist Madeline Levine states, “Parents pressure their children to be outstanding while neglecting the very process by which outstanding children are formed.” We currently live in a world where we are obsessed with success (or what we think of as success.)¹ We measure worth through our accomplishments. Parents are not immune and push their teens further and further, gauging their abilities as parents by their children’s performance. And it’s not only the pressure to achieve more; it’s the anxiety. The fear that at any moment, your child will miss out or make an irretrievable mistake. Judging every moment and deeming them of the utmost importance. Are they making enough effort? Are they keeping up? What if they don’t know the right answers? Do they know enough?

Our societal preoccupation with “time on task,” productivity, and achievement leads us to ignore the very things that ultimately lead to success in life, developing a positive sense of self that includes our mistakes and failures.

These are the fears that permeate the online schooling experience in homes across the nation. When parents protest, “my child is falling behind,” what they’re saying is, “I’m afraid my child won’t be enough. I’m afraid my child will not keep up with other children. I’m afraid my child will not have a successful life.” Traditional schooling has reinforced these fears.² We measure and assess, and quantify every aspect of students until their value is commensurate with a point on a scale. High grades and standardized test scores allow access to privilege in schools, while low grades can infer low intelligence or poor parenting. Future success is equated to a high GPA or SAT score. At the same time, media outlets and politicians lament the failure to achieve “standards” can spell economic disaster for a community. Not only will your child not succeed, they will bring the whole town down with them! No wonder parents are anxious.

Our societal preoccupation with “time on task,” productivity, and achievement leads us to ignore the very things that ultimately lead to success in life, developing a positive sense of self that includes our mistakes and failures.² It is not adherence to the unrealistic goal of high standards that will lead to success. It is the opposite. Our obsession with quantification and measurement has narrowed our perspective of our children to the point where the thing we want the most for them is the thing we are impeding.³

Give them a foundation that can carry them through struggle and pain. Give them more than the lesson that we are our accomplishments.

Our experiences of anxiety and loss at this very time can help to drive conversations with our children that revolve around imperfection, struggle, acceptance, and forgiveness. We may not know the right answers, and that’s OK. If we fall behind, we need to give ourselves grace. Unforeseeable events happen. We all will face personal and societal trials at some point in our lives that force us to question what we believe and what we stand for. Chances are those answers don’t include “achievement at all costs.”

So for the moment, maybe we just need to stop.

Just stop for a moment.

Forget the attendance notices, the 7:15 am Zoom class alarm, the SAT scores, the GPA, the comparisons, the fear of falling behind; just for a moment, and connect. Make sure that before your teen leaves your house as a young adult, you share what really matters in life. Give them a foundation that can carry them through struggle and pain. Give them more than the lesson that we are our accomplishments.

  1. “However, our society’s obsession with early success, one that is rooted in the traditional sense of money, power, and status, comes with a price. As many 20-somethings are choosing to focus more on work and productivity, we also see a significant rise in depression and suicide rates.” Jaleel & Nicole. “Society’s Obsession with Early Success and How to Overcome It.” Medium, Curious, 18 Oct. 2020, medium.com/curious/societys-obsession-with-early-success-and-how-to-overcome-it-9ad02b2e9c0.
  2. Jia, Annie. “Teenage Obsession with ‘Success’ Bad for Mind and Spirit, Panelists Say.” Stanford News Release, 21 May 2007, news.stanford.edu/pr/2007/pr-sos-052307.html.
  3. “Despite more than a decade’s evidence that helicopter parenting is counterproductive, kids today are perhaps more overprotected, more leery of adulthood, more in need of therapy.” “What Happened to American Childhood?” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 27 Apr. 2020, www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/05/childhood-in-an-anxious-age/609079/.