HOW TO HELP CHILDREN MOVE INTO THE REAL WORLD
This article is a response to concern about the mental health problems facing college students. Graduating to adulthood, no matter whether it is graduating from high school, college or graduate school or getting that first job, is harder than many realize. “The Don’t Worry, Just Be Happy and Visualize Your Dreams” gurus are not helpful when it comes to preparing for the reality of life’s struggles.
One wise father, wish I remembered his name, but that was a good 20 years ago. He prepared his kids for the reality of life by making them earn their way once they entered junior high. He gave them complete freedom, but rules to live by if they wished to stay home, made them earn a limited allowance by completing home chores, paid their doctor and insurance bills, had good meals at home, and made them earn everything else by working either at home or in the real world for more money. He was introducing them to reality while being there to sympathize but not bail out. He wrote a book that was as widely unsuccessful as my When Good Kids Do Bad Things or Parents Are People Too. I was grateful to him for he helped make me less of a push over and my kids know the value of a dollar, have great work ethics, and an appreciation of life as a struggle not all succeed at without help.
Here is another article discussing the perils of the Happiness Gurus referred to above. It is by Barbara Ehrenreich giving a TED talk but is presented as an animated mind map by RSAnimate. Love their work. Her article deals with the problems unemployed adults who cannot easily get another job face when told it is just a matter of attitude. ” Smile, be positive and all will be well.” Not a new idea by any means, just remember the song “Let a smile be your umbrella on a rainy, rainy day.” Nice song but if it is raining and all you have is a smile, you are going to get wet.
The United States welfare ethic is based on the idea that opportunity is there for all to take advantage of. Our draconian welfare and health coverage laws still think the major problem is people not doing all they can do. Poverty is seen as a moral choice. Romney recently suggested privatizing unemployment benefits and forcing people to buy insurance to protect them if they lost their job. I laughed and thought how out of touch he was with what it meant to be poor. For the poor buying food and paying rent is the first priority, insurance is the luxury of the rich and just another business.
Therapists and our politicians need to understand that while much is in any one’s power to control, a great deal is not. Just because some make it up from poverty to self sufficiency does not mean all can. Oprah often says the opposite, but she had mega brains and was the right person at just the right time and those are not in everyone’s power to control. Chance controls much and that means your genes, how well off your parents were or are, who is there to help you when life blows strike, where you live, what education is available to you, and what historical era most shapes you. Ehrenriech calls on all to face reality and share power in order to care for all. I agree.