Hadriana Lowenkron, a resident of Maplewood, is a student at Columbia High School. She is currently enrolled in Mr. Enyeart’s journalism course and writes for the award-winning Columbian newspaper.
Springtime — a time of year when stress blooms in sync with the flowers. According to Columbia High School Principal Elizabeth Aaron, not only are teenagers dealing with the everyday stresses of “school, society, social media use and misuse, economics, [and] the state of the world,” but they are also in the midst of the ever-so-daunting college process — a process where CHS guidance counselor Sam Maietta admits that “there’s so much pressure to live up to high parental expectations, as parents want to see the best out of their kids.” Recognizing this, many parents find themselves searching for the right balance, so as not to add to their children’s stresses.
While there isn’t one standard way to parent, there are two extremes that prove to negatively influence teens’ stress levels, as well as the relationships between the teens and the parents: parents who are “so hands off that they let … [their teens] flounder unnecessarily, and those who are so micromanaging that their kids don’t get a sense of accomplishment on their own,” according to Nancy Friedman, psychologist and mother of two from South Orange.
When parents are very controlling, the individuality of the child becomes inhibited, and according to Jeremy Dunston, a senior at CHS, “it perpetuates a toxic and overwhelming environment full of stress.”
As a social worker at a local college and mother of one, Catherine Maranto of Maplewood finds that teens who have been micromanaged by their parents throughout high school haven’t developed their own identity. When they arrive in college, they “don’t feel as confident and their self-esteem isn’t as good,” Maranto explained.
When asked how having overly controlling parents could contribute to the already high stress levels of teenagers, Emma Joy, a junior at CHS, responded, “not only do [teens] have to live up to their [own] expectations, but they also have to live up to their parents’ [expectations].” This can be a “huge stress factor because [teens] are trying to please someone else in addition to themselves,” Joy continued. Such compounded expectations, especially with respect to grades and test scores, can lead to teens being afraid to make mistakes, for fear of letting their parents down, instead of recognizing that making mistakes is a part of life and eventually leads to success, according to Joy.
Guidance counselor Maietta concurred, stressing that “all parents have good intentions. They want their teens to succeed and don’t want them to be upset. However, if they allow their children to take chances and mess up on their own, their children will learn from their mistakes and become better people because of it.”
Overly-controlling parents also affect the work ethic of the student. According to Maietta, having a parent who is very controlling “makes the teens do less because they know the parents will do more.”
On the other hand, having parents who are too removed from their teenagers can also present problems. When asked to list the cons of this parenting style, Maranto responded: “It depends on the personality of the kid. Some, left on their own, will be very ambitious and driven, and perhaps that would lead to a higher level of maturity. But they could also develop feelings of not being loved or cared for enough.”
Eve Greenberg, a senior at CHS, agreed: “While on the one hand you gain a sense of independence very quickly, which is important especially right before you go off to college, … you don’t have that support system, which I think is very important.”
Maranto pointed out that the way parents parent their children has everything to do with the way they themselves were parented, since parents “seek to create what’s familiar to them.” According to Maranto, if parents like the way they were parented, they will emulate it; if they don’t, they will likely do the opposite.
As reported in Parenting is Often History Repeating Itself, using the same tactics simply because they’re familiar might only result in forcing a child to follow in the parent’s footsteps or do exactly the opposite, without figuring out if that’s what the child really wants or needs. This can be especially problematic when teenagers start the college application process.
In some cases, as discussed in Handling Pressure from Parents During the College Admission Process, students feel forced to apply to the same college that their parents attended, because it’s more familiar. In other cases, students are convinced to apply anywhere but where their parents went to school. While parents should “help their teens understand the application process and help them … [arrange] tours, they should not be the ones making decisions about where the students should apply,” Joy opined.
While finding that balance — between being too controlling and not controlling enough — may differ for all, communication is key. According to Maranto, parents should afford teenagers their privacy and the space to develop into the human beings they’re going to become, while still having check-in points to ensure that, if the teens need help along the way, they feel comfortable asking their parents for it. Should families have trouble with this, CHS has family programs on Saturdays — one “devoted to some elements of the college-planning process, and one devoted to stress and how to manage it,” according to Aaron.