While the millenial generation is already at the tail end and moving quickly into adulthood, they have brought up a lot of parenting questions around what it means to be a teenager today. The current youth generation of millennials has gotten a real rotten reputation, millennials are often described as entitled, lazy, self-indulgent and vain. However, they also struggle with record high rates of anxiety, depression and suicide. How can it be that such a “cush,” generation is also in such dire mental health territory?
In her wonderfully well-rounded and insightful book, Julie Lythcott-Haims, walks the reader through the various societal influences that have lead to the development of the millennial generation. She touches on a range of subjects, including the prolific news coverage of child disappearances in the 80’s, the current perceived scarcity around higher education access, and most interestingly in my opinion, the unique parenting style seamlessly adopted by the baby boomer generation. In regards to that last element, she writes, “Maybe those champions of self-actualization, the Boomers, did so much for their kids that their kids have been robbed of a chance to develop the belief in their own selves.” What the book tackles at the core is why the newest generation, despite having substantially more privilege than the previous, struggles with some of the highest rates of depression and anxiety and lowest rates of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is a term coined by famous psychologist Albert Bandura and is defined in the book as, “the belief in one’s capacity to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations.”
However, this book does not just dissect the etiology of this generation’s challenges and the parenting behind it, it serves as a guide towards shifting these dynamics that are arguably harmful, despite the very best of intentions. The author refers to a conversation had with psychology professor Martin Seligman, “…it’s crucial that humans experience contingency which means, ‘learning that your actions matter, that they control outcomes that are important.’ Young children who experience noncontingency between actions and outcomes will experience ‘passivity, depression and poor physical health.’” This means not only learning that positive steps lead to positive outcomes, but perhaps even more critically, that negative steps lead to negative outcomes. It is the latter that parents often struggle with allowing space for, jumping in to finish homework assignments or call college admissions offices to prevent those deeply critical fumbles from being felt.
Another favorite simple change the book offered to parents is to shift from naming static attributes. The author notes that children who are praised for being smart, tend to choose less challenging opportunities in order to secure success and preserve that title. However, when children are praised for efforts, they become more daring and willing to push themselves and have higher resilience when the desired outcome may not have been reached. Praise in general is not the enemy, but the kind of praise makes a big difference.
As a therapist, I often work with my teenage clients around building resilience and self-efficacy to combat depression and anxiety. But ultimately, when I can get parents in the room and offer them these tools, the work is all the more impactful. I highly recommend this book to anyone in a parental role or anyone working with parents, kids or teenagers.