Many points made in Erica Brown’s piece “Anxiety Nation” (Back Of The Book, Aug. 4) ring true, but a one-sided point of view, like the one she presents, is always lacking. Too much “helicopter hovering,” too much praising and pandering (though grandparents of course are exempt) can, it is true, promote an inflated sense of self-importance, something that never serves the young person well in the outside world. High expectations may lead to anxiety, but then again for some, high expectations may serve to motivate and encourage success. It is true, parents need to refrain from the temptation to always “fix” what feels wrong and allow kids to struggle through on their own in order to learn that they in fact can.
But saying to a child “go knock your head against the wall” can never be helpful. It is harsh and dismissive, reflecting a parenting style that has little to do with fostering independence, as Ms. Brown claims, and more to do with impatience and crudeness. It demonstrates an attitude, if repeated consistently, that invariably leads to a feeling of isolation, detachment and, more than likely, anxiety.
Perhaps young people feel a greater degree of anxiety, not because parents provide coaching or piano lessons or unsolicited advice or tutoring in SATs. Perhaps competition in the world of work and school is more fierce than ever before, perhaps choices are greater — a good thing, but at times anxiety-promoting. It’s possible that gender roles are less clear, boundaries less precise, and maybe technology presents opportunities while at the same time presenting challenges that may be difficult to manage. Perhaps role models are disintegrating before our eyes and the future seems more uncertain and less predictable. Perhaps young people simply feel freer to talk about their anxieties and the stigma that once was is now lessened.
Whatever the reasons for anxiety in young people today, a one-sided perspective, holding parents responsible for all that turns out well or ill, good or bad, positive or not, is always a perspective that is unreasonable, lacks dimension and one that is short on truth.
Retired Guidance Counselor, New York City Schools