Managing Senior-itis and The Transition to College
The transition from high school to college can be challenging for both parents and teens. As parents, you’ve watched your child grow away from you in the past few years, as she begins to establish herself and find her way in the world. On the one hand, that transition has probably led to a certain amount of tension and conflict within the family. On the other, these changes have likely given everyone a certain amount of perspective on personal responsibility, self-management and the challenges of becoming a young adult.
Self-management is probably one of the biggest obstacles for a teen, as he starts to sort out his adult responsibilities, along with the natural and logical consequences he may face as a result of not fulfilling those responsibilities. One of the most common and concerning aspects of faltering self-management is that months-long lapse in judgement we like to call senior-itis.
For most teens, senior-itis starts right around winter break of senior year and intensifies until it peaks as school acceptances start rolling in. Teenagers often take this time as a cue for what may begin as an extended coffee break and then lead into the forsaking of just about everything that has led to those admissions letters showing up in the mailbox in the first place.
As a parent, you may feel more than a bit powerless in the face of your teen’s noncompliance. You’ve probably also learned that calling her on it will only lead to conflict and strife, rather than any kind of substantive resolution. One of the most effective tools to redirect behavior—especially when you find yourself consistently coming up against the immovable object that is your teenager—is using consistent, scripted responses. This is not to be patronizing, or bully your teen into compliance. Rather, it’s a way to deliver a consistent, gentle reminder of the ground rules that have, thus far, served everyone fairly well. “Can I sleep over Casey’s tonight?” can easily be met with, “It’s a school night. We don’t do sleep overs on school nights.” Even better is using a question, rather than a statement. “Can I sleep over Casey’s tonight?” “Is that OK with Casey’s parents? I’m not sure I’d be up for that on a school night.”
Another effective strategy for supporting your teen with the challenges he or she may be facing is called “pre-teaching”. One of the underlying stresses for anyone experiencing change is the unknown, and, for teens, this can be especially true. Pre-teaching is an effective means for setting expectations around change, making those transitions less disruptive both socially and emotionally. For example, something as simple as saying, “You’re going to have to decide what to bring to school with you, so it might be a good idea to start thinking about that.” simultaneously delivers an instruction on your part, while setting an expectation for your teen.
Something else to take into consideration for both you and your teen is that for the past several years, your teen’s life has been nothing but change—physically, emotionally and socially. While that social change may have included shifting friend groups and the exploration of romantic attachments, the difference between that period and this new phase of life is that, now, his or her entire social landscape is changing. It’s not just connections and the way he or she is connecting, but the context those connections are happening in. That can be overwhelming, and some of the behavior and attitude you’re experiencing with your teen may not just be acting out, but could be an expression of stress, fear, anxiety and even depression. The source of your frustration may, in fact, be a marker for your teen’s deeper struggle around finding his or her place. Holding space for that struggle, and finding ways to walk with your teen on his or her journey into life will create balance for both of you as you move forward.
Is your child running around forgetful, with limited attention span, or are they focused and calm? It might be time to ask about what role their gaming is playing in their reality?
I am increasingly running into boys who have been “diagnosed” with ADD or ADHD. As part of the intake process I always ask about their activities. Too often I’m told that the young man or adolescent doesn’t really have any outdoors activities, and he spends his time playing video games( gaming)—sometimes more than 40 hours a week. I think that for many of these little guys, it is too often a real addiction. It is perhaps, short term, a convenience for parents, but ultimately devastating for the adolescent. I might also add that, for parents, this convenience ultimately becomes quite inconvenient, as the young person “spins out” and has trouble launching into a world that requires long term focus and commitment, as well as resilience.
So what’s happening here? First, the business of video gaming has progressed, and the realism is acute enough that the action has become a remarkable experience. Yep—it works as a business. Video gaming world-wide is a $100 billion dollar-a-year business. I would argue, however, that the attraction works too well, given the ultimate impact on young people. This intense game involvement leads to antisocial behavior and, all too often, a form of an actual addiction.
Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations.
Be skeptical about what you read:
The lobbying power of the industry, and the misinformation it puts out, are actually pretty wild. Here are some examples of this misinformation, and please ask yourself if it makes and sense to you. This was published by the Interactive Software Rating Board (ISRB)—an industry mouthpiece.
- the average gamer only plays 8 hours a week
- 83% of parents limit game use
- 40% of gamers are female
- only 25% of gamers are under 18
If you believe those numbers, you haven’t around a 14-year-old boy recently. There are not enough limits on game use and among my clients who play, the average use per week would have to be closer to 40-50 hours. Think about that: a full time job. Girls are not playing games, just walk into a game store if you are uncertain. The younger gamer market is critical to the business, and it is underestimated in their stats for what I believe is good reason.
The alleged information on gaming found on the web is extraordinarily misleading, and, again, I’d encourage you to think about whether any of this makes sense):
- a researcher at University of Illinois suggests that heavy users of video games are more fit than non-users
- The Chicago Tribune suggests video games improve moral sensitivity and physical fitness, as well as improved cognitive skills
The real health world suggests otherwise:
Countering this are more credible health sources:
- “The American Psychological Society task force on violent media concludes: ‘The research demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game use and increases in aggressive behavior, aggressive cognitions and aggressive affect, and decreases in pro-social behavior, empathy and sensitivity to aggression.”
- Health Central suggests that games cause muscle pain, seizures, obesity, aggressive behavior, poor grades, sleep deprivation, and attention problems.
- An older National Institute of Mental Health study suggested:
- Children may become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others.
- Children may be more fearful of the world around them.
- Children may be more likely to behave in aggressive or harmful ways toward others.
What to do, if you are a parent
- Some folks confiscate smart phones and video games after 8, and always make them inaccessible if homework is not done.
- I simply did not introduce games in the home. There are no Wii players, X-Boxes or PlayStations, and computer time is limited to a machine where the administrative password is locked, allowing only certain programs and disallowing downloads.
- Have dinner together; set a time, talk about the day and check in about relationships.
- If a child is visiting another home, ask if there are limits on game use. Explain that you are strictly limiting the use of games in your home and would appreciate consideration.
- Much of what is required involves clear limits around what is acceptable and what is not. Make these agreements ahead of time. Be a parent, and set limits. Giving in undermines authority and actually conveys that all limits are potentially negotiable.
So if kids through gaming are suffering from attention deficit… what can we do to increase attention?
It stands to reason that some kind of attention training would be in order, and the good news is this kind of intervention has been around for a long time.
Thich Nhat Hanh is a well-known Buddhist teacher who advocates focus through mindfulness and meditation. He is among my favorites for explaining the benefits of being present and giving your full attention to your experience. He suggests, “Our true home is not in the past. Our true home is not in the future. Our true home is in the here and the now. Life is available only in the here and the now, and it is our true home. The opposite of forgetfulness is mindfulness. Mindfulness is when you are truly there, mind and body together. ”
The Mayo Clinic suggests that meditation can help:
- Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations
- Building skills to manage your stress
- Increasing self-awareness
- Focusing on the present
- Reducing negative emotions
The National Institute of Mental Health suggests that practicing meditation may reduce blood pressure, positively impact anxiety and depression, insomnia and the incidence, duration and severity of acute respiratory illnesses, like influenza. Please see”Meditation: In Depth for more information.
Will meditation be a good substitute for games at home? Probably not initially, but, as a parent, you can encourage slowing down and taking stock of the “now”.
Any time you see…
- underperformance in school or sports
- lack of reasonable listening skills
- trouble sleeping
- trouble starting or finishing a task
- angry outbursts
- prioritization and time management issues with school work or weekend time
Think about activities and interactions that slow it all down. Develop observation skills, go for a walk with your child, talk as a family—particularly at regular meal times—and encouraging hanging out with friends away from a computer terminal.
If you don’t like the behavior you see in your child—and the behavior includes any of these seven symptoms—consider a change. Learning to focus might be a great start.