Our Kids’ Mental Health Doesn’t Make Them Snowflakes
I don’t need to “toughen up” my daughter.
The state of Oregon just passed a bill expanding the reason for excused absences for students to include “mental health days.” You can imagine the kind of comments this has elicited in response to reports from news outlets.
“Kids need to toughen up.”
“Might as well teach them to get in the welfare line now.”
“Americans have gone soft and are now raising a generation of sissies and victims.”
TL;DR — The comments are awful and concerning.
The people making these comments are at the far end of the age range of my generation. Gen X. 50-somethings. The Boomers weren’t far behind.
They are a lawn chair away from being the “Hey kid! Get off of my lawn!” guy. They lauded how, when they were kids, they had to suck it up. I have some words for these members of my generation:
Congratulations. Look at what a healthy, empathetic, wholehearted, kind and emotionally aware human being you turned into. You are not what I want my child to grow into.
A couple months ago, my daughter came to me at six in the morning. She had been up until past midnight working on a project. She was part of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Honors Program last year. She had made the varsity softball team as a freshman. She had a game. She volunteers. Because of the time I have to leave for work, it takes her over a half an hour to get to school via city bus.
That morning she was overwhelmed. She was absolutely exhausted.
“Mom. I can’t. I just can’t.” She started crying. She had hit her breaking point. I called her in sick.
I flat out told the lady in the front office, who knows my daughter, “I’m so sorry. She just can’t today.” The lady chuckled. She got it.
We all get it.
When I got home from work, she told me how much better she felt. She rested. She cleaned up her room. She worked slowly on schoolwork. She read. She just needed the pressure to go away. It did. The reset button worked.
I can tell you that it is a completely different landscape my daughter sees in being a teenager then 30 years ago when I was in high school.
They’re not softer. The world is harder. They deal with things we never had to. I never feared I would go to school and never come home. For my daughter, that’s real.
If someone wanted to bully me, they would have to spend a considerable amount of time telling lies about me and getting others to tell those lies. Now, it takes the pressing of a button.
Our kids are pushed harder academically than I ever was. My daughter is 15 years old and already passed through honors level Algebra 3/4.
Teaching our kids to value their mental health and to treat it as importantly as we do our physical health is a road map to creating well-adjusted human beings.
It’s not a cop out or a means to further a victim mentality. It breaks downs stigmas associated with understanding your limits when it comes to mental and emotional fatigue.
Last month, I had a full blown panic attack at work. It last 12 hours. There’s no reason to have to power through something like that. But, we have this idea in our heads that we’re supposed to grin and bear it.
Taking care of our own mental health, and that of our children, helps us to actually become stronger, more capable people. It’s how we learn to move through a hard episode in our life and decrease it’s duration. When we are given the space and healing is encouraged, we can do great things.
Had I felt it was okay to call my boss and tell him I was having a panic attack that day and it would be in everyone’s best interest for me to go home, it would not have lasted 12 hours. It would have been much shorter.
The next day, when I got to work, I was exhausted. So, my company had two days of work from me that were solidly not my best. What good does that do anyone?
No one loses when we recognize that people need to take care of themselves mentally and emotionally. Criticizing someone for acknowledging a need for self care isn’t being tough. It’s being inhumane. We’re better than that. Let’s act like it.