We have been given a life lesson from a 24-year-old and I’m so excited!! I’m writing this on the day after Olympic gymnast Simone Biles stepped away from competing during the 2021 Olympic games, citing mental health concerns. While some people are mad because they feel she could have led Team USA to a gold medal, I’m celebrating her sitting it out. Why? Because for the first time ever we are all talking about mental health! We are recognizing the price people pay for being “the best” at anything. Nothing makes me happier than the fact that Simone had the courage to say she isn’t in the right headspace to do what she does. (How many of us, on even our best day, are brave enough to try throwing ourselves through the air the way Simone flies?!) I credit Michael Phelps for starting this discussion about mental health 5 years ago. The most decorated Olympian ever told the world that he struggles with depression. Time and again, he took the top step of the podium, yet deep down he was fighting dark days. Now, he leads the discussion starting with “it’s okay to not be okay.” What’s this got to do with us? You know, the regular parents raising non-Olympic kids? Well, everything! We all have expectations for our kids. We want them to do “their best,” be kind, work hard, be compassionate. We feel it’s our job to push them to do more, be more, want more for themselves. Think about all the pride we take in saying, “My son plays on the All-Star Team” or “My child got into XYZ fancy college.” But sometimes, it becomes too much. Some kids are doing things because they feel they “have to” instead of “want to.” Parents, we need to slow our roll a bit. Here’s what I’m seeing: 1. Kids who are overscheduled. These kids can’t unwind. They are on the go all the time, from one thing to another without any downtime. They may seem “fine” but are they? Some of these kids are quietly suffering burnout because they feel they “should” be doing all the things. These are the kids who crash and burn freshman year of college, escape with drugs or alcohol, or get so fed up they quit everything. “I’m tapped out,” one high school junior told me while talking about the pressure to become valedictorian and get scholarships. He continued with, "I don’t even want to go to college at this point. I’m exhausted.” 2. Kids who are “Ivy League” or “Pro-Sport level” bound Sometimes this starts in the preschool years. Parents want to get their children into the “right” daycare center so they’ll get a strong academic start. Here’s the truth in a nutshell: kids need to play. That is their job at this age. When kids play, they learn to share, cooperate, make and negotiate rules, take on leadership roles, practice communication skills, and work within a group. These “people skills” will serve them better than learning 3 languages by age 5. The same goes for kids in sports. I have talked to so many parents convinced their child is the next big superstar. They pressure their kids to play on travel teams, work with private coaches, practice, practice, practice...until suddenly their son or daughter is so burned out they quit. Something they enjoyed turned into a 24/7 job and the passion for it is gone. 3. Kids who are struggling with self-worth Social media may be a fun way to spend time but I need to share a story with you. During a chat with a group of teens, a 15-year-old girl admitted she took over 200 pictures to find “just the right one” for her social media account. Now, whether it was actually that many or just seemed like it, the point is nothing was “good enough.” Other girls shared that they stress over every outfit because they know they will be judged the minute they walk into school. Social media has ramped up the comparison game. Kids are finding their value in how many hearts, how many comments, reshares, etc they get on their posts. It becomes an obsession to fit in and be liked via apps. 4. Kids who are escaping You’ll find kids who are trying to lay low and escape the expectations of their parents. Their goal is to just make it through and get out on their own. Others are trying to escape parental pressures by rebelling (choosing risky behaviors). These kids are seen as having a “lack of ambition” or “lack of direction” ...again, it’s performance-based judgment. I’m sharing all this so that we, as parents, teachers, coaches, etc., look at our children as whole beings. Are we teaching them how to take care of their physical, emotional, and mental health? Are we assuming everything is “fine” as our child says, even though something inside us says otherwise? To be honest, it’s easier to ignore that little voice than to address our concerns at the moment, but we pay the price later! So, how do we support our kids without driving them crazy? 1. Watch your child Are you seeing changes in mood or behavior? Are they saying they are “fine” but their expression says otherwise? Are they talking about quitting things that they’ve previously loved doing? Read their body language and see if it matches the words and tone of voice they are using. If not, talk to them. “I’m fine” is not an answer, it’s an avoidance tactic. 2. Schedule breaks This is incredibly helpful for everyone in the family. One easy family rule: screens are off at the dinner table. If you need ideas on what to talk about, click here for my free Family Dinner tips and strategies, you’ll find 10 games to play with your kids during dinner. On a larger level, schedule time for a family vacation or stay-cation. Even just a day away for a family hike, trip to the zoo or waterpark will allow everyone to unplug, relax and connect as a family. 3. Have very open dialogues about mental health We talk about taking care of our bodies, but we rarely talk about mental health issues. It is okay to talk to your kids about what anxiety is, what depression looks like, and how to recognize when you ”just need a break.” Take the opportunity today to talk to your kids about current events like Simone Biles choosing to take care of herself and what that must have felt like for her. Ask open-ended questions like: 1. What do you think about her decision?
2. What things would you think about in her situation?
3. Have you ever felt that way and how did you cope?
The more "normal" we make this topic, the better it is for our kids! If mental health issues run in your family, your kids need to know about it for their own health and that of their future children. You wouldn’t hesitate to tell your child that diabetes runs in the family, why not arm them with that same level of age-appropriate information about anxiety?
In closing, I just want to say today I celebrate the wise decision of a very brave young lady. May we all open up and begin these conversations in our own home as well.