Some time ago I was meeting with a group of parents. There had been a recent party incident that was the talk of the school. The family of a junior boy had all gone away for the weekend. Their son went with them, and the house was left empty. His friends knew the family was away, and decided to take advantage of this empty house. A valuable commodity in the teen world. When this family returned, they found their house completely trashed. Furniture and furnishings vandalized; urine, feces, and vomit (sorry I hope you're not reading this with your morning coffee) all over the house. Empties of all manner of alcohol littered the place. It was every parents nightmare. It didn't take much detective work to find out the party goers. Just fyi, these kids were the best and the brightest from an elite private school. The school community was reeling. In the group I led, was a parent whose daughter had gone to this party. After yelling and screaming and grounding her daughter, the mom settled down to see if she could talk to her teen about what had motivated this turn of events. How could such privileged and smart kids commit such a heinous act.
Here is what her daughter told her. I am paraphrasing not quoting: "All week long we do everything we're supposed to do. We get the A's, we're in the AP and honors classes, we do all the clubs, community service, sports, and student government that you want us to do. And when the weekend comes, we're done, and we're angry, and it is our way of saying, we're not perfect, and f**k you for expecting us to be!
Wow!!! That's a powerful message. This may be a look in the mirror moment. What are your expectations of your teen? Do you expect them to be the best and the brightest, maybe not out loud, but with subtlety? Your teens are incredibly tuned into you even though they may not say anything to you about what they think you expect from them, but they feel the pressure.
The link below is an op ed that a young woman who is a senior in college wrote in today's New York Times about how college students deal with their version of this pressure. As you will read, it is not different that these high school students. I encourage you to read this article with your teen, and follow that up with a heart to heart conversation about the pressure and stress they feel in general, but also and most importantly from you. It might be a hard conversation to have, and if your teen feels safe enough to be honest with you, it might be painful. Try not to get defensive, and just listen, and then ask them how you might do better. You might be surprised how honest and loving your teen can be when they feel really listened to and understood.