Posts Tagged ‘adolescent anxiety’

Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be: An Encounter with Frank Bruni

March 19, 2015

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A year ago Frank Bruni wrote a series of columns that were to become his book Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania, published March 17. I read those articles avidly. After many years of offering words of wisdom and comfort to many anxious and wigged out teens and parents during the college admissions process, I, a seasoned psychologist, had become one of them.

Worried that my olive branch wouldn’t stand up to the armored vehicles that now hovered on the junior year turf, I had started to doubt myself – both our family values and our child rearing style. I wrote to Bruni thanking him for his insights and burdening him with the details of what many people call the hell that passes for junior year. We communicated a few times via email. Even though my son’s class dean had warned us all to “stay in your own movie,” I found myself straying into other people’s movies almost daily.

I’m not alone. Both professionally and personally, I’ve now had more conversations with parents about college admissions than I even thought possible. The topics can dizzy one – pre-college summers, Saturday music school, tutors, connections with board members, the lack of middle-class financial aid and legacies, especially legacies with money. All of this I shared with Bruni when he asked to interview me.

Admittedly, seeing my worries and vulnerabilities fully revealed in the last pages of Bruni’s book caused a few internal shudders. Bruni had caught me with my guard down.

Yet, I’m glad that he did. It’s time to reveal the truth about what parents endure when their kids apply to college.

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An Open Letter to Young Adults about Sex, Drugs and Alcohol

February 27, 2015

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Dear Young Person: Alcohol, drugs and sexuality can enhance and create life. They work. They can alter your moods, change your perceptions and disinhibit you. It’s fun to be able to behave differently. Blotting out discomfort relieves anxiety. Going wild can release tension. Alcohol, drugs and sexuality have always been part of the human experience. Think of them as elegant enhancements to already very wondrous life experiences. The young adults I know move me with their energy, brilliance and dedication to causes and creativity. Even those making traditional choices bring unique voices to their work and professions. When I think that you are the future, I want nothing more than to nurture and support you, paving the way for your dreams. Yet, some of you have taken a dangerous detour. The current style of drug, alcohol and sexuality misuse both deprives and potentially harms you.

Our society, and that includes the people who raised you, haven’t figured out how to talk about limits without going back to a more repressive past. Rock and rap stars make tons of money pushing an image of sexy macho hooking-up druggy behavior but it isn’t real. When real people try and live that way, it usually feels really, really bad. People get hurt and violated. Further, attending high school, college or graduate school for the purposes of wild partying disrespects yourself, the concept of education, and all those people in the world who would give anything to have the privilege of education.

I know you have been given mixed messages about all of this stuff and it isn’t your fault if you think the only way to have a good time is to obliterate your mind. So, if you will allow me, I have put together a few modern guidelines for how to navigate the difficult terrain of drugs, alcohol and sexuality. Here goes: (more…)

Thoughts on Male Sexuality

December 27, 2013

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In an age when sexuality has become openly commonplace, both boys and girls find it hard to recognize and value limits. Conversations offer a beginning point, an opportunity to sort out the new sexual mores for the twenty-first century. See my recent post on CNN.com for some thoughts about helping boys find an honorable sexuality.

Chronic Leaks and Slow Burns: The Impact of Bureaucracy on Teens

May 20, 2010

“After all the test preps, and all the focus on getting things just so you can get into college, I feel like an empty shell. There is no me, and the person who ends up succeeding and getting all that stuff isn’t me at all.” KF, 17 year old NYC teen.

As BP finally siphons some of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, it will most likely fade from public attention.  The same can be said for forest fires. Crown fires that spread rapidly from treetop to treetop attract attention and frenzied intervention. Fires that smolder beneath thick layers of fallen leaves can burn undetected and destructively for many acres before anyone notices. The mind gradually assimilates most long term chronic events, and it can even seem as if they no longer impact our lives.  Humans have an ability to get used to almost anything, a trait that is adaptive in the short-term and destructive in the long term.  The mind numbing defenses of repression and dissociation are the cultural equivalent of bureaucratization, processes meant to dissipate and nullify the possible emotional tension of group behavior.

David Brooks recently expressed the feeling that Elena Kagan was too perfunctory, too organized around success, not inspired or even inspirational. While Brooks is wrong about her, I believe he might be on to something very important.  What he is describing is the gradual dulling of individual expression and intellectual risk-taking brought on by the culture’s emphasis on an overly bureaucratic, professional and strategic presentation of self. Ask any teen in high school, like the young woman I once met who was interested in a certain 9/11 project for her college resume. Teens will tell you how the continued emphasis on the externals of success and the neglect of powerful socio-cultural values gradually wears them down.

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