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7 Reasons It's Tough to Raise Mentally Strong Kids

Today's world isn't exactly conducive to building mental muscle.

Stephen Coburn/Shutterstock
Source: Stephen Coburn/Shutterstock

On the surface, it might seem like today's parents have it easier than ever. After all, you don't have to go down to the river to do your laundry anymore. Clearly, modern society offers advantages that make it easier to keep your kids healthy. But at the same time, the digital world may actually make it more difficult to raise kids who are equipped to tackle the challenges of adulthood.

It takes mental strength to raise kids who will become responsible adults. Here are seven reasons why it's harder than ever to be a mentally strong parent in today's world:

1. Happiness is all the rage.

You don't have to look very far to find books or articles that talk about the steps you can take to raise happy kids. And while happiness is a great byproduct, it shouldn't be the goal.

Letting your child eat endless amounts of ice cream and playing video games 24 hours a day will make him happy right now. But over the long haul, he'll be miserable. It's important to focus a fair amount of your effort on teaching kids skills that won't necessarily make them happy at the moment. Self-discipline, impulse control, and emotional regulation are essential for long-term happiness.

2. Social media fuels parenting competition.

Most parents want to share images of their children enjoying family vacations, participating in sports, and receiving awards on Facebook and Instagram. But rather than revel in your joy, looking at other happy families can spark competition among parents who want to show how amazing their children are too.

It's hard to share an image of your child being grateful or overcoming self-doubt. So even if your child is kind and caring, you might fall into the trap of thinking you have to brag about his latest tangible achievement. And suddenly, your online activity may become a competition to prove who is raising the "best" kids. But raising mentally strong kids is about helping them become the best versions of themselves, not making them better than other people.

3. Parents weren't taught mental strength-building skills.

Whether you were a latchkey kid growing up in the 80s, or you are a millennial raised by someone who believed kids should be seen and not heard, there's a good chance your parents weren't sitting around talking about your feelings. Some households stressed obedience, and the kids' opinions didn't matter. Other parents just didn't have the knowledge of mental strength to pass it along. If no one taught you how to develop healthy self-talk and how to regulate your emotions, it's hard to pass those skills to your kids.

4. Too many helicopter parents make it hard to let kids fail.

If a child forgot to do his homework 25 years ago, it wasn't a big deal. All kids forgot their homework sometimes. Once helicopter parents entered the scene, kids stopped making mistakes, because their parents wouldn't let them fail. So now a missed homework assignment or forgotten basketball sneakers mean your kid might fall behind. But natural consequences can be life's greatest teacher. It's important to let kids experience failure and setbacks so they can learn how to bounce back.

5. Parent shaming incites fear.

People are quick to pass judgment about each other's parenting choices. Whether someone shames a Facebook "friend" who doesn't feed her children organic fruit, or a reader leaves a comment that says a celebrity's divorce will scar the children for life, parent shaming is a real problem.

No one wants to face that kind of scrutiny. So in an attempt to avoid looking like a "bad" parent, many mothers and fathers are changing their habits. Rather than let their preschooler throw a tantrum when she's told she can't have candy, parents are giving in to make the crying stop. Or instead of letting a child get a bad grade, parents are correcting their kids' homework. And those little parenting choices make a big difference on kids' ability to develop resilience.

6. Marketing companies prey on parents' guilt.

Advertisements will tell you that you're a good mom, as long as you buy your child certain toys. And that you're an awesome dad, as long as you take your kids to a certain theme park. Companies know that parents feel guilty about not spending enough time with their kids, not giving them every possible competitive advantage, and not giving them all the things they need to be happy. And they prey on that guilt to sell you stuff you don't need.

Whether it's too much food, too many toys, or too much time on their electronics, many parents are overindulging kids. Giving kids more temporarily relieves parents of their guilt, but the kids are the ones who ultimately lose out.

7. Technology prevents mental muscle-building opportunities.

Kids used to have to deal with uncomfortable emotions, like boredom and frustration. But now, most of them use their digital devices to escape their feelings. Being glued to their screens means they don't have to calm themselves down or privately deal with their anxiety. Instead, they can play games or use social media to regulate their feelings for them.

Parents have to be more proactive than ever to ensure that kids are learning the social, emotional, and cognitive skills they need to succeed.

Build your mental muscles

The extra challenges of today's world make it more important than ever for parents to become mentally strong. That means developing healthy habits that build your mental muscle, while also giving up the bad habits that can hold you back. Becoming mentally stronger has an added bonus: It increases the likelihood that your kids will be mentally strong. After all, they learn how to manage stress, solve problems, and tackle challenges by watching you.


Morin A. 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don't Do: Raising Self-Assured Children and Training Their Brains for a Life of Happiness, Meaning, and Success. New York, NY: William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers; 2017.

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