1. Our 12yo son is a really good kid – gets good grades, helps around the house, honest & trustworthy, and a very good athlete. However, he has a bad temper and it flares most often if he loses at athletics. He gets very angry at himself, wants to quit, trash talks himself – then he calms down and is fine again. How can I help him get his anger under control?
This kind of reactive behavior is usually the result of a hidden low self image. When he experiences success in sports or school he feels very good about himself which feeds the need to be the ‘perfect’ child. However, if he has experiences which he perceives as ‘failure’ he falls into the trap where he thinks if he is not perfect then he is worthless. The fact that he is able to calm down and be fine again is a very good sign. Highly competitive athletes tend to be very hard on themselves in a way that is inextricably linked to their highly competitive nature. It would not be unexpected that a 12 year old would deal with these feelings in a vibrant fashion, as life can appear much more “all or nothing” at that age. The stress that he feels, real or imagined, is putting a great deal of pressure on him to succeed at everything he participates in. It sounds like he may be trapped in a maze that he has no clue about how to escape.
If you feel you can lead him out of this cyclical thinking, the goal would be to help him to be more accepting of his faults, if not, you may want to seek out a therapist who understands what your son is experiencing and the life issues that have created this syndrome. Finally, if any of your son’s current behavior while angry appears dangerous to his welfare or begins to escalate, we would suggest contacting a therapist who specializes in adolescents and/or sports psychology.
2. My 17yo daughter has always been on the college track. Now that college is just “around the corner” she’s backing off from it, as well as her friends and family. She’s losing focus, doing just enough in school to get by, and I’m worried. She won’t talk to me and says she won’t see a counselor. What am I to do?
What you describe is not an uncommon issue with adolescents who are approaching, what they perceive as ‘their last years of childhood’. For some, the responsibility of going to college or getting a job scares the motivation right out of them. A fear of having all this responsibility ahead of them can explain a sudden change in attitude. Some will cling to their childhood and put distance between them and anyone who they feel is pushing them into the future. Seniors doing just enough to get by after the college application and acceptance process is done is by no means an unusual occurrence.
However, her backing off from friends is not a usual part of that dynamic. Sometimes this is an indication of alcohol or other drug involvement; sometimes it is a precursor to depression or other life issues. Without more detail it is difficult to discern whether this “backing off” is due to an incident in her life (relationship break up etc.), the stress of her previous achievement efforts catching up with her, or onset of a diagnosable condition such as depression. As the parent and the adult, it is your responsibility to make sure that her welfare is attended to. Maintain as calm and loving a demeanor as you can, but be clear that as a parent who cares deeply about her, you will not drop your concern, nor ignore this significant negative shift in her life. Give her as much power as you can in making the dialogue happen, but a clear message that the issue cannot be ignored. Perhaps let her find and choose the place and time of day to have a serious talk with you, or give her the option of communicating by letters back and forth if she would prefer, etc.
It might also be helpful if these feelings can be explored with a close friend or a trusted relative. Look for someone she looks up to or admires to talk to her. Talk to her friends to see if they have noticed a change in her as well. Also, take some time to observe her actions and listen carefully to her words, but don’t wait too long to find out what’s going on. If she won’t go to a professional and nothing changes, then it would be good for to you seek professional help to find ways that will be helpful for her.
Responses to the above parent questions have been provided by members of the South Bay Coalition whose expertise and experience lies in parenting, counseling, and/or substance abuse prevention. The South Bay Coalition is a non-profit partnership of agencies working to prevent substance abuse among our community’s youth. For local resources or more information, please visit our website www.thefutureiswatching.org or if you have questions you’d like our experts to respond to, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.