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Mar. 9 2010 - 9:41 am | 134 views | 2 recommendations | 1 comment

The ‘good old days’ when kids just had to suck it up

“Back in my day, kids were kids! We worked out our problems on our own. We didn’t go crying to some stranger with a whole bunch of initials after his name.”

Gus was ridiculing a conversation a fellow therapist and I were having about a 13-year-old she was treating for depression and acute anxiety. I didn’t rise to his bait, but it wasn’t because I had no interest in defending my profession. Rather, as with the college guys at the other end of the bar lamenting yet another epic collapse by their beloved Jets (this was before the team got good), it was that I’d heard the complaint so often it had become tiresome.

via Cases – Fake Nostalgia for a Pre-Therapy Past – NYTimes.com.

I don’t know if you hang out with the same old codgers that I do, but this idea that today’s kids somehow have it better than any other generation (as if that’s a bad thing) seems to be whined about on a semi-regular basis. The rhetoric is kids will turn out to be “soft” rather than strong if they get support during these formative years. That assumption is not only inaccurate, it perpetuates a negative behavior pattern if that kid grows up never receiving the help he needs.

Most children exercise very little power over the decisions that affect their lives. They don’t decide who their parents are, where their family will live, where they will attend school, when they will reach puberty, who will or will not befriend them. They have limited control over their athletic skills, their looks, their wit, or whether, in the great Serengeti that is their schoolyard, they will be predator or prey. They are as much the subject of their story as its author.

At toxic moments, the insights to be gained from a professional who takes this stuff seriously (and in some instances the medications that can bring calm to chaos) are eminently useful to the child who is looking for a narrow path through some very difficult years.

via Cases – Fake Nostalgia for a Pre-Therapy Past – NYTimes.com.

Whether it’s ADD, a broken family or getting bullied on the playground; getting troubled kids through these formative years with minimal damage will pay off in spades in the long-term. Like say, when they’re teaching their own kids how to make their way in the world.


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  1. collapse expand

    I’m a little skeptical. Not because what you’re saying doesn’t make sense – it does. But there’s some glossing over going on here. We’re making a distinction between ‘troubled kids’ and kids who experience the usual kind of trouble, no?

    This is a belief I’m inclined to take to my grave: all things being equal, mental health professionals are inclined to diagnose and treat mental health problems. Without wanting to impune a group’s integrity, I still think it’s fair to be concerned about the idea that they aren’t necessarily inclined to find nothing ‘wrong’.

    There’s also the point that when you hear people grousing about this point, they’re mostly targeting the stereotype in their head. That stereotype, as it exists in there, is worthy of at least some scorn. The question is whether or not the stereotype comes close to matching a specific real-life circumstance.

    Another point: for most, if they don’t apply a little introspection to the conversation, it can be interpreted as an implicit criticism of their upbringing. You can screen out the ‘grandpa’s not really racist, that’s what passed for the times’ stuff only so much. Right or wrong, you have to acknowledge that’s what’s the ridiculers are feeling. (This is all in the quest to raise the bar on respecting feelings, right?)

    Tacked onto this point is the socio-economic angle. Parents, since 1900, have been worse off than their adult children until Gen X came along. This is partly a reflection of our immigrant history, whose volume/flow has been greatly restricted since the mid-late 70s. People from all the world’s cultures come with different baggage and cues. Some worked back there and don’t here, some are compatible and some, passing from one generation to the next, just got twisted up. (The food is always the last to go. Too bad, since many cuisines are geared towards poor, heavy-labor circumstances. The countries who’ve gotten fattest first are those with large influxes of past immigrants. But I digress.)

    Recognizing non-crippling mental illness and then sanctioning therapy for it is a relatively recent addition even to the Western hemisphere, much less other hemispheres. (Did you read that fascinating NYT article about how mental illness is driven by culture?)

    At the end of the day, it’s a class thing.
    Rich families are likely to be judged by poorer folk as having the least to complain/whine/ about. Not being able to easily afford therapy – insurance coverage is a fairly recent thing – cultures will partially self-correct to downplay what most in the culture cannot or are not allowed to have. (See North Kora for a prime example.) Parents working long hours and older family – even more steeped in older forms of the culture – responsible for childcare are not the most conducive flowerbed for pushing uptown ’sensibilities and sensitivities’.

    “Are you crying?! There’s no crying in baseball!” It’s just not cricket.

    You’d think a therapist would be more in tune with this, and not just complain about how tiresome are the complaints. (which, for me, brings me back to a new dynamic to a worry – the trend of mental health professionals finding mental health problems increasing in likelihood when they’re actually being paid.

    Who therapeutes the therapists? It’s a bias of mine, not necessarily borne by reality, that nothing’s more palliative than a circle of close friends. And free, as in beer, too!

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    I fled the tranquil countryside of Oklahoma to become an urban upstart in Manhattan with a stopover in Austin, Texas. After adventures in the music business and the theater, I got hitched, became a mom (to a pre-school lass and a baby boy) and moved to Brooklyn with the rest of ‘em. We all make our choices.

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