Parents who connect with me under the 21BanyanTree often come for advice on how to manage the challenges of raising children these days. One common theme revolves around the intense competition in schools and growing anxiety about academics and helping their child navigate digital social interactions. Mothers and fathers express feeling helpless and this sense of helplessness creates an anxiety spiral in the family.
The starting point of the anxiety spiral begins with worry about test scores, especially in STEM-related coursework, and the need for the child to excel in this area for future success. The other concern, given the increase in online bullying, is how children might be interacting with each other on social media. Even the most educated, professional and well-meaning parent finds control slipping away as the child enters high school.
Why has this feeling of parental helplessness become pervasive and what can we do to get out of the anxiety spiral?
Self-help books suggest breathing and problem-solving techniques, and to focus on the positives, to influence and reduce your child’s anxiety. These techniques work for some and not everyone. The 21BanyanTree Coaching practice takes a different tack. Our technique focusses on helping identify specific patterns of desires and fears, common to most parents, and the triggers that kick-start the individual anxiety spiral. Only when these are patterns of desires and fears are identified, through the self-discovery process, can you learn to control and influence the triggers of anxiety. There are no cookie-cutter solutions.
For simplicity, let’s consider one area of desire and fear that is common among many parents right now: specifically, the desire to maintain a particular level of social status, and the fear that their child may not have the earning power to match the desired social status.
The Desire for Social Status: Modern consumer societies encourage the individual to attain and maintain a level of physical and social ‘well-being’ signaled by what we own and consume, our educational qualification and profession, and so on. For some, a bank balance and stock value (aka net worth) is integral to the social status portfolio, for others origin-country and skin color or even accents signal social status. In many ways, we are habituated to monitor status signals, and any loss in our personal social status portfolio becomes a cause for anxiety.
Parents who desire a social status portfolio for their children may pressure them to take coursework [for e.g., several APs] to get into top-tier or near top-tier schools. Regardless of their interest or passion, children are encouraged to become doctors, engineers, investment bankers or tech entrepreneurs – professions and businesses that are viewed as providing the earning power to maintain the desired social status. Any indication of a decrease in the future social status portfolio, like lower grades that jeopardizes getting into the Honors or AP track, sends parental anxiety into a tail-spin. To get the child ‘on track’, parents react with intense tutoring and restricted hours of play and down-time to control the environment.
The fear, corresponding to this desire, is that the child who cannot make it onto the STEM ramp will become a misfit, unable to succeed and make a living in a society that is rapidly becoming powered by AI.
To be fair, not all parents strongly desire or are compelled to motivate their child to acquire social status portfolios. Yet, even here, we’ve observed children become anxious and influenced by signals in schools [ranking by STEM education; eliminating or reducing coursework like art, or educing recess and play time, in favor of STEM classes], and peers on digital social media.
The problem underlying this current dynamic is driven by political, social and cultural considerations and cannot be solved individually in the short-term. What can parents do at the personal level, in addition to providing all the resources required to get onto the STEM ramp, to help themselves and their child in this environment?
Self-discovery: Everyone has deeply embedded patterns of desires and fears, many we are not aware of and that we continually act upon. Each pattern of desires and fears arises from our social, economic and cultural background. The process of self-discovery begins with recognizing and acknowledging our social, economic and cultural selves.
One way is to visualize that we are all living in a dense socio-economic-cultural city of karmas that we’ve built on our collective sentient desires and fears accumulated over time. In this city are hubs of karmas: the positive hubs shower us with peace, joy and calm, the negative hubs are painful, while others neutral.
To navigate this city of karmas, we first need to become aware of who we are and how we got here – that is how the city got built – before we can understand how our karmas affect us.
Self-discovery begins with the discovery of stories embedded in the three layers- biological, socio-economic and cultural, and personal – that make up our individual configuration of desires and fears from birth. When we become aware of our nature, of who we are in the karmic city, can we begin to manage our fears and desires.
There are many options available to managing anxieties arising around raising your child at this particular time. Medications are one and talk therapy is another.
The third option is guided self-discovery with a focus on uncovering the patterns of desires and fears that have most of us in the grip of the anxiety spiral.
At 21BanyanTree we focus on your unique story to help you discover your strengths and competencies as parents, and as individuals to disentangle yourself from the anxiety spiral. We help you become the parent who can help your child navigate this apparently increasingly uncertain and ambiguous world.