When to Worry
This past summer I took a weekend trip with a 17-year-old I have mentored for the past seven years. Seven years is long enough to trigger some parental attitudes in me as I watch him approach the on-ramp to adulthood. How will he do after leaving the comfortable nest of his youth? Will he embrace or retreat from the responsibilities of adult independence? Will he believe in himself enough to harness his strengths as he carves a place for himself in the world?
During our trip together, some of his behaviors evoked a surprising reaction of worry in me. I was surprised at my reactions since they were not consistent with my self-perception, or my desire to be a positive role model. Many of these reactions came roaring out of a place in myself I didn’t even know existed, modeled after some of the reactions also were born out of fear and a lack of control. a desire to control the outcome, etc. As parents you probably have had plenty of opportunity to learn how to keep some of your worries in check, or at least balance them with a 360 degree picture of your student’s strengths and abilities. Moreover, you may insist that worrying is an expression of caring, and you are probably right.
However, when done habitually, it can cause unnecessary heartache and stress for ourselves and for those around us. At a more subtle level, it may communicate a lack of confidence in the one we are worrying about.
When it is most functional, worry is like an early warning system that tells us that something needs attention. For instance, suppose you usually talk to your student every few days, but you haven’t heard from them for a week or two. Or say when you speak to your student, they sound unusually down or stressed.
The point of noticing these changes is not to foster worry, keep you awake at night, or induce an ulcer, but to prompt you to engage in helpful action.
If you are a parent who is kept awake at night with worry, here are some further thoughts:
- Ask yourself, "Is this a situation that requires my intervention--or is it something my student has to work out on their own?”
"Pull off the road:" If a worry keeps going through your mind, imagine pulling off the road and parking your car. Really focus on the worry and ask if there is something you need to do, to learn or to solve. If not, leave the worry at the side of the road and get back on the highway.
Ask yourself, "Is my owrrying making the situation better or making it worse? Will my student be afraid to give me bad news because they need to protect me from my own stress?”
When we worry, we tend to imagine all sorts of terrible things happening. This removes us from the present moment and takes us into a dark future of our own making. If you are going to leap into the future, why not create one in which really positive things happen?
When worry causes you to say or do something you regret, it always helps to apologize.
If something truly serious demands your attention, I encourage you to consult with the Counseling and Testing Center or with a trusted professional in your community regarding how to best proceed.
In conclusion, consider all the mistakes you have made, as well as, the trials and misadventures that have befallen you. In hindsight, if you could remove everything
Probably not, because adversity helps make us who we are and polishes the irritating grains of sand into pearls of wisdom.
Mark Evans, Ph.D.