“I’m doing the best I can.”
That has become my mantra lately. I didn’t make it up. I learned it in group therapy.
You may know me as the Sunday anchor of "NBC Nightly News, Weekend Edition" and a senior national correspondent at NBC News for shows like "Today" and "NBC Nightly News." On TV, I speak with authority about other people’s lives. I tell the stories that don’t get enough attention — stories that touch on injustice, sexual assault and harassment, substance abuse, suicide and mental health.
For the past several weeks, I’ve been one of many correspondents working on a series of reports airing across all of our NBC News platforms about children and the alarming rise in mental health issues. We’re calling it “Kids Under Pressure.”
But what I don’t say out loud very often is that I am not just an outside observer. In my own life, as the parent of two teenagers, some of the very things I’m reporting on are a daily struggle.
I know I’m not alone.
Our kids are overworked and overstressed
Every time I get together with parents in my town, our conversation turns to the pressure on our kids, the perfectionism all around us, the number of kids in therapy, and how we’re managing their screens and social media.
In our new NBC News Survey Monkey poll, 76% of parents told us they think social media has a negative impact on the mental and emotional health of children.
Read more commentary:
Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among children ages 10-18, according to 2017 data. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of kids diagnosed with depression or anxiety is on the rise. And in a recent survey of parents, nearly 40% said their child suffers from anxiety. That’s startling — 40% of parents believe their kids are anxious.
“We have a generation of kids that are fragile and afraid,” psychologist Suniya Luthar told NBC News recently.
I often wonder whether my 16-year-old son, Zack, and 13-year-old daughter, Abby, have been overwhelmed because their lives move so much faster. They’ve grown up with a constant stream of information coming at them and a culture that encourages us all to jump from one topic to the next.
The Pew Research Center found that 95% of teens have access to a smartphone, and that 45% say they’re online “almost constantly.” I know mine are. One of the most common phrases I use at home is, “Please put the phone down.” I worry about this. A lot.
Living in the suburbs of New York City, I also wonder whether my husband, Chris Bro, and I have somehow inadvertently created a pressure cooker. Kids all around us seem to be constantly striving for perfection. And though we try to deemphasize the importance of grades in our family, our kids would tell you they feel stressed.
I sit with my daughter at 6 a.m. going through Spanish flashcards because she’s nervous about a test. I tell her to breathe, to look outside at the beautiful day. (I’m working on mindfulness.) “There’s no time for that,” she says. And I understand.
Fighting for free time
I grew up in upstate New York with an apple orchard behind my house. My memories of childhood include hours playing outside with neighbor kids, exploring and creating games. When my kids were babies, I imagined that kind of future for them. But that’s not the life my kids have had. My husband and I, like so many parents, have spent years signing our kids up for activity after activity. That’s what everyone around us does, too.
I recently sat down with a group of high school students in New York City for a "Today" story and asked them, “When was the last time you had a totally free day?” There was silence. They couldn’t remember.
Just last night, I was talking with my kids about summer plans and suggested that my son could go see his grandparents if he has some free days in between exams in June.
“You might have nothing to do on some days,” I said.
“What’s wrong with that?” he answered.
After so many years reporting on mental health, I’ve had the unique opportunity to get free parenting advice from some of the world’s greatest experts on raising children.
My husband and I have never allowed our kids to take a device to their bedrooms, and when friends come over, we collect their phones in a basket — yep, we’re that family. Long ago, both kids decided not to engage on social media.
Every night, we try to have dinner together with no devices at the table (including mom’s work phone). We go hiking and camping together. We take the dog for walks. We have family movie or game nights. Our kids are amazing, intelligent, caring people. And still, it’s not easy.
I’m not ashamed to say I’m in therapy. About six months ago, Chris and I started attending a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy skills group. It has been life-changing. DBT is an approach that emphasizes mindfulness and recognizes that two opposite ideas can be true at the same time. For example: I’m a good mom, and I sometimes make bad decisions. The goal is to replace problem behaviors with skillful behaviors. The group has taught us new ways to think about situations involving our kids and given me the skills to calm myself before I try to interact with a teenager.
Most of all, it has taught me that I’m doing the best I can.
We all are.
You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: My teens don't use social media, but even they can't escape the pressure of perfectionism