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  • Writer's pictureLynn Denton

Did You Put on Sunscreen?

I was riding my bike along the Lake Michigan path the other day, and I observed a woman shouting to a man who I think was her very adult son. She said, “You need to put on sunscreen.” Yes, he was sunburned. No, he did not say to her, “Thanks, Mom, I’ll stop what I’m doing and do that right away. Good idea. Thanks for looking out for me.”

My own mother still reminds me and my family to wear sunscreen when we go to the beach. Also, to wear bike helmets. It is part of the top 10 mantras of parenthood. I have been known to remind my adult children to wear sunscreen and their bike helmets. It just makes me feel better to say it, though, they have to decide what they are going to do. After saying it once, I have to be done.

Why do we tell our (adult) children to wear sunscreen? They know the risks and benefits by now. We don’t want them to get burned or hurt. We want to keep them from having pain, either short term or long term.

But if they do have pain from a sunburn, they have to learn how to deal with it. Buy aloe lotion. Don’t go out in the sun the next day. Wear a T-shirt over their bathing suit.

There is a saying – “Give your kids roots and give them wings.” Teach them the lessons that you think you need to teach them, and then let them go out into the world. One thing that is different in today’s world is that we are more connected to our kids due to cell phones. We can send them a text at the beach…..”did you remember your sunscreen?”

Recently there was an article in the New York Times. It was about college students’ difficulty in being able to sit with failure. I’m not talking about the failure of flunking out of college, or being arrested for something……it was failures like not getting an A on a test. Not getting into your first choice dorm. Asking someone to hang out and being told no.

The article went on to talk about how college students today have been raised in a time where they have not been allowed to sit with disappointments. Where everyone gets a soccer trophy, not only the winners. Where parents swoop in to school when something is wrong, rather than letting the student try to work through the issue on their own. (There is no question that some issues require parent involvement.) Then they go to college, and have to navigate things for themselves, and might not know how.

There are two parts to this for our kids….one is knowing how to self-advocate and the feelings of pride that come with solving your own problem. The other, (says the therapist), is that kids have not learned how to sit with or process the feelings that come with failure or disappointment. Assuredly, those are not comfortable feelings. Hopefully they don’t have to use these skills very often, but if they don’t have these skills at all, disappointments can stop them in their tracks instead of being a temporary blip.

Think about your life. Have you ever failed, big or small? (Of course.) Do you still have the vivid memory of a failure or disappointment – like not making a team, not getting the lead in the play, not getting into your first choice college, not getting into the sorority or fraternity that you wanted, not getting a job or promotion? Does it still sting a little, maybe even years later? Yes. But based on that disappointment, did you re-set your path, do something different, and maybe even look back and say the second path turned out to have advantages that you never anticipated? Maybe you went to college choice #2, and connected with a professor who inspired you to find the field of study and the profession that you chose Another saying (attributed to Alexander Graham Bell but I remember it from The Sound of Music) says, “when one door is closed, another opens.”

If we are better stronger people for having failed, even with some memory of the sting, why would our children not benefit from that same muscle-building experience?

There is nothing that hurts parents quite like disappointment for your kids. When they are sad, we are sadder. But that’s OK. They will get through it and so will we.

So what can you do? Ask questions, don’t give answers or advice. (This is hard.) When your child says, “I didn’t get into my first choice dorm”, first acknowledge their feelings……”you must be really disappointed.” “I know how much you wanted that.” Then ask, then or later, “what do you think you want to do about this?” “What do you know about the dorm you got into?” With your questions, helping them to think this through might result in them feeling more calm and in charge of how they will process this event. Another example – your sophomore in high school tries out for the Varsity Soccer team and makes the Junior Varsity team. They want to quit soccer altogether. First you acknowledge their feelings. Then later ask, ”is there any benefit that might come from being on the Junior Varsity team? Might you get noticed in a way you wouldn’t have on Varsity? Who loses out if you quit soccer?”

Life is filled with ups and downs. We need to know how to handle both. So go ahead and remind your grown-up kids to wear sunscreen this summer. But just once that day. They have to make their own decision and anticipate the consequences. And they will survive. And we will too.

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