Popping The Bubble Mentality

Posted on November 25th, 2017

‘‘What do I tell everybody?’’ Gina* asked me as tears streamed down her face. “It’s a small community, everyone is looking at us, judging us. We live in a bubble.”

Imagine this: things have fallen apart with your teen. Drugs, alcohol, school failure, behavior problem, depression, anxiety, bullying….you name it. Your teen is not one of the ‘‘perfect,’’ future-Stanford-bound, bright shiny Bay Area cherubs you see plastered on Facebook.

Susan* describes feeling alone at a Bay Area party when a group of moms were gossiping about the parents of a teen who was making poor behavioral choices. ‘‘If only they knew that I’m going through the same thing with my son, what would they say about me?’’ she confided.

Chris*, the father of a 19-year-old daughter with complex trauma and an eating disorder, confesses, ‘‘I feel like I caused it, although I don’t know how. I could really use some support, but I’m scared to open up about this. No one else I know is going through it.”

Crossing the threshold of my office door to visit a Therapeutic and Educational Consultant takes a great deal of bravery. Parents have realized their teen’s future is in jeopardy and needs help. Gina, Susan, and Chris represent some of the many hundreds of Bay Area parents that have decided to take the brave step to intervene in their teen’s life – perhaps saving it – by sending their child to a therapeutic program or treatment center.

Over my twelve years of experience, I have found that one of the biggest barriers to getting a teen help tends to be parental concern about the judgement of others, and that if they intervene it means they have failed at their parental duties. There is a great deal of shame.

The most common question I am asked is, “what do I tell everyone?”

“Bubbles” happen when a group of highly successful people with common interests live in the same environment, socialize, and create a dynamic that becomes a common, agreed-upon reality.

Both teens and parents alike have expressed feeling trapped by the pressure and expectations that come with the Bay Area bubble: the glossy perfection of the smartest-of-the-smart producing modern day miracles and marketing wonders, with monetary repercussions benefitting their offspring who will want for nothing. Our bubble is the land of the wealthy, healthy, and good-looking.

The underbelly of that bubble – the dark, squishy area no one really cares to look at – reveals the consequences of bubble living: teenagers who jump in front of trains to avoid the pressure to succeed, young people who give up because they believe they can never be a successful as their parents – marijuana and gaming in the basement become their reprieve. Perfection and order threaten individuality, making many feel like misfits.

But unlike the smoothly rounded slick-to-the touch iPhone 8, life is messy. Gray areas abound. When we deny this, our souls are crushed and we teach our teens to also crush their spirit and conform – to protect themselves.

We make bubbles because we feel protected therein – but protected from what? The eye of judgement. The loss of a future. The stigma and the inevitable feelings of shame and failure that parents feel when their teen is sinking into negative behaviors.

We believe that if we conform to the expectations, patterns, and rules of bubble living, we can be protected from bad things that happen outside the bubble. Our first and natural instinct as parents is to protect. Our instinct is to protect the family honor and the future of our young – save face.

All this pressure on parents is then forced upon teens by our society. “Don’t fail” is the underlying message.

Highly sensitive late bloomers who have all the talent, but need more time to grow, look for ways to cope with their perceived failure and ‘less-than’ status. Teens who learn differently believe they are doomed to let their families down.

We can thank Sigmund Freud and the history of psychology, with its conflicting dichotomies and ever-changing parenting myths for blaming maladaptive coping behavior on parents and the family system.

Sure, as parents, we are not perfect. The human journey is awkward and life lessons never stop. And yes, it affects our kids. But who in our bubble is immune?

The best lesson we can teach teens growing up in the Bay Area today is how to be real about their struggles and to see that the bubble we live in as just that – a reality of our own making.

Can we normalize these struggles as part of the human journey and make challenges and suffering the part of the journey that doesn’t get posted on Facebook with 100 likes?

Practicing the art of compassion toward ourselves and others, we can embrace the chance to support parents who have a struggling teen. Together we can make it safe to say, ‘Hey, my kid is actually not doing so well, and I could really use some support.’

In this bubble, no one is immune. It could be you and your young person in my office.

When we realize that the bubble is just an illusion that offers no real protection, we can help our teens, social network, and community realize that the only real safety is cultivating compassion for others, and being open to ask for it, give it, and receive it.

*Names have been changed for anonymity.

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Would you like additional guidance in this area? Teen Therapy Center provides individual teen therapy, family therapy, group therapy, parent support counseling, and in-home teen and family coaching 7 days a week, including afternoons, evenings, and weekends. For more information, contact us at 408.389.3538.