Wes: As we age, our sense of the passage of time begins to accelerate. In our high school days time plodded along as if stuck in some cosmic tar pit. As adults we increasingly found ourselves reflexively muttering an old cliché we’d previously found puzzling and quaint — where has the time gone? This week as another year has gone somewhere, our teenagers think of New Years 2008 as an eternity ago. We remember it as if it were yesterday. A lot has happened over this very long yesterday — most of it deeply impacting our families — but today we find little time for reflection. There’s just too much anxiety calling our names in 2009 to spend much time reminiscing. Just put the word “market” behind nearly anything (job, home, auto, retail, credit) to create an instant pang of fear and doubt.
In that spirit I’ll suggest three resolutions beginning with an upgrade of something I first proposed back in June. At that point we had astronomical gas prices and the early results of a subprime mortgage crisis. Though June seems like the “good old days” by comparison, I was already suggesting parents begin a serious crash course on economics with their teens, helping them to understand the need for belt-tightening and reduced expectations and making every financial transaction an econ lesson. By any reasonable estimate we’re going to need ECON 400 shortly. In 2009 resolve to have consistent, clear and empathic conversations with your teens about what’s going on. This will vary, of course, with the age and personalities of your children. For anxious kids, you’ll want to allay fears with explanations of how the family will get by in difficult times. For the carefree, you may need to afflict them with some stern lessons about the new limits of consumerism, credit and employment. Nowhere is this more important than for juniors and seniors considering what they will do after high school. For most of their lives the world was pretty forgiving of mistakes made in the transition to adulthood. For now — maybe for a long while — that won’t be the case.
• My second recommendation for 2009 is to resolve not to lose your cool. For many families a great deal may have to be sacrificed, some of it quite painful. In hard times young people need to know above all else that we have our hands firmly on the tiller. Franklin Roosevelt’s adage from his first inaugural seems profoundly more relevant than it did in AP US History — the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. It’s hard to feel confident about the world right now, yet we are as parents infinitely more influential when we approach things in a calm and orderly manner. Think Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird”: You can’t go wrong.
• Finally, in balancing confidence with reasonable anxiety, resolve to desperately cling to the spirit of fun. One of the worst byproducts of our highly productive society over the last 30 years has been the overworked family. The temptation in hard times is to work twice as hard, but forgetting to take joy in our lives and our families actually stifles our productivity rather than enhances it. The point of having a family is in no small part to create a connection with others that generates hope, love and happiness, and to have a witness to one another’s lives. When the going gets rough, we are prone to forget that, and very quickly an economic recession can become a psychological depression.
Kelly: With a new year comes a new beginning, a fresh start. Many of us will seize this opportunity to set goals for ourselves that we hope to utilize throughout the coming year. Some of these goals vary from losing weight to quitting smoking. Whatever it may be, those goals can and will help shape us for the future and hopefully for the better. Throughout 2008, we have faced challenges, and we have experienced highs and lows. Our old resolutions have been tried; some of us have remained faithful, while others soon forgot about them. But as you make your new resolutions, don’t forget those moments of the past, for they help sculpt us for the present and future.
Take the start of the new year as a means to start over, a blank slate. Use this time to reflect on yourself and the past. Is there anything you would change for the future? If you have not yet begun to make your resolution, then I would highly suggest doing so. By creating a resolution you will be recognizing and become aware of your own downfalls. This is the perfect chance to change.
However, many of us lose sight of our goals throughout the year. So before you set resolutions for 2009, think carefully about what you want to change, then set realistic, achievable goals. Second, utilize these goals on a day-to-day basis. If your resolution is to quit smoking, then do just that. Avoid those cravings you may get throughout the day. Third, sometimes it is better to make the same resolution with a friend or family member. Fourth, take this opportunity to re-invent yourself. Start fresh.
The new year of 2009 has plenty of chances for us ahead. Don’t lose sight of who you are and what you want to become.
— Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Kelly Kelin is a senior at Free State High School. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence is strictly confidential.