Q. My 18 year-old-son is a good student and a hard worker, but he takes unnecessary risks. He received a motorcycle as a Christmas present from his grandfather, but he refuses to wear a helmet and he drives too fast. He is certain that nothing will happen to him. Is there anything I can do to help him be more aware of the risks?
A. It is normal, especially for young people, to experience unrealistic optimism in many areas of their lives: I can pass without studying; I will not be injured in sports; I can text and drive. Psychologically, this is a way of ignoring negative possibilities or consequences. Another name for this self-perception is “unique invulnerability.” It is a way of saying to the world: “I am special; I am indestructible; I cannot be harmed; Bad things will not happen to me.” This dysfunctional thinking is where driving any machine at dangerous speeds, not taking proper safety precautions, or any other serious risk-taking behavior can lead to potentially deadly consequence. Many injuries and deaths happen every year to those who feel they are immune from dangers they seek-out.
The problem is how to protect a loved one from his or her potentially self-destructive tendencies. As a parent, you can advise your child about the dangers they may encounter; you can encourage protective behavior; and you can practice the behaviors you want your child to adopt. We’ve all known parents who warn their children of dangerous behaviors, but continue to smoke, to text while driving, to drink to excess, and to refuse to use seatbelts.
Taking some risks is a part of growing up and becoming a responsible adult. If you think about it, you would not want your child to stay safe in the nest forever. You can only protect him from so much, and then you must leave it to his good sense and survival instinct.
A. I am a 72-year-old widow. Every year after Christmas I get depressed. I love the holidays, but I am so sad when my children and grandchildren leave since they live far away. What can I do to improve my attitude?
A. You are certainly not alone. Statistically, the holidays are the time when depression and feelings of sadness are most likely to occur.
It is important that you allow yourself to feel sad. Many of us were taught that we should “just cheer up.” We live in a society that has little tolerance for negative feelings. Yet these emotions are part of the human experience that we should not fear. When someone whom we love leaves, sadness is a natural response; however, remember that even though your children and grandchildren live far away they spent the holidays with you.
One of the psychological theories behind sadness is that many of us in our society have learned a “deficiency orientation.” In other words, we have a tendency to look at what we do not have whether it is material or emotional. Although we all have these feelings at times, when we are consistently in this mode, we will always come up lacking.
Psychologists suggest that throughout life we continue to pursue a “growth orientation.” If you are in good health at any age, there is still opportunity for growth. Reconnect with old friends. Don’t wait for them to call you, call them. Take a class at a local college. Do volunteer work to help those in need. You will find that as you get more involved in your community, your church, or your civic organizations the more your sadness will lift.
• • •
Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology. She teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College and maintains a limited private practice in Pine Bluff. If you have questions, e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org. The questions will not be answered personally, but could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential.