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Parents: Pushing Teens Too Hard?

Encourage Self-Reliance, New Interests -- Then Back Off
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WebMD Feature

Parenting -- it's the most competitive adult sport in today's world.

Parents are coaching kids in every detail of their lives -- academics, athletics, arts -- so the best colleges will take them, so they'll have the best chance for success. The result for many teens, experts say, is burnout, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

"I really think it's a major contributing factor in drug use, early sex, binge drinking -- kids feel pressured, they feel tremendous stress," says Alvin Rosenfeld, MD, author of The Over-scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-parenting Trap.

What's Going On Here?

Hyper-parenting -- a word that Rosenfeld coined - is increasingly becoming the accepted way to raise successful children. Some parents hire tutors for kids already getting A's, just to keep them on track. Some hire private soccer coaches for 9-year-old boys, just to give them an extra edge on the team. "There's no effort too extreme, no sacrifice too great," Rosenfeld says, especially "if it will help your child get admission to the leading colleges."

"Parents see that the workforce is growing increasingly competitive," he says. "Society has become more bifurcated -- there are the 'haves' and the 'have nots', and not much in between. Parents are anxious about kids staying on the gravy train. They want to be good parents. They think this is the way to do it."

The Positive Side of Pushing

Such diligence is not mean-spirited and sometimes pays off, helping an ambitious child reach his or her goals.

Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University and chief psychologist at the Grady Health System in Atlanta, says she was a "pushed child."

"It was good for me," she tells WebMD. "There are lots of advantages to pushing teens. It gives them an opportunity to really excel in life. But I was the kind of kid who was temperamentally suited to being pushed -- it's probably why I'm a workaholic now. Every good thing has its downside."

The Risks of Pushing Too Hard

However, Kaslow agrees that many kids are not suited to being pushed, and too many parents ignore the cues their kids are sending. The results are starting to show up in college campus mental health centers.

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