Parents: Pushing Teens Too Hard?
Encourage Self-Reliance, New Interests -- Then Back Off
Parenting -- it's the most competitive adult sport in today's
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
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.