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Parents: Pushing Teens Too Hard?

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

The Risks of Pushing Too Hard continued...

One study at Kansas State University looked at 13,257 students seeking counseling between 1988 and 2001. Researchers found that the rate of depression among students doubled in that time, while the number of suicidal students tripled. Until 1994, the most common problems were what one might expect: relationship woes, according to the report in the February 2003 issue of the journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice.

Hyper-parenting, says Rosenfeld, can damage a kid's self-esteem, detour the development of self-reliance, and make kids anxious. Kids feel under constant scrutiny, and begin to feel inadequate in their "unpolished" state.

These experts say many parents should take a step back, and assess whether their children are driven, or whether they themselves are caught up in the competition.

"This is not about meeting your needs, it's about your child's needs," says Kaslow. "If you have a child who drives herself (or himself), then it's OK to push them. But forcing kids to do things they hate isn't going to work."

Finding Middle Ground

Stepping back from the competition is not easy, Rosenfeld acknowledges. Parents feel social pressures to push kids. "If you don't overdo it, you're treated as a vastly neglectful parent. Just try telling another parent you're not going to let your kid play elite hockey because it means you all have to get up at 4 a.m."

So remind yourself that the qualities that have made America so successful -- creativity and innovation -- go unrewarded in a society where everyone crams for straight A's. "We've got a one-size-fits-all mentality. My kid must be president of the school class, etc., or there's no hope for his future," says Rosenfeld. But American history has proven that mentality wrong.

What should you do?

Kaslow suggest parents encourage their kids to try new activities and sign them up for six weeks of lessons. But if the child isn't enthusiastic after six weeks, back off. Let them focus on the few activities they like.

Advises Rosenfeld: "In my experience, what makes for a good life is doing one thing well and liking it. Satisfaction with life comes from the quality of our relationships, not what we have achieved. You see the evidence all the time -- the 'truly successful' CEO who didn't get invited to his daughter's wedding. It's all about how you define success."

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Reviewed on August 11, 2003
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