Parents: Pushing Teens Too Hard?
Encourage Self-Reliance, New Interests -- Then Back Off
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.
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
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
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
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."