By Dr. Dean Beckloff | Contributor
We want so much for our kids. We are enthralled with our little ones and are excited beyond belief for their first steps. Their first words. And on and on with all their firsts. From their first soccer game, their first entry into school (along with the Facebook pics), to ultimately moving into high school and college. We. Adore. Our. Kids. And there’s simply nothing wrong with that, and it is so right to love our kids deeply.
But when does adoration and love turn into something not so right? When do our goals for them turn into the goals that they must not only share but pursue? When does helping our kids to pursue excellence turn into projecting our goals onto them—instead of helping them to be their best selves?
We see parents who cross the line. The parent screaming on the sidelines at the kid for making a mistake on the field. The parent stepping in to help their kid do whatever they can to get them into a good school—as we’ve seen in the news recently, with parents serving jail time for cheating for their child. And any parent who turns from encouraging to yelling has probably crossed the line.
Why? Why does a parent cross the line? Fear seems to be the culprit for many of the reasons we cross too many lines. I hate to pick on Felicity Huffman, but why did she cross the line to cheat for her daughter? She was afraid. Afraid that her daughter would not make it into the college of her dreams. Afraid that her daughter wouldn’t pass with a high enough score. Fear is perhaps one of the greatest culprits that compels parents to either put too much pressure on their kids or even go so far as to commit crimes for their child.
What are the effects? When parents succumb to fear for their child’s outcomes, they have moved from encouraging and affirming their child, to denying the child that affirmation. One of the things that has been reported about Felicity Huffman’s daughter, is that she told her mother, “Didn’t you believe in me?” We also suggest to the child that the failure that might happen is something they cannot handle. That perhaps failure is to be avoided at all costs. That perhaps their falling down will be insurmountable. Stepping over the line denies the child the confidence needed to deal with life’s tumbles that are to come.
Ultimately, the parent risks greater loss by crossing the line. Moving from encouragement to taking over the goals and dreams of the teen means perhaps a greater discord between parent and teen. Anger, depression, anxiety, behavior difficulties, and academic difficulties are some of the negative results. Discord and broken relationships are at risk as well. Teens are supposed to be moving away from us in their course that we in psychology call “individuation.” This is the movement from being dependent on a parent to becoming self-sufficient. It’s difficult at best, and the dynamic of a parent taking over and controlling the dreams and aspirations of the teen can catapult the discord and frustrations between parent and teen. This results in that curious negative cycle where negative begets even more negative.
It’s natural for a parent to worry about their child. It’s normal for a parent to care deeply for their teen in a way that might compel them to do more than they should. But let’s remember that we are growing our teens into the people they aspire to be. Let’s encourage them. Let’s give them the affirmation they need. When they come in stating they are thinking about joining the army—and you were holding out for them to become an attorney—don’t panic. Help your teen to pursue their own goals and dreams—not yours. Remember, help them to explore and think and understand, but don’t stand in their way. When your teen is facing the SAT, don’t panic. If they fail to make the grade, they will also need your affirmation to try again. Let’s affirm our teens. Let’s believe in them, truly believe in their ability. Let’s ultimately believe in their strength and ability to get up, dust themselves off, and try, try again.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Dean Beckloff is a pediatric therapist, school counselor, and trainer, who specializes in treatment for children and families navigating divorce and other life challenges. He is the founder of the Beckloff Behavioral Center in Dallas. If you wish to contact Dr. Beckloff with questions, comments or for a consultation, he can be reached at the Beckloff Pediatric Behavioral Center: DrBeckloff.com / 972.250.1700