Are We Landing Our Kids in Therapy?

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    By: Amy Franzwa

    Well-respected psychologist Lori Gottlieb’s recent article in the Atlantic addresses a growing phenomenon among parents and its potential detrimental effect on a child’s future. The gist: a parent’s obsession with a child’s happiness may have the opposite result – an unhappy adult!

    Gottlieb states that too many parents these days try their best to make life easy, comfortable and pain free in the hopes of creating happy kids. The reality is these “helicopter” parents are eliminating a child’s exposure to adversity, critical decision making and conflict, all of which are a vital part of a child’s development. 

    You can see this behavior every day in what has now become commonly accepted as “good parenting.”  The parent who has covered every corner in their home with foam to prevent a potential injury, won’t let her child climb the ladder at the park because of a potential fall and who rushes to attend to her child at the first sign of a disagreement or scrape.  We also see it in the parents who commend their child with a “good job” for doing even the simplest of expected tasks.

    In Gottlieb’s practice she sees adults who have been raised with this parenting philosophy.  The result, young adults who feel lost, who are incabable of making decisions and who, quite frankly, are depressed.  “You have to be exposed to pathogens, or your body won’t know how to respond to an attack,” Gottlieb stated. She added, “Kids also need exposure to discomfort, failure, and struggle." Some college deans have coined the term “teacups” to represent young adults who go off to college and leave the comforts of home only to crumble at the first minor bump in the road.

    This parenting phenomenon is also creeping into youth athletics. Examples include eliminating score keeping to avoid losers feeling badly, awarding only ribbons for participation rather than trophies for first place, and implementing rules for equal playtime requirements. These practices only perpetuate the problem by attempting to insulate children from feelings of failure and inadequacy.  The reality is that no child has ever failed to survive a loss.  In fact, a loss usually helps stimulate motivation and perseverence. Offer a child an opportunity to discover their inherent resilience and watch real self esteem and confidence grow.

    The bottom line, parents need to put more emphasis on helping a child develop self-sufficiency and not as much on maintaining their self-esteem.  Let them make their own decisions. Let them suffer the consequences of their own actions or lack of action. Let them feel pain, in both a physical and emotional sense. Just to clarify, I’m not saying let your kid play with firecrackers and, when they inflict third degree burns, tell them to suck it up.   I am saying be a real parent.  Protect them from real dangers, but let them experience life – which includes success and failure.

    We can’t protect our children from everything and if we try, according to Gottlieb, we’re only doing them a disservice in the long run. We have to learn to let our hopes for our children outweigh our fears. I believe that a parent’s primary role is to be an honest guide in life, not to carry them through it.

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