From tiger moms to helicopter parents, children growing up today are given all types of excessive parenting guidance to navigate nearly every step of their journey. “You should think about this… You should not socialize with them… You should stay away from that… You should know better than to…” These are common micromanaging phrases that are a parent’s “go-to” from the social circles their children frolic, to the after school activities, to demanding that their children be in all advanced placement classes even if they are barely getting by with a tutor.
One parent recently shared when she visited a prestigious prep school for her child to attend, the principal shared that children today have to stand out; her words were “we look for prodigies, not just children with good grades, hobbies, and extracurriculars.” The incessant “should”-ing by some parents, school administrators and society cripples the next generation’s self-confidence, fosters feelings of inadequacy, and creates a fear of failure. These feelings can manifest in several behaviors. See if you may recognize any of them:
Failure to start
Many children suffer from a strong apathy to even try something new. They refuse to put themselves out there with new peers for fear of rejection or worse, being seen. With being fearful of making a mistake, some children proverbially sit poolside rather than jumping into the pool of life. They wait to be “kept,” told what to do, when to do it, and often fear jumping out of the nest.
Flavor of the month
Baskin Robbins would promote an ice cream flavor of the month to encourage customers to try a different flavor and expand ice cream consumption. For many children who loathe the idea of failure, they pick a “flavor of the month” activity, hobby, or pursuit, sometimes out of guilt about staying idle, while others want to appear busy with many important tasks. Really, they are jumping from cause to cause, or position to position, unable to fully commit or find their safe place. Being on the move allows them to avoid commitment, dealing with grunt-work, or possibly being found-out for not being able to perform.
“Out of office”
Some children opt to cut ties, experience wanderlust, or have a desire to escape from their families altogether. Did you not read or see, “Crazy Rich Asians”? If not, the protagonist leaves his very controlling, wealthy, prestigious family in Singapore to head to America where he may blend in to find true love. Romantic for the film, but realistic—you be the judge. The object is clear—to escape their families so as not to feel the pressures, demands, and expectations from family, society, and social circles.
Striving for perfection
Some children appear to be high achievers but in actuality they are perfectionists. Unlike high achievers, perfectionists are often driven by fear of failure which typically leads them to achieve less and stress more. Many factors can contribute to perfectionism such as fear of disapproval from others, feelings of insecurity and feelings of inadequacy. Signs to look for in your children include “all or nothing” thinking, being overly critical of themselves and others, setting unrealistic goals or standards, procrastination, defensiveness, and focusing only on results instead of enjoying the process. Sometimes parents can place such unreasonable demands on their children that they begin to feel if they don’t measure up, they will not win their approval.
Children born after 1995 have grown-up online, in a Youtube, Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook culture. Engagement in social media, video games, music, videos, and other activities online comes naturally to them. However, when pressure from parents, teachers, and others mounts, some may turn inward and overuse technology to escape. Plugging-in allows many youths to tune out the daily pressures, expectations and demands of growing up.
“Should”-ing can have very negative consequences. So, what are three tips for parents to help curb this tendency?
Tip #1: Encourage Them to Take Risks
Parents can provide motivation for their kids to take risks by helping them overcome their fears and internal feelings of negativity. Encourage them to believe in themselves and ignore the nay-sayers when it comes to what inspires them. Help them understand that if they become unchallenged or stuck, they can proactively move forward by exploring new activities or shifting peer groups. Teach them to define themselves by who they are on the inside versus the external. Finally, encourage them to test being more vulnerable to help them move beyond their strong feelings of fear and rejection and open themselves up to new and interesting things or people. The old proverb, “nothing ventured, nothing gained” could not be truer!
Tip #2: Let Them Learn from Their Mistakes
A little failure can be a wonderful lesson in life. Take interest in how they are resolving their peer problems, their homework woes, their bus stop anxiety as opposed to wanting to resolve it for them. If a “D” comes home on their report card, help them figure out how to communicate and take ownership of what needs to get done, from missed homework to make up quizzes. Take off the helicopter parent wings and realize that if you can help them understand how to work and be accountable through elementary and middle school, you will have much more resilient tweens, teens, and young adults. Tyron Edwards shared a powerful quote, “Some of the best lessons we ever learn we learn from our mistakes and failures. – The error of the past is the wisdom and success of the future.” Consider that mistakes are also how resilience is inspired.
Tip #3: Give Them Space to Grow
Children are like healthy house plants. If they are watered, cared for and nurtured appropriately, they will continue to “outgrow” their proverbial pot. Providing opportunities for your child to expand their boundaries, learn independence, fend for themselves, may make them closer to you in the long run. As they say, “a little distance can make the heart grow fonder.” Summer camp or after school programs can help them develop their own sense of independence and perspective on how to operate without a parent or guardian looking over their shoulder. These steps may prepare them if they decided and you encourage them one day to go away for boarding school, college or when it may be time to move out of the house.
None of these parenting ideas are new or novel, but it is important for parents to allow children to find their own stride, to make their own way, even if it means making mistakes. The costliest mistake is to groom children in a fictitious bubble that is not sustainable. For those children, waking up as adults and having low self-worth, low self-esteem, or a sense of entitlement that adults should rescue or provide for them may be more tragic. “Should”-ing has consequences; a parent’s good intentions to protect them from failure, mistakes and risks may inhibit their child’s ability to individuate and succeed long-term.