Is it possible that a skinned knee, failure on a test and not planning your child's life completely is really a good thing? Dr. Wendy Mogel, clinical psychologist and author of The Blessing of the Skinned Knee and The Blessing of a B Minus, would say yes.
"The biggest problem I see today is that loving, devoted parents, armed with good intentions, treat their children like royalty," says Mogel. "Parents are putting themselves in the role of butler, secret police, talent agent, ATM and hospital staff member, doing things for their children that they are perfectly capable of doing for themselves."
Mogel believes this parental behavior is ultimately a bad set-up for kids.
"I frequently see parents who treat their children like hothouse flowers, who must depend on their parents for survival," she says. "They overschedule, overprotect and overindulge their children to the point that the children end up feeling a combination of entitled, dependent, anxious and like they don't measure up."
In many instances, these young people head off to college full of hope. Three months later, they return home because they didn't know how to deal with their roommate or the professor refused to spoon-feed them information. Perhaps, they simply don't know how to work through problems on their own.
If it feels like Mogel is stepping all over your toes, you are not alone.
"There are many great parents out there with fantastic intentions who get carried away in their efforts to raise a successful adult," Mogel says. "In the end, nobody wins. Boys go on strike, girls become perfectionistic, and parents get angry."
So, how can parents avoid falling in this trap?
Mogel provides these words of encouragement to well-intentioned parents:
- Kids go through phases ... glorious ones and rotten ones. Do not confuse today's snapshot with the epic movie of your child's life.
- Know the difference between a child's wants and needs. Don't fall for the smooth-talking 15-year-old's line: "Mom, you'll probably want to buy me a brand-new car. It'll be really, really, really, safe ... definitely safer than me driving your big, old van." Privileges are not entitlements.
- Let them learn to do for themselves. Remember, your child is competent.
- Listen four times more than you talk. Before you nag, remind, criticize, advise, chime in or over-explain, say to yourself "W.A.I.T" (Why am I talking?)
- Remember that disappointments are a necessary preparation for adult life. Stay calm when your child isn't invited to her friend's party, gets cut from the team or doesn't get a lead role. Without these experiences, your child will be ill-equipped for the real world.
- Be alert, but not automatically alarmed. Stop and ask yourself: Is this situation unsafe or just uncomfortable for my child? Is it an emergency or a new challenge?
- Don't take it personally if your teenager treats you badly. You can't always judge his character on the consistency of in-house politeness, clear speech or degree of eye contact. Instead, notice what teachers say and whether he's welcome at his friends' houses. Also, observe his manners with neighbors, salespeople and servers in restaurants.
Mogel readily acknowledges that parenting is hard work and that the competition is fierce. However, parents who are intent on raising self-reliant, resilient and accountable young people will gladly put forth the effort.