Are Anxious Parents Ruining Their Kids' Lives?

Worried that your kids are falling behind, missing the opportunity to learn and excel? What parent doesn't? After all, it's natural for parents to want ... and push their children to have better lives. But is that very same act actually setting them up for a life of misery instead?

The battalions of mothers — and they're mostly mothers — managing their children's lives these days are talking about their anxiety. They see the frighteningly stressed children in "Race to Nowhere," a film in which teen after teen talks about how his or her life is all college prep and no play. They test their homes for hazards such as radon, and they provide lists of foods children may not have during playdates. [...]

Parents hire doulas, night nurses, nannies, camp consultants, batting coaches, SAT tutors. They try to be deeply attuned to every pimple in their child's life path and scurry to remove it. They fret they've destroyed their 4-year-old's future if she doesn't gain acceptance to the Center for Early Education in West Hollywood.

They fear predators, or that kids are having oral sex at bar mitzvah parties, or that only 10 colleges in the country are worth going to, said Wendy Mogel, author of "The Blessing of a Skinned Knee" and "The Blessing of a B Minus," at a recent talk to parents at the private Westside Neighborhood School. She knows of a school where the washcloths were red so that children who got cut were protected from the sight of blood.

College officials are calling students "teacups" and "crispies" — the former so overprotected they're fragile, the latter pushed so hard they're burned out, said Mogel, a clinical psychologist.

Mary MacVean wrote this interesting article over at the Los Angeles Times about how anxiety affects parents nowadays: Link (Illustration: Ellen Weinstein/LA Times)

Previously on Neatorama: Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior

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I think a lot of what happens here is parents are taking their values, their dreams and attachments and projecting them onto the life of their child. They want to see their children succeed where they failed, and succeed where they succeeded.

But a lot of that is culturally defined as well. Getting good grades and landing a high-paying job is something new in the history of humanity and something fairly isolated to industrialized nations.

Different nations appear to suffer from a different range of psychological problems. For example, Japanese suffer from Taijin Kyofusho (TKS), which literally means the disorder (sho) of fear (kyofu) of interpersonal relations (taijin). The Encyclopedia of Multi-Cultural Psychology by Yo Jackson states: "The American diagnostic system for mental disorders lists TKS as a culture-bound syndrome that is similar to social phobia but unique to Japan." which symptoms include "an obsession with shame, manifested by intense fear of embarrassing or offending others by blushing, staring inappropriately, trembling, stuttering, emitting unpleasant odors, sweating, or displaying improper facial expression or physical deformity. Fear of blushing is one of the most common symptoms."

Much of the cultural neurosis affecting industrialized nations is the success paradigm. The idea that to be successful in life one must acquire financial wealth and popularity. Quite in contrast to the pre-industralized paradigms which held in higher regard someone who had attained a certain type of character. If we follow the life of Trappist Monk Thomas Merton and compared it with the success model of industrialized nations, we'd rate him a complete loser. But in the hierarchy of Christian mysticism, and of mystics generally, Merton was and is a potent figure.

However, to those infected by the success paradigm of the industrialized world, are trained at birth to view Merton and the pursuit of good character, understanding, compassion and so forth as secondary to financial and social successes. Yet, it would stand to reason that good character would make those other achievements easier, and more appreciable.

Well, here is one of my favorite analyses of American culture: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTINT2pAqAY
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A close friend of mine's youth was wasted by an overbearing mother who made sure her child would get the education she 'deserved' (or in my bitterness, an education that would bring prosperity and the ability to take care of the parents in old age). This mother invested countless hours and dollars ensuring her child had that 4.0. But like a quintesential catholic schoolgirl, once this child escaped to college and tasted the forbidden fruit of -LIFE- it was all over. She dropped school, got married to the first guy who showed interest, and moved far away to be a full time mom. Not the retirement strategy her parents had in mind.
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There's a medium that can be reached, though. On the other side of the coin are the parents who are not involved in their kids life at all.

Parents should make sure their kids are safe ("don't play in the street", "call me when you get to so-and-so's house", "don't smoke", etc.) while allowing them freedom to be kids.

For example, my oldest is 3. In the house, we childproof the obvious dangers like covers on the plugs, put doorknob locks on the rooms we don't want him in without supervision (like the bathroom), and a gate at the top of the stairs. Otherwise, he has free reign and I keep him within audible range when he's playing by himself.

When he's older, I expect to know who his friends are, meet their parents, and have him always have a way to reach me. It's called being responsible. But for now I let him deal with the occasional skinned knee and various bruises he gets from regular play. And I don't let him play with the kitchen knives, :D

(ps sorry if this double posts, the site is being weird atm...)
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There's a medium that can be reached, though. On the other side of the coin are the parents who are not involved in their kids life at all.

Parents should make sure their kids are safe ("don't play in the street", "call me when you get to so-and-so's house", "don't smoke", etc.) while allowing them freedom to be kids.

For example, my oldest is 3. In the house, we childproof the obvious dangers like covers on the plugs, put doorknob locks on the rooms we don't want him in without supervision (like the bathroom), and a gate at the top of the stairs. Otherwise, he has free reign and I keep him within audible range when he's playing by himself.

When he's older, I expect to know who his friends are, meet their parents, and have him always have a way to reach me. It's called being responsible. But for now I let him deal with the occasional skinned knee and various bruises he gets from regular play. And I don't let him play with the kitchen knives, :D
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*Completely* agree with most of the concerns of overparenting & the importance of allowing children to fail.

However, the red washcloth to hide blood loss has some practical merits, to include shortening the length nosebleeds. Kids have a natural tendency to remove the cloth (& thus the pressure) to see/check the blood/blood loss. If there is nothing to see, they are more likely to keep the rag in place, thereby maintaining pressure and (usually) decreasing length of the nose bleed. I'm not sure of the origin, but we often use it for peds patients admitted for epistaxis (fancy medical term for nosebleeds).
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