Aug 10 / Simcha

Our Obsession with our Kids’ Happiness

Artist: Lou Brooks, The Atlantic (Summer 2011)

Do parents do their children a favor when they are present to address their every need and request?  When they are available at every moment (in person or by text or cellphone) to protect, calm, soothe, remind, help out, and help make decisions?

Lori Gottlieb in her recent article in The Atlantic, “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy” (July/August 2011) argues that parents can love too much, nurture too much, and protect too much. When parents are making decisions for their children all the time and protecting them, the kids don’t learn a thing about dealing with disappointment when they go out on their own. The result of this overly fastidious parenting, she writes, is that children with very happy childhoods can feel dissatisfied and lost, even depressed and anxious, as adults.

Jean Twenge  (The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement) uses stronger language.  Children who have been praised every time they put on their shoes, and get kudos (“good try!) for their every activity (however failed) and have rarely received negative feedback on their performance, develop few tools for dealing with challenging situations or disappointment.  A healthy self-esteem quickly morphs into self-absorption and a sense of entitlement, fed by the unachieveable expectation that they will be seen as special compared to other human beings.

Wendy Mogel, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles who became an adviser to schools across  the country after publishing The Blessing of a Skinned Knee a decade ago, suggests that many college freshmen struggle with anxiety because their well-intentioned parents have been “metabolizing their anxiety for them their entire childhoods.” With little internalized capacity to navigate the inevitable rough spots, these youngsters find themselves floundering in a world that bears little resemblance to the safe and nurturing environment of their family hearth.

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See also:  Encouragement vs Praise