By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
As a therapist who specializes in working with kids, teens, parents, and families, I have noticed a growing and very concerning trend in my work. So many of the kids, teens, and even young adults that I work with are struggling with anxiety, crippling perfectionism, and so much self doubt that they struggle to do things they desperately want to be doing. At the root of so much of this are feelings of incompetence and a huge fear of failure.
I have been contemplating this challenge and recent parenting trends and have noticed that this happens more in the families I work with where parents seem to be struggling to let their kids deal with things on their own. Unfortunately, these parents get kind of a bad rap as “helicopter” parents when in fact, they are parents who are simply struggling to know when it is appropriate to let their kid/teen/young adult fail or struggle through something. And the root of this struggle is usually so much love for their little one (who may not be so little anymore) as well as overwhelming fear about what might happen for their kid/teen/young adult if they do not participate so heavily in their lives.
This fear is one most parents know well. What if they don’t get into a good college? What if they make choices that screw up their whole life? What if they do something I can’t help them undo? What if they can’t get a good job? And the list just goes on and on. As a result (I believe), we are overdoing it in the parenting department. We are rescuing our kids way too much and then we come to find that our kids seem to need to be rescued. Weird huh.
When you look at what happens and what a person will think if they are being rescued from situations, it starts to make sense. When we rescue a person from a situation that they are either capable of handling on their own or almost capable of handling on their own, the message we are giving them is not one of their own ability but one of their need for us to handle things for them. We teach them that they need us and that they can’t do these things on their own. We teach them to ask for help before they need it, before problem solving on their own, and to at all costs avoid struggling with something.
Instead, we need to give our kids the following kinds of messages by verbalizing them as well as by our actions in letting them handle most problems on their own:
I could go on and on but I won’t. The point is that we definitely need to help when it is needed. But we are so often confused about when it is needed that we are rescuing way too often, which is not helping our kids/teens/young adults develop into the independent and capable people that we know they are meant to be. I encourage you to trust yourself as a parent and trust your “little one,” however old they may be, that they can figure things out and will benefit from a little struggle and failure along the way. Just like most of us did on our way to becoming independent adults.
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