I’ve been encouraged and challenged for months by today’s mentor mom’s almost daily tips on Facebook for raising tweens and teens. I think you will be too. Welcome Linda to Pruning Princesses.
Spend even a little time around kids and you’ll realize they’re under a lot of pressure. Many believe they are under a microscope with someone evaluating their nearly every move. Their teachers expect a lot from them. As early as middle school they are encouraged to begin building a resume for acceptance into college. When I was in middle school, the most significant thing I worried about was whether the collar on my Izod shirt would stay up while I was walking past Steve Hogan’s locker. Their coaches expect a lot from them. For many kids, sports aren’t for having fun, staying physically fit, or even just about winning. Listen to the adults in these kids’ lives: Sports are now a way to secure scholarship funds. In this day and age, even Albert Einstein or Mother Theresa would be told to earn a spot on a sports team to appear “well-rounded.” Their peers expect a lot from them to grant acceptance. How do they know this? The 24/7 social media news cycle of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter provides a constant grade card for their social participation and acceptance. Likes and retweets are the way they demonstrate their status on the social landscape. In our adolescence, we realized we had been excluded from a weekend party or bonfire at the start of the next school week when we overheard laughter as our peers recounted a story from the event. Now with social media, kids realize they are being excluded “as it is happening.”
Today, it isn’t that different for many kids and their parents. Unyielding expectations for success or restrictively narrow views of adolescent attractiveness or athleticism send a damaging message to children: Our love and acceptance are conditional and will only be granted when you achieve our definition of perfection. Worse yet is the pursuit of perfection that limits your child’s emotional expression with the idea that “girls don’t get angry” or “boys don’t show their sadness.” What a set-up!
It is natural for parents to aspire for their children to achieve or grow into exceptional adults. We want our children to have more than we had. We do not want them to experience the hurts, disappointments, and embarrassments we experienced. So, what do we do? With the best of intentions, we provide them with opportunities: tutoring for academic faltering, extra coaching for mediocre performance, etc. Parenting that emphasizes achievement, competition, and excellence in ALL areas seems to be the current antidote for fears of mediocrity from our offspring. This push for perfection may stem from the underlying anxiety that many of us feel about how well we are preparing our children for adulthood. But I suspect that for most of us, seeking residence in San Perfection is born out of our own fears that we are being evaluated; that our worth as parents and human beings hinges on our child’s performance and future success.
Extreme parenting may serve your child’s academic, athletic and in some cases their social standing, but often at the expense of their emotional development, their sense of self, and their relationship with you. When our fears dominate the relationship we have with our child, we send the message that we don’t believe in them. When we expect perfection and superiority from our children, we transmit that even their best efforts are insufficient. Criticisms about their appearance, academic performance, natural expressions of emotions, or athleticism disguised as feedback or suggestions damage their self-esteem in pursuit of the unachievable. Your relationship with them is more important than their hair, their appearance, their report card, and their spot on the team. Own your fears. Own your worry. Your child’s job is to develop into who they are, not into who you wish they were for the purpose of easing your anxiety.