Overbearing Parents, Overstressed Kids: Just How Much Love Is Too Much?

Por Cecilia Rinaldi.

Childhood has a makeshift magic and candid spontaneity that we often romanticise and yearn for in later life. These features, though, are rapidly fading as the feats that modern parents demand of their children grow in quantity and complexity. To prevent them from failing or falling short –be it socially, physically or intellectually– they submit them to premature training for the future. Yet does this not make children weary of life before they even step across the threshold of adulthood? 

 “Ah, happy years! Once more who would not be a boy?”
Lord Byron, “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”(1812)

Just like the English Romantic poet, many of us are overtaken, on occasion, with a wave of nostalgia for the time when our days were breezy and blithe: our childhood. During our makeshift games and colorful reveries, the clock never ticked: the future went only as far as the day after tomorrow. As the modern world becomes increasingly rash and competitive, however, parents are placing heavier demands upon their children; they turn their playtime into tutoring programs, favor quizzes over cookie bakes, and map out their future while they are still in diapers. Thus, though seemingly oxymoronic, childhood can be too tough on kids.

Today, parents are jam-packing the lives of their sons and daughters to maximize their chances of success: during the day, they rush them from piano lessons to tennis practice, from the chess club to tae kwon do, from reading programs to soccer matches. This frantic to-and-fro, though well-meaning, has more to do with parental desires than with what children really need. Patricia Ruiz Moreno, Professor of Philosophy and Family Specialist, affirmed that undue parental pressure is sometimes rooted in frustration for what they could not attain themselves. When they set goals which stretch beyond their children’s capacity to meet them, “they foster deep psychological disorders, such as stress and depression,” she claimed.

While overbearing parents only want the best for their offspring, they are clinging to a misguided notion. “They want their children to succeed, not to triumph,” stated Ruiz Moreno. Thus, they strive to tailor them to an imposed notion of perfection, founded upon fame and wealth: they want their kids to ace, to win, to score, to top –yet they unwittingly wind up crushing their children’s zest and willpower. Wanting a child to prosper, conversely, means ruling out that dubious cookie-cutter approach: namely, by prompting him to uncover his inner drive and carry it on throughout his life. “Triumph is, in brief, to find one’s own place in the world,” she concluded.

The market cashes in on the fears and insecurities of working moms and dads who spend most of their time outside their homes. Pricey toys and sophisticated gimmicks are put forth and promoted as imperatives for kids to realize their full potential, such as classical music records for those still in the womb. Parents pick up the notion that if they fail to follow the hottest and costliest developmental trends, their kids might never realize their full potential and will be doomed to a life of failure and unhappiness; they are led to believe that not seizing every possible opportunity for intellectual stimulation makes bad parents. Yet, in truth, when it comes to instilling in children a sense of curiosity, love of learning and confidence in their abilities, nothing can make up for plain old parent-child interaction and support.

Childhood is a time for musing, seeking and dreaming –yet too many children today are being forced to give up these tender years for the fuzzy promise of a perfect future. Parents push their children too hard for goals which are not genuinely theirs, doing permanent damage to their sense of self-worth. Therefore, Ruiz Moreno suggested, “instead of raising them to zoom in on definite objectives, such as winning a race, scoring a goal or graduating at the top of their class, parents should cultivate in their children a lifelong devotion to a certain value”. Whether it is camaraderie, fidelity or courage, it matters not: it is, ultimately, only a question of cherishing children for who they are, rather than for what they can do.

Monday October 31st, 2005. Published with the Buenos Aires Herald under the supervision of the Herald Education Department.

Cecilia Rinaldi

19 años
Estudiante de Derecho