Adolescence is full of opportunities for success and failure. To be well-adjusted, adolescents need to experience BOTH. Your daughter may miss the tie-breaking shot in a hockey game or be the only girl that doesn’t get invited to a high school party. Your son may blow his chance at a college scholarship. And every adolescent is likely to feel the rejection of their first break-up.
Even though moms and dads can create a soft place to fall, depriving your adolescent of these experiences by protecting them from challenges and shielding them from the natural consequences of their actions can cause a lifetime of hardship.
Over-indulgent parents don’t like to see their kids hurting and instantly go into fix-it mode. Rather than letting their youngster experience the consequences of their decisions, these moms and dads step in to defend the youngster and alleviate any discomfort they may feel.
There is a fine line between responsible parenting and over-indulgent parenting. No one would tell a parent not to protect their youngster – just don’t over-protect. Parental involvement is essential for a youngster’s healthy emotional, social and academic development. But when your love and concern manifest in the following behaviors, you may have overstepped their bounds:
- A willingness to do anything to see your youngster succeed
- Blaming others for your adolescent’s problems
- Doing anything to make sure your adolescent doesn’t experience hardship, sadness, disappointment, anger or other difficult emotions
- Getting involved in every aspect of your adolescent’s life, including academics, dating and friends
- Giving in to your adolescent’s every demand
- Making demands of teachers, counselors, friends, coaches and others because the adolescent can’t or won’t resolve their own problem
- Minimizing or justifying your adolescent’s behaviors
- Needing to be liked or viewed as your adolescent’s friend rather than a parent
- Stepping in immediately when your adolescent is in distress
- Striving to make your adolescent happy all of the time
- Using cell phones, e-mail and instant messaging to stay in constant contact and hover around your youngster at all times
What’s Your Motivation?
In most cases, over-indulgent parents’ primary motivation is to protect their youngster from harm. But they may also be motivated by other less admirable intentions. For example, moms and dads may be partially motivated by a desire to look good in front of other parents by having their adolescent reflect positively on them.
For example, a parent may intervene at school and do their youngster’s homework assignments so that their adolescent can go to an Ivy League university. Although their primary goal may be to provide the brightest possible future for their youngster, they may also be acting out of a desire to look like “good” moms and dads.
Some parents are also driven by a desire to feel good about themselves. Moms and dads may view their family’s happiness as a measure of their own success. Although they want their families to be happy for the sake of each family member, they also protect their adolescents because they’ve lost their own identity apart from their youngster.
Over-indulgent parents tend to produce kids who are fearful, anxious and lack confidence in their own abilities. Even though the moms and dads are undoubtedly acting out of love, their actions are often based on their own worries, fears and feelings, not necessarily what’s in the best interest of the youngster. If adolescents aren’t given the opportunity to face and overcome challenges, they never learn that they are capable of doing so.
Here are a few ways moms and dads can begin to let go and help their adolescent blossom into a healthy adult:
Evaluate the Worst-Case Scenario: When your adolescent is facing a difficult situation, ask yourself, “What is the worst that could happen?” If the worst-case scenario is hurt feelings, disappointment, anger or any other emotion that people regularly face, let your youngster resolve the problem themselves. Try to intervene only if your adolescent is in physical danger or is at risk of severe emotional harm.
Get Help: An over-indulgent parenting style may be deeply ingrained by the time a youngster reaches adolescence. The family may be struggling with codependency and other unhealthy attachments. In these situations, professional help may be needed to teach moms and dads healthier parenting styles and improve the adolescent’s ability to cope and make decisions.
Learn New Communication Skills: Instead of telling your adolescent what to do, resolving their problems for them or protecting them from the consequences of their choices, practice active listening. While moms and dads can give suggestions, adolescents are old enough to make their own decisions and deal with the consequences.
Learn to Say No: It is unrealistic to expect your adolescent to be happy all of the time. If you’re going to great lengths to satisfy their every desire, you risk raising a spoiled adolescent with a sense of entitlement. Your adolescent may become accustomed to having things done for them, assuming the rest of the world will do the same, which they will eventually learn isn’t true. They should earn the things they’re given, both material goods and privileges, and should be encouraged to get involved in volunteering and thinking outside of themselves.
Let Your Adolescent Fix His Own Mistakes: What follows naturally from letting your adolescent make their own decisions is letting them experience the consequences of those decisions. If you want your youngster to be resourceful and self-reliant, you have to let them work through issues on their own. For example, if your adolescent hurts a friend’s feelings, it isn’t your job to apologize and mend the relationship. Let your adolescent realize the need for an apology and take action to repair the damage on their own.
Let Your Adolescent Make Decisions: From a young age, kids shout with glee when they discover they can do something by themselves. Whether walking, getting an A on a test or winning a game, kids have a natural desire for independence. Nurture your adolescent’s growing desire for independence by letting them make their own decisions. Adolescents who aren’t encouraged to make their own decisions grow accustomed to having their moms and dads make decisions for them. As a result, they never develop valuable problem-solving skills or the confidence that comes from making good choices. While you can be there to offer guidance and advice when needed, your adolescent is capable of finding answers on their own.
Take a Time-Out: Before intervening to fix a problem for your adolescent, step aside for awhile and let the situation play out. Ask yourself how your youngster’s needs would best be served. By allowing your adolescent the time and space to resolve an issue and experience the full spectrum of emotions that come with a success or failure, you help your youngster learn how to manage difficult emotions without escaping (whether through asking for a parent to rescue them, buying new things, using drugs and alcohol or some other quick fix). Give them a chance to realize on their own that everything will be okay. This will help them develop important coping skills.
Teach Your Youngster Self-Advocacy: When your youngster was young, you were their strongest advocate. As they grow into a teenager, they should gradually become their own advocate. Teach your youngster how to work through problems and encourage them to state their needs at school and in relationships, without needing you to do their work for them.
Trust Yourself: You’ve spent many years teaching your youngster important lessons and grooming them for adulthood. Adolescence is the time to put what they’ve learned to the test. Trust that you’ve raised your youngster well enough to make sound decisions and be there to offer advice when solicited.
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