As a counsellor and therapist with nearly 50% of my clients being between the ages 12 to 20 years old, I encounter many stories of struggle, despair and distress, but I also hear many stories of inspiring and unique goals, world views and interests. As adults, none of us are immune to the ‘back in my day’ type of thinking when it comes to relating to younger generations about things like music, pop culture, and politics, but more serious topics like politics, schooling, passions and career goals often, unfortunately, become a contentious topic between parents and their children.
In my early days working as a counsellor at a child and family centre, I saw many parents who were concerned with whether or not they were actually ‘good parents’ or not. When I heard parents tell me that they were doubting if they were in fact ‘good parents,’ I learned a valuable lesson from some of my colleagues that, when it comes to ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ parenting (and I use the word ‘bad’ in the context of how parents used the word at this time), this can be concluded with one simple ‘rule’: ‘Good parents’ do worry about being good parents… ‘Bad parents’ never worry about or consider that they may not be ‘good parents.’ In other words, ‘bad parents’ are ignorant to the idea of their parenting styles, rules (or lack thereof), lack of guidance and care, etc. are even factors in their children’s growth, development and success in life. While I believe this ‘rule’ to be fact, one type of ignorance that many of us are not immune to as parents, whether ‘good’ or ‘bad’ (which I will now refer to as ‘developing’ parents), is imposing on our children our own world views, thoughts, goals, and dreams… usually for one overall reason…because ‘what we know is best’… The fact is, this is flawed and, at times, hurtful thinking when it comes to our children’s interests, dreams, world views, and strengths. We often think that the ‘I know best’ type of thinking is loving and intended to ‘protect’ our children from the dangers and pitfalls of the world (E.g., Dissuading from interests or studies that lead to a career that stereotypically ‘doesn’t make a good income’, but this is far from the truth as this behaviour can lead to many negative outcomes for children as explored below.
What the ‘I know best’ Parental Attitude Can Result in…
1)Shame and Future Resentment
Simply put, children and teens crave approval, acceptance, and, most importantly, validation in regards to not only how they view themselves and the world, but their interests, hobbies, imagination, hopes, and dreams. When we do not do this and, instead, sometimes unknowingly and not purposely, we place our own wants, needs, dreams (past or present) and desires ‘onto’ our children in order to gain a sense of expertise and personal fulfillment. When we do not validate, accept, and explore our children’s interests, goals and passions, we signal to them that what matters to them is ‘wrong,’ senseless, dangerous, and/or unachievable (E.g., becoming an actor/actress). And while these words may sound harsh to read, this is how a child and teenage brains process these words and beliefs… and that is what counts and must be taken into consideration if we want a child with a mentally healthy, successful, and personally fulfilling future.
2)Self-Doubt, Self-Criticism, Stress and Anxiety
When a child or teen is, basically, told ‘no, that’s wrong’ when discussing their wants, interests, and dreams, (especially when this is done consistently) a future of significant shame, self-doubt, self-criticism, stress and anxiety will likely play a harmful role in their future life and young and mature adulthood. While most parents’ hove ‘good intentions’ when they criticize, dismantle, disregard or ‘push back’ against their child’s wants, interests and dreams because they truly believe that they are protecting and caring for their child’s best interests, this could be further from the truth (in most cases). Again, the signals are what matter here, not simply the words said… what is signaled to a child when we ‘push back’ in these matters are things like: ‘You’re not capable or skilled,’ ‘others’ must decide what’s best for you,’ ‘you need to re-think or analyze EVERYTHING you consider about yourself and your future,’ and ‘your views and thoughts are NOT VALID.’ These perceptions by the child or teen are not conducive to future success, but a future of great self-doubt, self-criticism, stress and anxiety about the self and the world they live in… including resentment of their parents.
3) Poor Outlook for the Future
Closely tied to what was just spoken about above, as parents, most would say (I would hope!) that they want a secure, safe, happy and successful future for their children. But, when the aforementioned parental actions take place consistently, we are actually fighting against all of these wonderful things becoming a reality for our children. In saying this, the intention is NOT to make any parent reading this article ‘feel bad’ or like they have ‘already failed their child,’ but to allow parents to become further educated and equipped to equip their children emotionally and intellectually for the future… in other words, allowing them to flourish by having a hopeful and purpose driven outlook for the future. A future where they can look back at how their parents not only supported their goals and dreams, but validated their views, thoughts and feelings about themselves, their abilities, and the world around them. Validation and support are what inspires and breeds success for our children… not your own wants, needs and desires as parent… those are for yourself only.
Jordon (RSW/MA) is a therapist at Brant Mental Health Solutions. Jordon holds a Master of Arts in Counselling, is a Certified Coach Practitioner and is currently working under the supervision of a Registered Social Worker. Jordon specializes in helping clients manage stress, overcome anxiety, low mood, interpersonal issues and difficult life transitions.