How Good Parents Ruin Their Kids

Recently in the August 2012 magazine - The Atlantic -  has weighed in on the issue of what’s wrong with today’s 20 and 30 somethings who feel sad, depressed and just plain ordinary.


The very same  parents who praised their every move, who spent hours helping them with their homework, who became their best friends, who sent them to expensive colleges, who paid for apartments and cars and vacations, who told them everything they did was just fabulous (“You ate your cupcake! You’re so amazing!” ) these parents did everything right except the one thing they were supposed to do  and that was prepare them for the adult world.

Today’s young adults want to be praised for everything because they have been praised for everything all their lives. They feel disappointed,if not disrespected, when a college prof or a boss doesn’t go into  a lather of “You’re so specials” and “Great jobs” and “You’re so amazings,” for simply doing the project requested of them.

The psychotherapist Lori Gottllieb  a has begun writing about her young adult patients who “who reported that they . . . suffered from depression and anxiety, had difficulty choosing or committing to a satisfying career path, struggled with relationships, and just generally felt a sense of emptiness or lack of purpose—yet they had little to quibble with about Mom or Dad.”

But the problem has always been mom and dad.

Drama teachers are now hesitant to hold school plays because inevitably some student will have more lines than other students,  and parents are counting lines.

Finding a play where everyone has the same number of lines is like finding a book without a plot.

Coaches talk about how parents complain about playing time even in the most competitive soccer, volleyball and football leagues. They don’t want their kids to feel bad about not sitting on the bench, especially since they are telling their kids every night how fantastic they are.

But it’s the teachers who feel the brunt of today’s super parents.  They’re demanding A’s even when their child doesn’t turn in homework for six weeks, they attack teachers who catch their kids cheating and they‘ve so succeeded in lowering the bar for high grades that 4.0 students are struggling in college because they’ve never learned to read or how to compute basic math.

Kids are leaving college with the inbred assumption of living a life at least equal to their middle and upper middle class parents from day one. Jobs should starts at $50,000. Penthouse condos should be affordable. A BMW should be waiting for every graduate in the garage.

But to their disappointment and discouragement, they’re learning that their parents who were indeed their best friends, told them some giant lies.

1. They can’t be anything they want to be.
2. Hard work doesn’t guarantee success.
3. Failure happens.

Parents today feel like we always have to entertain our kids, we always have to praise our kids, we always have to smooth their way – even in college – but the result is  when kids should be ready to go out on their own, they’re completely unprepared emotionally and spiritually.

The solution is as simple as it is difficult.  Let your kids be bored. Let them experience consequences of their actions. Draw boundaries and curfews.  Let them work hard and experience failure so they can develop grit. Take them to church so they can learn you’re not God. Love them to death but give them the freedom to work things out on their own. Hold them accountable. Make them get part time jobs. Quit trying to make their life a fairytale but use this valuable time to  train them for adulthood.

There is good news in this for parents. We can quit trying so hard. The Atlantic quotes Donald Winnicott, an influential English pediatrician and child psychiatrist, who said you didn’t have to be a perfect mother to raise a well-adjusted kid. You just had to be, to use the term Winnicott coined, a “good-enough mother.”


Harry H Harrison Jr. is a NYTIMES best selling parenting author with over 3.5 million books in print. He has been interviewed on over 25 television programs, and featured in over 75 local and national radio stations including NPR. His books are available in over thirty-five countries throughout Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Norway, South America, China, Saudi Arabia and in the Far East. For more information visit

Leave a Reply