Are You Living Vicariously Through Your Teen?

As parents we want the best for our children and of course want them to be all they can be. Unfortunately sometimes what we want for them is exactly that… what WE want, not necessarily what they want. This usually happens in high school when the Dad who never got to be on the football team is hounding his son to try out. Or the Mom who got passed over for Homecoming Queen makes it her life’s work campaigning for the popularity of her daughter. When parents are asked if their children are happy, the reply is usually “Of course! It’s what he/she has always wanted to do.” Sadly, unconsciously they are speaking of themselves. This is not only prevalent in sports or other extracurricular activities, parents project academic dreams onto their teens as well. The pressure is on when it is time for college. If the parent is a college graduate, sometimes the pressure to attend the same school or pursue the same field of study occurs. If the parent never got the opportunity to attend college, the pressure to not only go to school but to excel is expected. All of this is done with little or no conversation with the teen and he/she is left with overwhelming guilt and fear of disappointing the parents. Instead of saying “Mom, Dad, this is not what I want to do.”, they take a more subtle approach. They let go and retreat. They stop trying, they misbehave, their grades slump…anything to give a clue that this is not the path they wish to take. Unfortunately, parents don’t always get the hint and just keep pushing which makes everything worse. What really needs to take place is open and honest communication…which is of course, easier said than done.

Kids want to please their parents so they will go along with what you want until they realize that it is not what they want. As parents, we need to be tuned into our children to know when that turning point presents itself. As stated before, they will most likely start “dropping the ball” and that’s when the conversation needs to be had. Here are some tips to help this talk be successful:

o Listen to your teen. Really hear what their concerns and/or difficulties are. Do not interrupt until they are completely finished. You may find out that they are really interested in Drama Club but Shakespeare is really hard to understand and they need more help. Or, they hate Drama Club and would rather play Chess but joined Drama because you made such a big deal about how you loved it in High School.

  • Validate their feelings. Your teen is entitled to how they feel so don’t wave them off or dismiss what is bothering them. Their feelings are real and should be treated with respect.
  • Don’t harp on how good they are at what they are trying to quit. Just because it comes easy to them does not mean that they enjoy it. Once again, listen to what they are trying to tell you.
  • Listen to yourself. Are you constantly talking about your experience on the team or how you wished you were on the team and would give your right arm if you had this opportunity? This kind of talk heaps so much pressure on your teen! They would soon die before letting you down. Some kids literally kill themselves trying. You do not want this to be your child!
  • Let it go! Your time has passed. Living vicariously through your teen can be damaging to both of you. Embrace their individuality and appreciate what it is they can and want to do.

One of the most important relationships your teen will have and need as he/she grow into an adult is with you, their parent. It would be a shame to ruin this unique and special bond over an unfulfilled dream of yours. Be honest with yourself and your teens about your goals and theirs.

November 13, 2006
By Christie Crowder

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