Pushy parents result in anxious children


Art by Moy Zhong

Rochita Ghosh

Thanks to television shows such as ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ and ‘Dance Moms’, many people consider parents of child pageant contestants to be overbearing and living vicariously through their children, as reported on the BBC Network.
Although RBHS parent Christine Spurling is a pageant parent herself, she watches many of her compatriots in horror.
“I have seen girls in the pageant world attend pageant after pageant with no win. Although the girls are learning tenacity from this, I hope it is a personal decision for them to continue and not a pushy parent,” Spurling said. “I feel this could be very damaging on a girl’s self-esteem to keep going to pageants where they are never granted a title if they are only being pushed by a parent.”
Her daughter, senior Rachel Spurling, has taken part in pageants since she was 12 years old. Unlike the public perception of pageant parents, Spurling said her parents have never forced her into doing anything — in fact, she was the one who suggested competing in beauty pageants to her mother.
“My parents have always been supportive of anything that I want to do and have held a high standard for me,” Rachel Spurling said. “Growing up, I always wanted to be the best I could be because I wanted to impress my parents and live up to their expectations. My parents have never made me do anything I did not want to do but have been incredibly supportive and 100 percent invested in everything I chose to do.”
Parents of pageant contestants are not the only overbearing guardians. This is commonly referred to as helicopter parenting, where parents hover over their children’s life experiences, often resulting in the parent forcing their children into hobbies they are not interested in. This may also set up unrealistic standards, said Andrew Schofield, a faculty member of Human Development and Family Studies at Iowa State University. He said these parents foster the fear of failure in their children, which can lead to dire consequences.
“Kids who are pushed often feel a lot of anxiety. They’ll sometimes feel depression or feel [not in] control so they do things that are associated with [being in control],” Schofield said. “They may engage in self-harm, injurious behavior or just risky behaviors — things they wouldn’t normally do. They’re not in an okay place emotionally, even if they’re performing accordingly to their parents’ expectations.”
Schofield said typically, children will comply with the forced activity because they trust in their parents implicitly. Eventually, the child will grow into an adult and leave the household and the force behind, but Schofield said the lack of control can follow the person into their future romantic relationships.
“This is why we see continuity across generations in abuse and other sorts of maltreatment,” Schofield said. “When kids move away from their parents, you’d think the abuse would stop, but it doesn’t because the parent taught them that this is what they should expect from the people they love. So we seek out new relationships and we play it out again.”
Schofield acknowledges that parents using their authority to force their child into a certain activity usually does result in excellency, but he believes the side effects are not worth the success. He suggests “nurturing the child into excellency,” but Christine Spurling says sometimes the only option is to nag the child into doing a given activity, if carried out correctly.
“I see ‘nagging’ as something different. I see this as encouraging your child to get something done that is in their interest. Maybe the child doesn’t realize the importance of deadlines and needs constant reminding in order to get something done,” Christine Spurling said. “Some kids need nagging and [others] do not. I’m sure all mothers look forward to the day when their children will be organized and self-motivated, and they won’t need to nag.”
As a parent himself, Schofield agrees, stating that children do not have the same experiences and have not made the same mistakes as he did in past years, and thus are not aware of potential consequences from a given action. He said that the troubles come when the parent never consults alternate paths.
“It’s tempting to want to cut off the conversation when their child wants to do something different or doesn’t see eye to eye with us,” Schofield said. “We say, ‘No, you’re going to do it this way because I’m the parent and I said so.’ Sometimes we do have to draw that line as parents, but parents who push are falling back to that default way too often, making the appeal to authority way too often.”
Christine Spurling takes care to avoid toeing the line between being a naggy parent and an authoritarian one, as she is familiar with the effects of overbearing parents.
“I have always been quite aware of pushy or naggy parents and made a conscientious effort not to be that way,” Christine Spurling said. “I think a parent should be supportive, but I don’t believe in pushing or nagging kids to do something that they don’t want to do. ”