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A Cry for Parental Health

I met a young lady who’s going through what her therapist calls a “quarter-life crisis.” Yep, you read that right. Not a mid-life crisis, but a quarter-life crisis. She’s twenty-five years old and seeing a counselor for depression and disillusionment. I write about her because she’s the fifth young adult I’ve met in the last six months who’s been diagnosed with this crisis.

So why am I seeing an increase? As I meet with young adults and ask them, they all talk about the heavy pressure they feel to perform—in class, on the field, on stage, you name it. As I press them for the source of this pressure, it almost always comes back to their parents. Keep reading. It gets even more enlightening.

Over the last fifty years, we parents have evolved into the biggest headache for teachers, coaches, employers and counselors. I believe the primary reason our kids have not “grown up” to be healthy adults is, quite frankly, because we parents have not done so ourselves. We have somehow transferred our own struggles into the lives of our kids. Think about the competition we create, for example. Whether it’s ballet, piano, little league baseball, or Pop Warner football—we parents are really into ourselves. We hide behind our kids, but we are living out our unlived life through our children. When did this start happening?

Dr. Louis Profeta, M.D., asks the same question. As an emergency room physician, he has seen it all and wonders:

How do we balance being the supportive parent who’ll spend three hours a day driving all over…to allow our child to pursue his or her dream without becoming the supportive parent who drives all over…to push our child to pursue OUR dream? When does this pursuit of stardom become something just shy of a gambling habit? From my experience in the ER, I’ve identified the latter:


1. When I inform you as a parent that your child has just ruptured their ACL ligament or Achilles tendon, and the next question out of your mouth is, “How long until he or she will be able to play?” you have a serious problem.

2. If your child is knocked unconscious during a football game and can’t remember your name…but you feel it’s a “vital” piece of medical information to let me know he’s a starting linebacker and that his team will probably lose because he was taken out of the game, you need to see a counselor.

3. If I tell you that mononucleosis has caused the spleen to swell and that participation in a contact sport could cause a life threatening rupture…and then you ask me, “If we just get some extra padding around the spleen, would it be OK to play?” someone needs to hit you upside the head with a two by four.

4. If your child comes in with a blood alcohol level of .250 after wrecking your Lexus and you ask if I can hurry and get them out of the ER before the police arrive so as not to run the risk of her getting kicked off the swim team, you need to be put in jail.

I bet you think I’m kidding about the above interactions. I wish I were, but I’m not. These are a fraction of the things I’ve heard when it comes to children and sports. Every ER doctor in America sees this. How did we get here?”

The Natural Outcome

It’s the same in the classroom. By the time our children reach high school, 95% of them say they’ve cheated to get through school. In college, 75% admit to cheating to get through their university studies. Why? Parents won’t settle for anything less than stellar, and students are full of angst to meet these expectations.

It’s hardly a surprise that young people nationwide suffer from alarming rates of anxiety, sleep loss, and depression. In the most recent “Stress in America” survey by the American Psychological Association, more than one in four teens reported feeling “extreme levels” of stress during the school year. Studies of childhood stress have shown that unchecked anxiety in children is linked not only with adult mental health troubles, but also with disruptions of brain development, higher rates of disease, and even altered epigenetics.

In my book Generation iY, I share the nationwide College of Health survey, where 94% of students say the best word to describe their life is “overwhelmed,” 44% say they’re so overwhelmed it is difficult to function, and 10% have thought about suicide last year. What is so overwhelming about sports, class, and piano? They’ve been going on for decades, right? I can tell you the difference: today’s parents. We are not being intellectually honest about this issue.

Our Stress Becomes Their Stress

We can say we do these things because our kids are serious about competing, but I think they are usually reflections of us, the parents. It’s our baggage that causes us to feel they must perform so intensely. Kids want to please us and can tell—winning is extremely important. I’m all for identifying their gifts and helping them excel, but if we become obsessed with their performance, we’re unhealthy.

And the worst part is, we actually transfer our unhealthy state. They catch it like a virus; our emotions become their emotions. They grow up stressed and later become emotionally paralyzed, unable to move out of the house, take on a self-regulated life, or care for a spouse or kids themselves. If they try, they end up in a therapist’s office. This is happening by the millions.

Why Do We Do This?

Let me offer some common reasons we parents pressure our kids:

  1. They are a reflection of us, and as a result, our identities can become too closely tied to their performance. If our kid isn’t great, it must mean we have failed as parents.
  1. We work hard to remain hip and relevant, not wanting to be seen as a has-been. It’s as if we get a second chance at “youth” through our children.
  1. We’ve never worked through our own issues and become healthy, well-adjusted adults who can model what life should look like at forty-years-old.

So allow me to say the obvious: The best way you can improve as a parent is to grow emotionally healthy as a person yourself. Relax about your child’s scores and pay attention to your own. They will surely reflect the life you live.

Our newest book is out:

12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid – It outlines practical and effective leadership skills for both parents and educators on how to avoid common pitfalls including:

-making happiness a goal instead of a by-product
-not letting students fail or suffer consequences
-praising their beauty and intelligence

Take the FREE Quiz Here


  1. Ken Shepherd on October 30, 2014 at 6:49 am

    Back in June at the Growing Leaders Forum I remember asking you the $64,000 question: ” How do we get to the parents, because they are more messed up than the kids are!” I am still trying to figure out how to get to them and getting a little more frustrated. Nancy and I always discuss how important the word balance is in life and what happens when we let life get out of balance, three things I remember growing up: 1) Marriages were so much more solid, I can hardly remember a friend that had divorced parents, 2) I DO NOT remember ANY of my friends that were on ANY medications of any sort, and 3) I know there were psycho killers around, but I do not remember kids going into schools and murdering other kids! I thought Nancy had an insightful comment the other day, “In a lot of instances now we have replaced good parenting practices with medications.”
    God bless you guys at Growing Leaders and please keep up the good work, and keep the information coming! Let’s keep trying to figure out how to get to the message out to the parents, I will be sending this blog out to other friends!
    Ken Shepherd

    • Tim Elmore on October 30, 2014 at 2:38 pm

      I love that question, Ken. Thank you for being part of the solution. I hope my newest book is a small piece to the puzzle of helping today’s parents.

      Keep up the great work.


  2. MIssy on November 2, 2014 at 8:19 am

    Parents have become a handicap to their children’s well-being in all areas of success over the last 20 years. The parents have issues that haven’t been addressed and they strive for recognition through their children’s success. Until, they change and get help for their own issues, nothing will change. I also think teenagers are lazy these days and that may also contribute to why they cheat. Why would a 16 year old want to stop playing xbox, when he can pay someone online to write the paper for him?!

  3. Courtney Barnes on November 3, 2014 at 8:56 pm

    Thank you so much for this article! I’ve been wondering if I sucked as a parent because I honestly do not see the point of so many travel teams, extra coaching, nonstop running all over the universe for sports for my children while they’re still in gradeschool. Don’t get me wrong, if they seemed INTERNALLY motivated to do it, that’s one thing. They just want to play for the fun of it. Which is fine with me. If they had some insane athletic ability I might feel differently. But they don’t seem to…at least not yet (not sure if you can tell in 3rd and 6th grade).
    I guess I sometimes feel compelled to go to soccer practice because so many other parents do, and I certainly don’t want my kids to feel like I don’t care. But to be honest, there are a million things I’d rather be doing! Practice is BORING…there I said it! I love going to the games and watching them play, but seirously, I don’t find it fascinating to watch them run drills, or work on their ball-handling skills.
    And yes, I’m an athletic person. I played high school basketball and our team won the state championship. I just grew up in an era where parents dropped me off at practice. I would have been absolutely MORTIFIED if my mom stayed there and critiqued my layups….
    Hopefully I don’t sound like an awful parent. I do love my children. I just happen to like my big-girl job and would rather focus my energy on that than their atheltics. I’ll leave that to the coaches.

    • Ken Shepherd on November 4, 2014 at 9:18 pm

      Amen, well said Courtney.

  4. Lyudmila Choporova on November 9, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    Dear Tim ! Every time I am reading Your Growing Leaders issues I become very excited , because I feel , You are hitting the most important things . I am a retired teacher , but I go on working with children and see how they change. You are busy sharing especial important Information with millions of people, without any doubt it will have a great result and I wish You not to give up Your struggle for the better future for the next generations. I show Your letters and translate them to those teachers who do not have a computer or do not understand English ( we live in Russia).I am happy to receive Your issues.

    • Tim Elmore on November 11, 2014 at 8:35 am

      Hi Lyudmila. I am honored to help. Thank you for leading the next generation in Russia and for taking the time to translate our articles. Keep up the great work!

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A Cry for Parental Health