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The New Unwritten Rule for Parents that Hurts Everyone

Helmets. Knee pads. Harnesses. Car Seats. Baby On Board signs in the back of the mini van. Diaper changing tables in the public restrooms. These are all signs of the times. And, for the most part, I believe they’re good signs; signals that adults have made children a priority.

With these signs, however, there is an unintended consequence. Let me explain.

Fifty years ago, my parents raised three children with the goal of developing healthy adults by the time we reached 18 years old. Because preparing us for adulthood was their goal, they made several decisions that today might seem strange:

  • They didn’t argue with Little League umpires on my behalf.
  • They didn’t solve our problems for us when we had conflict at school.
  • They didn’t remove obstacles as I struggled with my first job.
  • They didn’t race to purchase the latest gadget when it hit the market.
  • They didn’t negotiate to upgrade my test scores with my teachers.
  • They didn’t over medicate us to ensure our days were easy.

A New Report Card for Parents

Today, society seems to embrace a new unwritten rule for parents. It’s a gauge by which we all seem to measure whether we’re succeeding or failing at being a good mom or dad. It’s a total shift from the parents a generation ago. Here is the new report card parents allow themselves to be evaluated by:

You must provide your child every advantage possible to get ahead.

This ambition seems right at first. After all, what kid wouldn’t want his or her parent to be their advocate? What child doesn’t enjoy Mom stepping in and making things happen? The kid feels comfort, as an adult does the work. The parent’s ego is stroked as they enjoy being the superhero. In the end, however, this is short-term thinking. We may “save the day” but ultimately, we don’t save the kid. They end up disabled as young adults, needing someone else to navigate or negotiate for them. One college student actually admitted to me, “My mom is like my agent.”

Over the last two years, I have spoken at 70 parenting events, all over the country. I see this new “rule” almost everywhere I go. And when parents feel they must give their child every advantage possible, life becomes a competition to provide, resource, even spoil the child. At one conference I had a dad raise his hand with a question. He said, “So, Dr. Elmore, can you clarify what you’re saying? Are you saying we should not give our children everything they ask for?”

He was serious. He’d bought into the new report card.

Why This Is Not a Good Idea

Let me explain some of the reasons this is a damaging idea in the long run:

1. It is a nearly impossible goal to make most parents feel guilty.

When pushing for advantages is our goal, we can never quite measure up. There is always another better trainer out there, coaching others in sports. There is always a better stimulant to help other kids do better in school. There’s always another parent who can provide better than you can. This leads to disappointment and guilt. It is an elusive target for parents.

2. It totally misses the idea of training kids to deal with difficult situations.

When parents target giving kids advantages, we tend to look for shortcuts. We drift from the long process of disciplining them to do things for themselves, and we try to do the job for them. We seek an easy or quick way for them to test out of classes; to get more playing time; to get what they deserve. They enter adulthood unready to endure tough marriages, jobs or kids.

3. It creates entitled kids who expect others to offer them an advantage.

When parents work to get kids advantages, the kids figure out this scorecard and begin expecting it and even demanding it. We create entitled children who look to someone else to open doors and offer them perks. They act like prima donnas who deserve favors served up on a silver platter. It’s a slippery slope that is very difficult to stop once you’ve started.

4. It pits parents against each other, rather than sharing the responsibility of creating cooperative citizens out of our children.      

When I was a student and got in trouble at school, my parents would find out and I’d get in trouble a second time. Today, if a student gets in trouble in class, parents tend to march down to challenge the teacher, siding with their child. This new scorecard turns adults against each other, rather than working in collaboration with each other to develop a healthy young adult.

So, today, let’s support our kids differently. Let’s help them do a task, not do it for them. Let’s equip them to do the essentials, then cheer them on as they do it.


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The New Unwritten Rule for Parents that Hurts Everyone