How parents' unfulfilled dreams can affect their children

Are you letting your past disappointments influence what your child does?

Hey dads, have you ever forced your son to play a sport even if he didn't want to? Moms, have you ever pushed your daughter towards a certain activity whether she had any interest in it or not?

If the answer is yes, then you're certainly not alone, because there are plenty of parents who want their kids to try new things.

Of course there are some parents who just want to expose their children to new ideas, but there are other parents who use their kids to make up for their own unfulfilled dreams.

In a new study conducted by a team of Dutch researchers and Brad Bushman, a communication and psychology professor at Ohio State University, it was found that a lot of children get pushed into activities, because their parents have trouble seeing them as individuals.

"Some parents see their children as extensions of themselves, rather than as separate people with their own hopes and dreams," said Bushman. "These parents may be most likely to want their children to achieve the dreams that they themselves have not achieved."

Way too pushy

Although some may not be surprised by these findings, Bushman says this particular study was the first to examine why some parents are way too pushy.

First, researchers gathered 73 parents who had at least one child between the ages of 8 and 15. It just so happened that 89% of the participants were mothers, researchers said.

From there, the researchers surveyed the parents to see how much they saw their children as individuals. The parents had to choose from a scale that determined if they saw their children as mere extensions of themselves or as separate beings.

Then, one group of participants had to list two ambitions they tried to fulfill in their life but never did. And the second group was told to list an unfulfilled ambition of someone they knew.

The parents then had to answer a series of questions so researchers could gauge how many of those unfulfilled dreams had to do with pushing their child into an activity.

One of the statements the parents had to answer was, "I hope my child will reach goals that I wasn't able to reach."

At the conclusion of the study, researchers learned the parents who focused on their own unfulfilled ambitions -- as opposed to focusing on the ambitions of someone they knew -- were more likely to want their kids to follow the same dreams they did.

Most of the parents who thought this way were unable to see their kids as individuals, researchers said.

Feelings of regret

PhotoBushman says a big reason that some parents push their kids into certain activities is because it helps them deal with their own feelings of regret. 

"Parents then may bask in the reflected glory of their children, and lose some of the feelings of regret and disappointment that they couldn't achieve these same goals," he said. "They might be living vicariously through their children."

Dr. Madeline Levine, a psychologist and author of "Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success," says some parents use their children to provide meaning in their own lives. In addition, she says some parents become so obsessed with an unfulfilled dream that they pass that obsession onto their child.

"The cost of this relentless drive to perform at unrealistically high levels is a generation of kids who resemble nothing so much as trauma victims," wrote Levine.

"They become preoccupied with events that have passed, obsessing endlessly on a possible wrong answer or missed opportunity. They are anxious and depressed and often self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Sleep is difficult and they walk around in a fog of exhaustion. Other kids simply fold their cards and refuse to play."

In addition, Levine says that parents should simply encourage things like creativity, diligence, eagerness and self-efficacy.

Diane Ehrensaft, Ph.D., agrees and says parents shouldn't put their kids in too many activities, because children need their own time and space to figure out what they like.

"Middle-class children in America are so overscheduled that they have almost no 'nothing time,' "said Ehrensaft in a published interview.

"They have no time to call on their own resources and be creative. Creativity is making something out of nothing, and it takes time for that to happen. "

"In our efforts to produce Renaissance children who are competitive in all areas, we squelch creativity," she says.

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