A parent called me the other day with worry about her son who is a junior in high school. She is worried about his lack of self-direction, and cannot imagine how he will ever be able to even think about the college application process and all it entails when he becomes a senior, when he can't even get himself out of bed in the morning, or work independently to get any of his homework completed, especially any kind of research or writing assignments.
I asked what role she and her husband play with regard to their son. What kind of strategies did they employ to keep him motivated and on task? And then the plot thickened. It seems the dad is heavily invested in his son's future. Dad has a strong relationship with his college Alma Mater and would be heartbroken if his son did not continue to carry the torch for his beloved college. His older daughter is currently a student there. In pursuit of this goal, the father has become CEO of his son's life.
Here are a few examples: His son is on the varsity football team of his high school. He is a good player, not a phenomenal player. Dad attends all his games armed with a video camera, as many parents do, so that 20 years hence they can show their grandkids how cute their dad was in a football uniform. Not this dad. He videos each game so that he and his son can engage in a play-by-play of all his plays to see what this kid did right or wrong. Imagine how this teen feels when he has had a bad game or fumbled the ball one too may times. Not only does he have to answer to his teammates, and his coach, but then he has to go home and face "the man".
Another example: This teen has ADHD and is on medication to help with concentration and attention. When this teen has a paper to do, or an assignment with some heft to it, the father is all over him. Requesting draft after draft, editing, and reediting his son's assignment, both often up till the wee hours of the morning when the paper is due. Needless to say this teen becomes overwrought and overwhelmed by his dad's expectations of him. But the mom reports that this teen is so afraid of his dad's disappointment in him, that he has yet to speak up for himself and tell his father to f**k off!!! Which would be my therapeutic intervention. No wonder this kid has a hard time getting up in the morning. Facing another day of trying to measure up must be exhausting for him. No wonder it takes him so long to complete an assignment, it never feels good enough.
This is an important story. Many parents have a "grand plan" for their kids. How wonderful it would be if everything went according to plan. But your kids bring their own strengths and weaknesses, passions and personalities to the table. And they don't always match with what you see for their future. This dad's Alma Mater could not be a worse match for his son. Maybe the kid is good enough in football to get him in, but academically this kid would be lost at sea, feeling inadequate and never quite good enough. A professional football career is clearly not in the cards, so a failing academic experience could injure him much more profoundly psychologically in the long term than a full out tackle.
This mom is right, this teen is so over-managed that he is developing few skills in becoming an independently motivated and self-directed person. He doesn't need to because his dad is doing it for him.
Please parents, do not set your teen up for failure. Be realistic about who your child is. Help them to set realistic goals for themselves, and allow them to become the person they are meant to be. Adolescence is all about identity development. Who am I? How am I the same as or different from my parents, my friends, or Katniss from The Hunger Games? The term Identity Foreclosure is a term we in the healing arts use to describe situations like this boy and his dad described above. This dad has foreclosed on his son's ability to develop his own sense of who he is and who he wants to become. He is so busy becoming what dad wants, that he may be losing his "real" self in the process. Refinance! Open up the possibility of true ownership!!!!