Skip to main content

How not to be a scary stage parent

updated 3:28 PM EST, Wed December 4, 2013
Whether it's soccer matches or beauty pageants like this one in Norwich, England, parents can become highly invested in their children's performance-based success. Click through the gallery to view stage parents and their famous offspring. Whether it's soccer matches or beauty pageants like this one in Norwich, England, parents can become highly invested in their children's performance-based success. Click through the gallery to view stage parents and their famous offspring.
HIDE CAPTION
Photos: Stage parents and their famous kids
Stage parents and their famous kids
Stage parents and their famous kids
Stage parents and their famous kids
Stage parents and their famous kids
Stage parents and their famous kids
Stage parents and their famous kids
Stage parents and their famous kids
Stage parents and their famous kids
Stage parents and their famous kids
Stage parents and their famous kids
Stage parents and their famous kids
Stage parents and their famous kids
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A study says stage parents may be piling their unfulfilled ambition on their children
  • Performance-oriented parents can run the risk of alienating children with pressure
  • Learning to stick with something is an important lesson for kids, an expert says
  • But it's important to allow children to make decisions for themselves at some point

Kelly Wallace is CNN's new digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. She's a mom of two girls and lives in Manhattan. Read her inaugural column below, and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

(CNN) -- Every time a dad at my 5-year-old daughter's basketball practice screams from the sidelines urging his son to run faster and shoot better, I cringe and wonder whether he's trying to live out his own failed hoop dreams through his son. When I see this same dad take to the court after practice and try to shoot like Michael Jordan, I think my theory is right.

And now a study, for the first time, backs it up.

Published in the journal PLOS One, the study is the first to investigate what motivates those sports dads like the one I mentioned and the stage moms you have no doubt witnessed at ballet class and gymnastics.

Researchers worked with 73 parents (89% were moms) from the Netherlands who were, on average, around 43 years old and had children between the ages of 8 and 15. They found that the parents who often saw their children as part of themselves were more likely motivated by their own unfulfilled dreams and ambitions.

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

"I think this is something that has long been assumed, and never supported through research," said Dr. Jennifer Hartstein, a New York City-based child, adolescent and family psychologist and author of the book, "Princess Recovery: A How-to Guide to Raising Strong, Empowered Girls Who Can Create Their Own Happily Ever Afters."

"It's a small study, but it is meaningful in that it highlights how this could be detrimental to children."

While the study did not explore specifically whether these so-called stage parents can harm their kids, Hartstein, who appears regularly on network television news programs including on CNN, said they can, especially when their kids' activities serve them as much as their child.

"If a father was a failed guitar player, he may really push his child to learn the guitar, to practice all the time, and focus on being the best in that area," said Hartstein. "This is harmful because it minimizes the child's ability to make decisions for himself. The parent looks at his child as an extension of himself, rather than as his own person."

The end result could be a child feeling less confident in his or her own abilities, and worrying too much about mom or dad. "This kind of pressure can also lead a child to fear disappointing his parent, as he is aware, on some level, that his parent is living vicariously through him," she said.

That is exactly what I think about when I see my daughter's teammate on the basketball court; I wonder how much he's worrying about not shooting as well as his daddy wishes he could.

How much do you push?
Now while many of us, myself included, might not be stage parents (or admit it!), we often want to encourage our kids, maybe even put pressure on them to do things they don't want to do. But how much do you push? My 7-year-old seems to be a natural in gymnastics and dance, but she doesn't want to take any more gymnastics or dance classes. Do I push her to take them even though she says no?

As I struggled with that question, I remembered an interview I did with first lady Michelle Obama when I was at iVillage.com. Obama admitted that Malia, who turns 15 in July, and has played tennis since she was little, wanted to give up the sport at one point but the first lady wouldn't let her.

"I just sort of said, look, you're going to do tennis, and you're going to do tennis because I want you to do an individual sport. It's not about you being a good tennis player. It's about you learning how to stick with something hard and get better at it ... because that's ... what life is," the first lady told me during the informal interview last summer in her East Wing office. "Life is getting through stuff that's hard, teaching yourself that you can do hard things and you get better at them and then they get easier."

Beth Engelman, co-founder of the blog Mommy on a Shoestring, said if her 7-year-old son had his way, he'd only play soccer, but she pushes him to take karate and tennis lessons, too.

"He hates it, but I make him do it ... because I want him to at least have that well-roundedness," she said. "I think that it's so easy in this day and age to be like alright, fine, more down time, but I think it's good to sort of push them at least until they get to middle school and then they can make their own decision."

Hartstein said there is a "fine line" between encouragement and pressure, and that we, as parents, need to be honest with ourselves about where we fall on that line.

"Encouraging your child to be the best, to work her hardest, to challenge herself to achieve great things is great," she said. "Pushing them to the brink, where the emotions are always at the surface, and ignoring when there is some shut-down, is not healthy and could be detrimental to your child. It could actually lead to self-esteem issues, depression, anxiety and other mental health related issues."

We've all heard the tragic tale of the successful child actor who burned out in a haze of drugs and dysfunction after hitting his teens. Or the elite young athlete who never wants to touch a racket again after a lifetime of training to the breaking point. Pushing a kid to the top can be perilous.

How to avoid becoming a stage mom or dad
The best advice, Hartstein said, is to talk with your child and take time to really listen. We, as parents, should be checking in to find out how our kids are responding to our pressure and to gauge what their resistance is really about. But the biggest advice is probably this: We need to determine the reason we are pushing in the first place. Is it for our child or solely for us?

So I keep asking myself whether my desire to see my daughter take dance and gymnastics is more about me, since I enjoyed both activities as a kid. Is it because I know she's good at both and I want to push her, as in the case of Malia Obama, to keep going until she gets really good and can then decide if she wants to give them up?

I haven't figured out those answers yet, so for now, her dance and gymnastics future is on hold, but I admit I have those class schedules at the ready -- just in case!

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:20 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
November is National Adoption Awareness Month. CNN's Michaela Pereira grew up in a family of five adopted girls in Canada and eventually reunited with her biological half-sister.
updated 2:39 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
It began for Nickolay Lamm as a question: What would Barbie look like if she had the dimensions of an average woman?
updated 9:16 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Bill Cosby was thought of as a perceptive comedian and genial father figure. Now, that persona pairs with another, much darker image.
updated 12:35 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
If you think 'my teen would never sext,' you might be mistaken. Recent studies suggest it's more common than many parents might want to admit.
updated 6:44 AM EST, Fri November 14, 2014
I pictured myself graduating from college, getting a cool job and even having a cute place of my own. Instead, I wake to the early-morning sounds of my family dog barking and my parents making coffee downstairs.
updated 12:38 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Samantha Futerman and Anais Bordier tease, poke and prod each other like they've grown up together, but they didn't. Neither woman knew she had an identical twin sister until less than two years ago.
updated 9:02 AM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
A school district in Maryland has decided to remove all references to religious holidays from its school calendar, leaving some in the community frustrated.
updated 12:06 PM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
Female veterans often have a harder time finding employment than their male counterparts. But why?
updated 3:19 PM EST, Fri November 14, 2014
I simply couldn't believe my eyes. At a children's party this year, I witnessed full-on "mean girl" behavior.
updated 12:24 PM EST, Mon November 10, 2014
Several children were sent to the hospital after being sickened by ingesting detergent pods.
updated 9:46 AM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
There are plenty of times when I literally wish I could take a hammer to the portrayal of girls and women in the media. In a new ad, a little girl gets to do just that.
updated 10:09 AM EST, Sat November 8, 2014
"Playing doctor" and "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" are common rites of passage in childhood sexual behavior, according to the experts.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 6, 2014
A tech startup claims credit for making Alex from Target go viral, but there's skepticism about how involved it was, if at all.
updated 5:47 PM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
A soft toy for cribs lets babies post pictures of themselves to social media.
updated 11:55 AM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
Schools are increasingly confronting a controversial question: Should they do more to monitor students' online interactions off-campus to keep them safe?
updated 11:56 AM EST, Thu November 6, 2014
The National Toy Hall of Fame recently inducted three new favorites into its hallowed halls. What's your favorite?
updated 10:09 AM EDT, Fri October 31, 2014
We don't know, and may never know, what led to the Washington school shooting, but we have to ask ourselves, following this tragedy, if we are doing enough to help our boys deal with difficult emotions without resorting to violence.
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
The viral video of a New York woman being catcalled on the street has men asking, "So, what should I do?" The answer starts with respect.
updated 2:40 PM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
Trick-or-treating and dressing in costume have been Halloween traditions for a good long time now, but it seems we're still struggling to get it right.
updated 4:38 PM EDT, Fri October 31, 2014
Yes, there's actually corn in it. Corn syrup, if that counts.
updated 2:28 PM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Walmart found itself sending apology tweet after apology tweet after the Twitterverse raked it over the coals for a major goof on its website.
updated 4:02 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
There aren't too many times when I'm speechless about what I consider an outrageous example of parenting. This is one of those times.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Holy crap, LeVar Burton.
updated 5:38 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Critics pounced on supermodel Gisele Bundchen for advocating a little mommy "me time" recently. When did it become a crime to admit that you -- as a parent -- put yourself first?
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Not again.
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
"Breaking Bad's" drug-dealing chemistry teacher Walter White will have to stop making the sale at Toys R Us.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
I happen to agree with Renee Zellweger that all the chatter about her face is "silly." But I, and many other women I talked with via email Wednesday, would add some other choice words to the mix to describe the non-stop attention about her appearance: nasty, cruel, hurtful, invasive and sexist.
updated 6:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
I have long thought millennials, who expect flexibility in the workplace, would be the group that would bring an end to the stigma that is too often associated with flex time -- the belief that wanting a flexible work arrangement means you aren't willing to work as hard. But now I'm thinking it's going to be men who will get us there.
updated 7:40 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Say it with us: Kids today have it sooooo easy.
updated 2:29 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
An Atlanta judge reportedly reprimanded an immigration attorney for bringing her 4-week-old to court for a hearing -- a hearing she asked the judge to reschedule because she was on her six-week maternity leave.
updated 11:04 AM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Monica Lewinsky tweeted for the first time. She called herself "patient zero" of cyber-bullying.
updated 3:43 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Meet Shyanne Roberts, a 10-year-old competitive shooter with something to prove: "Kids and guns don't always mean bad things happen."
updated 9:50 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
strawberry ghosts
We love Halloween season. Sweets. Sweaters. Sipping hot cider (maybe spiked). Halloween can certainly get you in the spirit, and nothing warms our hearts like these healthy Halloween treats that help you stay energized instead of stuck in a sugar coma.
updated 3:23 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Does your baby cry during long flights, causing you to want to disappear from the glares of fellow passengers?
updated 4:14 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Ask any teen if they suffer from social media anxiety and they would probably tell you no. But the truth is getting "likes" and the fear of missing out are adding stress to teens' lives.
updated 9:13 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Many photographers have taken it upon themselves to document stillborn and terminal babies' precious moments after birth.
updated 3:46 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
As part of the insurance coverage offered to its female employees, Facebook is paying to freeze their eggs.
updated 2:15 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Amal Alamuddin was well-known in many important circles long before she snagged the world's most eligible bachelor. But Amal Alamuddin is now Amal Clooney, according to her law firm's website.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Trends in young adult fiction have shifted from wizards to glittering vampires to bloodthirsty "Hunger Games" and now, to teens coping with illnesses and realistic issues.
updated 8:56 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Before he died this year, 14-year-old Martin Romero wanted to do something for his community.
updated 6:33 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
A 12-year-old girl called Dick's Sporting Goods out on its lack of female athletes in the Basketball 2014 catalog.
updated 12:36 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Before he was even born, Shane Michael Haley had already met the Philadelphia Phillies, been to the top of the Empire State Building and shared a cheesesteak with his parents.
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Fri October 10, 2014
I couldn't quite believe my eyes when I read the initial comments from Microsoft's CEO on how women who don't ask for raises will receive "good karma."
cnn, parents, parenting, logo
Get the latest kid-related buzz, confessions from imperfect parents and the download on the digital life of families here at CNN Parents.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT