12 Ways to Mess Up Your Kids

While some parents may feel that the safest place to experiment with substances is in the home, being too permissive about alcohol or drug use can backfire, giving kids the idea that underage drinking is OK as long as it's at home. "You must set an example for responsible alcohol use," says Hubbard, "and enforce the laws regarding underage drinking. Children watch their parents from very young ages, and they know what coming home drunk looks like."

Overly permissive parenting can be a concern in other areas, not just the drug and alcohol realm. Finding your way between being an authority figure and being confident can be tricky, but it's an important balance to strike. Being authoritative -- using your years and accumulated knowledge to explain to your children -- is different from being authoritarian, or someone who says "my way or the highway." It's not hard to guess which has the more lasting beneficial effect on a teenager or young child.


With our incredibly busy lives today, family mealtimes can become a casualty. When the kids are young, it's natural to have an early meal for them, and one later for grown-ups. And with teens who tend to snack a lot and have after-school activities, it's easy for the evening meal to become an "every man for himself" event.

More and more research shows that families who eat together are healthier, both physically and mentally. As Hubbard says, "family meal time has somehow become an enigma rather than the norm. How this has evolved is not clear, but numerous studies have shown that children who eat family meals have more academic success in school, have less attention and behavior problems, have less drug and alcohol use and definitely have better table manners."

Families who eat together are also thinner and have reduced risk for eating disorders. So as much as is possible, try to have sit-down meals together, talking about the good and bad points in your day, and just being together. "Don't stress over family meals!" says Hubbard. "You can buy pre-made food, add a few of your family's favorite ingredients and enjoy it around the table."

Pediatrician Jim Sears, co-host of the television show The Doctors, calls stocking the cabinets with junk food one of the most common mistakes we make. Depriving kids of nutritious food and making them overweight is a sure way to mess up kids. "It all comes down to shopping habits, and turning these around can make a big difference when it comes to our kids' health." According to Sears, "if you look at most pantries, you'll find cookies, chips, and soda, even though the people that stock those pantries will say they're trying to avoid junk. If it's sitting in the fridge ... you will see it and you will eat it. Even worse: your kids will see it and grow up thinking that you are supposed to have junk food in stock all the time."

"I always encourage my families to change their thinking on how they shop. Having junk food around the house should be the exception, not the rule," Sears says.  If you want to replace the junk food with healthier options, try doing it gradually (your kids might rebel if you do it all at once).


Though it's tempting to hop in the car to make a quick run to the grocery story, Sears' second piece of advice to families is to opt for activity whenever you can. "By this," he says, "I don't mean going to the gym five days a week.... What I mean is that your family chooses being active whenever possible. You ride bikes or walk to school. You walk to the park, post office, coffee shop.... You can walk a few blocks from your office to grab lunch, and take the stairs." You might even think about getting a dog.

"People talk about a genetic component to being overweight, but if a person is active, then they can overcome any genetic pre-disposition they may have," Sears says. "I think this shows that humans were designed to be moving most of the time, instead of sitting in a classroom or behind a desk. Sure, sitting may be a part of your job, but if you look for any excuse to move, and to get your family moving, you will all be much healthier and have better job or school performance. Let your kids think that being active is normal."

Your kids may moan and groan now when you tell them the movie is out, but a day hike with picnic is in, but these habits will stay with them in the years to come. Not only will they make your kids healthier as they age, (research keeps coming in that suggests the more active we stay, the more we reduce our risk for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cognitive decline, and even early death), but presumably they'll pass this healthy lifestyle down onto their own children as well.


We're all aware of the impact that our parenting has on our children. But sometimes it's easy to push that idea to the extreme, and feel that everything you do will have a make-or-break impact on your child's success.

If you can't get him into the best elementary school, what will become of his academic aspirations? If you don't find the perfect balance between discipline and easygoingness how will this affect his development? Is the fact that he pushed a kid on the playground today because you let him see a violent cartoon? If your child has a great day in Little League, don't assume your coaching was the reason.

Becoming a guilt-ridden and intense parent is one sure way to mess up your kids. Dr. Hans Steiner, professor emeritus of child psychiatry at Stanford University, cautions parents not to assume sole responsibility for their child's issues. There are many other factors in his life besides you, which will affect his personality and development: genes, other family members, school, friends, and so on. So when things go wrong, don't beat yourself up, since it is very likely not you and you alone that led to the problem.

On the flip side, says Steiner, don't assume that you have no role in your child's development. Some people may operate from the assumption that a child's successes and problems are mainly due to genes, or the teachers at school, rather than you. Both extremes are just that: extremes. Like so many aspects of parenting, there is a balance. You are important in your child's life, but you're not the only factor.


You're reading this to learn some parenting disasters and tips. But as stated earlier, one-size-fits-all parenting is unrealistic, since children's personalities vary so greatly. Steiner advises parents to be aware of the "goodness-of-fit" between themselves and their children when it comes to personality and natural temperament. Psychologists have outlined nine different temperament traits (some of which include attention span, mood, and activity level), which all combine to form three basic temperament types: Easy/flexible, difficult/feisty, and cautious/slow to warm up.

Needless to say, your child's temperament interacts with yours. Some parents and kids temperaments work well together, but others are more of a work in progress. Your children's temperaments may be very different from your own -- and you can't change either one. Just think about the fastidious mom with a sloppy kid, or the hard-driving dad with a laidback child. It's up to you to be mindful of these differences and work around them.

Once you're aware of the phenomenon, you can figure out new ways to interact with and respond to your child to minimize friction. One recent University of Washington study found that when parenting styles were more closely tailored to their children's needs, kids had significantly less depression and anxiety than kids whose parents were less tuned in to their children's personalities. You will also be able to construct schedules and activities that will be a better fit with his or her temperament.

Being aware of the natural temperament and needs of your child is one of the necessary (and wonderful) parts of being a parent. There's a lot you can't change, so delight in the distinct little personality that he or she is -- and will grow into, in the years to come.

Image: Vadim Ivanov/Shutterstock.

This article originally appeared on TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com.

Presented by

Alice G. Walton, PhD, is a health journalist and an editor at The Doctor Will See You Now.

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