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How to Land Your Kid in Therapy

Lori Gottlieb’s July/August cover story told coddling mothers and fathers that their parenting techniques were ruining their children. Parents, therapists, teachers, and even kids wrote in to share their perspective.

Lori Gottlieb and the psychologists she cites have found a new way to blame parents. Instead of the old nasty, cold, or absent parents, today’s parents are too protective and permissive, offer too many choices, build false self-esteem through undeserved praise, and cling to adult children to fill their own lonely needs. What is fascinating to this old psychiatrist is Dr. Gottlieb’s failure to mention nonfamilial causes of despair like economic depression, global warming, nuclear and cyber terrorism, famine, drought, disease, and existential despair, all of which are beyond parental influence. With all deference to Philip Larkin, your parents did not “fuck you up”; being born did. I suggest we accept our fate, not find a new way to blame our parents, and work toward a better world outside of the therapist’s office.

William S. Appleton, M.D.
Harvard Medical School
Cambridge, Mass.

Research examining parent/child ties reveals findings different from those observed by therapists. Our study examining hundreds of parents and thousands of grown children confirmed Gottlieb’s assertion that parents today are more involved in their grown children’s lives than was the case 30 years ago. A quarter of young adults reported receiving financial, practical, and emotional support from their parents several times a week. These young adults did not suffer mental-health problems, however, or have difficulties making decisions. Quite the opposite: young adults who had the closest relationships with parents reported the best psychological adjustment.

Certainly, some young adults are smothered by parental overinvolvement. But young adults today confront difficult economic circumstances, high demands for education, and uncertainties in finding a mate. For many of them, turning to loving parents who have life experience and resources is beneficial.

Karen Fingerman
Director, Adult Family Study
Austin, Texas

As a therapist and a mom, I thought this article was right on. The most prevalent issue I see, especially among the 20-something set of patients, is the struggle with being ordinary. Underneath it are the feelings we as a society have come to name the “mid-20s crisis"—a lack of direction professionally and in relationships, and a sense that one can do anything and yet a simultaneous feeling of inadequacy and falseness.

Instead of trying to be happy all the time, my patients, and my 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter, need to work on feeling sad, scared, disappointed, and angry, and having that not feel catastrophic to their experience of themselves.

Cara Maniaci Behrman
TheAtlantic.com comment

What Gottlieb doesn't mention in her article is that tens of millions of non-spoiled children still exist right here in the U.S. of A. Where are they? One needs only to peek outside the professional class. Child-rearing still varies sharply by class in America, and if Gottlieb and her sources were to go hang out at a Walmart in Appalachia, or a park in a poor neighborhood, I suspect they'd be delighted to find lots of parents taking exactly the non-coddling, limited-choice approach they think this country needs.

Jay Gabler
Excerpt from The Tangential blog post

It is amazing that Lori Gottlieb spoke to experts, authors, and therapists to come to a conclusion that, to some of us parents, is exceedingly obvious. Good job—you deserve a participation award.

Michael Nedeltscheff
Philadelphia, Pa.

In the great quest for their children’s self-esteem, parents have missed the one factor that makes self-esteem so rewarding—namely, that it has been earned. It is most certainly not something that can be given to, or forced on, another person.

Andrea Economos
Scarsdale, N.Y.

Clearly, Lori Gottlieb has not recently spent time in a public school, which is a very ego-crushing place. The worth of individuals is determined by how well students perform as compared to their peers. Most students who do not end up in the highest-level classes or receive the highest grades are likely to feel either worthless or stupid. The “trophy for everybody ”philosophy has little effect on self-esteem. Kids are generally able to tell when a trophy or honorable mention is not deserved, so this philosophy merely deflates the value of the trophy. The only people the adults are fooling in giving out these trophies are themselves.

Neil Muscat
Student, Hershey High School
Hummelstown, Pa.


Celebrity Tweets of the Month

This is a GREAT read for any parent or future parent - How to Land Your Kid In Therapy

@TheAtlantic I'm going to print it out and put it in my “baby ”folder.

@Alyssa_Milano


Lori Gottlieb replies:

I'm thrilled that this piece has generated a discussion among parents, psychologists, young adults, educators, and employers. I'm sorry, however, that William Appleton feels that I and the experts I interviewed are blaming parents. Instead, the intention was to provide some perspective that could help parents relax a little. Just as one expert in the piece noted that “there’s a difference between being loved and being constantly monitored, ”there’s also a difference between informing and blaming. As a parent who tends toward the helicopter end of the spectrum, I found reporting this piece to be tremendously eye-opening. While the takeaway is what we all know deep down—that there’s no one “right ”way to raise children and no such thing as a perfect parent—I'm now more aware that my need to take my child’s emotional temperature is more about my parental anxiety than about what my son really needs. It’s also true, as Appleton says, that “being born ”is a challenging condition in itself, but that’s exactly why many of the experts were suggesting that the more our children learn to manage life’s difficulties rather than have these difficulties managed for them, the better off they'll be in the long run.

Karen Fingerman is right on with the research she cites: close, supportive, and loving relationships with parents do tend to make for better-adjusted kids. In my piece, however, I'm making a distinction that many parents (myself included) struggle with. That is, being involved, loving, and supportive is different from doing everything we can so that our children don't have to experience disappointment, rejection, failure, and the realization that they might be ordinary (like the majority of us) and don't deserve special treatment from everybody they encounter.

Kudos to Michael Nedeltscheff for already knowing all of this. His children are very lucky.

Neil Muscat says that public school is a very ego-crushing place, and I'd add that the world at large is great for our humility. He echoes what I say in the article: that kids start to feel “worthless or stupid ”because they've always been told by their parents that they are supremely extraordinary, and so they have no sense of authentic worth (character, kindness, a true talent in one area). They know that trophies are divorced from merit, and that the world (teachers, employers) doesn't applaud and yell “Good job! ”just because they breathed in and breathed out. All the more reason to prepare kids for life outside the parental bubble.

By the Numbers

Lori Gottlieb’s July/August cover story, “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy, ”was the most “liked ”story on Facebook to date. Here’s how some recent cover stories stack up:

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