The Price of Privilege Exerpt
The following excerpt from The Price of Privilege was published in the San Francisco Chronicle on June 25, 2006; page CM - 6.
It was 6:15 p.m. Friday when I closed the door behind my last unhappy teenage patient of the week. I slumped into my well-worn chair feeling depleted and surprisingly close to tears. The 15-year-old girl who had just left my office was bright, personable, highly pressured by her adoring, but frequently preoccupied, affluent parents, and very angry. She had used a razor to incise the word EMPTY on her left forearm, showing it to me when I commented on her typical cutter disguise -- a long-sleeve T-shirt pulled halfway over her hand, with an opening torn in the cuff for her thumb. I tried to imagine how intensely unhappy my young patient must have felt to cut her distress into her flesh.
As a psychologist who has been treating unhappy teens for more than 25 years, I wondered why this particular child left me feeling so ragged. I live and work in an upper-middle-class suburban community with concerned, educated and involved parents who have exceedingly high expectations for their children. In spite of parental concern and economic advantage, many of my adolescent patients suffer from readily apparent emotional disorders: addictions, anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders and assorted self-destructive behaviors. Others are perplexingly and persistently unhappy in ways that are more difficult to quantify. The fact that many of these teens are highly proficient in some areas of their lives helps mask significant impairments in others -- the straight-A student who feels too socially awkward to attend a single school dance, the captain of the basketball team who is abusive toward his mother, the svelte homecoming queen who consistently sees a "fat ugly duckling" in the mirror. Sinking further into my chair, I flipped through my appointment book, searching for clues to my emotional weariness.
I was not surprised by the seriousness of many of my cases. I enjoy working with troubled adolescents and seem to have a knack for developing an easy rapport with them. The eating disordered girls who are enraged by their mother's submissiveness and yet mimic it in their own self-defeating behavior. The junior high school girls with pitiable self- esteem who regularly give oral sex to boys behind the school gymnasium, while insisting that they are not sexually active -- an astonishing redefinition of sexual activity shared by most of their generation. The substance-abusing boys who attempt to ward off depression with drug use but ultimately end up in out-of-the-way places for a year or two of rehab. Often there is a family history of depression or bipolar illness or alcoholism. These teens "look" troubled. Their grades are usually poor, their relationships volatile and their behavior risky. Their parents are terrified when they haul them in for treatment.
But an increasingly large number of my hours were filled with cases that initially seem to be garden-variety adolescent problems. When parents make calls to my office for these kids, there is often little sense of urgency. Some parents may have a vague sense that all is not well and ask me to "take a look" at their child. A few have discovered drug paraphernalia or perhaps an unsettling diary entry and call, hoping I will allay their fears because these same teens are doing well in school and are compliant at home. They may note that their child appears "less sunny," or seems somewhat withdrawn, but these parents don't see their children as troubled -- unhappy maybe, but not troubled. More than a few parents call, not out of their own concern, but at the insistence of their teenager.
In fact, many of these teens have a notable ability to put up a good front. Absent the usual list of suspects -- bad divorces, substance abuse, immobilizing depression, school failure or delinquent behavior -- their parents are frequently surprised by their request to see a therapist. It would be a stretch to diagnose these kids as emotionally ill. They don't have the frazzled, disheveled look of kids who know they are in serious trouble.
Nevertheless, they complain bitterly of being too pressured, misunderstood, anxious, angry, sad and empty. While at first they may not appear to meet strict criteria for a clinical diagnosis, they are certainly unhappy. Most of these adolescents have great difficulty articulating the cause of their distress. There is a vagueness, both to their complaints and in the way they present themselves. They describe "being at loose ends" or "missing something inside" or "feeling unhappy for no reason." While they are aware that they lead lives of privilege, they take little pleasure from their fortunate circumstances. They lack the enthusiasm typically seen in young people.
After a few sessions, sometimes more, the extent of distress among these teenagers becomes apparent. Scratch the surface, and many of them are, in fact, depressed, anxious and angry. Quite a few have been able to hide self-injurious behaviors like cutting, illegal drug use or bulimia from their parents and peers. While many of these teens are verbal and psychologically aware, they don't know themselves very well. They lack practical skills for navigating the world; they can be easily frustrated or impulsive; and they have trouble anticipating the consequences of their actions. They are overly dependent on the opinions of parents, teachers, coaches and peers and frequently rely on others, not only to pave the way on difficult tasks but to grease the wheels of everyday life as well. While often personable and academically successful, they aren't particularly creative or interesting. They complain about being bored; they are often boring.
Treating these teenagers can be more difficult and less rewarding than treating my "sicker" patients. Parents are more likely to deny the fact that their child has run into psychological trouble because the historical markers of adolescent disturbance -- failing grades, withdrawal, and acting out -- are not readily apparent. Yet, my practice was increasingly filled with kids from comfortable homes who, in spite of superficial appearances to the contrary, are extremely unhappy, disconnected and passive. The kind of independence historically coveted in adolescence is strikingly absent from their agendas.
Sensing their children's vulnerabilities, parents find themselves protecting their offspring from either challenge or disappointment. Fearful that their kids will not be sturdy enough to withstand even the most mundane requirements of completing homework, meeting curfew, straightening their rooms or even showing up for dinner, discipline becomes lax, often nonexistent. While demands for outstanding academic or extracurricular performance are very high, expectations about family responsibilities are amazingly low. This kind of imbalance in expectations results in kids who regularly expect others to "take up the slack," rather than learning how to prioritize tasks or how to manage time. Tutors, coaches, counselors and psychotherapists are all enlisted by parents to shore up performance and help ensure the kind of academic and athletic success so prized in my community. While my patients seem passive and disconnected, their parents are typically in a frenzy of worry and overinvolvement. They tend to shower their children with material goods, hoping to buy compliance with parents' goals as well as divert attention away from their children's unhappiness.
A superficial reading of this type of teenager might suggest that they are simply spoiled. It is tempting to trivialize the problems of kids who have been the recipients of exhaustive parental intervention and have been liberally handed both material and educational opportunities. Regardless of how successful these kids look on the surface, they are not navigating adolescence successfully. Modest setbacks frequently send them into a tailspin. A talented 13-year-old seriously considers hacking his way into the school computer system to raise his math grade. An academically outstanding 16-year-old thinks about suicide when her SAT scores come back marginally lower than she had expected. A 14-year-old boy cut from his high school junior varsity basketball team is afraid to go home, anticipating his father's disappointment and criticism. He calls his mother, and tells her that he is going to a friend's house. In fact, he is curled up on my couch, red-eyed and hopeless. He believes he has nothing to live for. While it is tempting to attribute scenarios like these to the histrionics of adolescence, it would be a mistake. Adolescent suicide has quadrupled since 1950.
My mood continued to sink as I scanned my appointment book and realized that the week that had just passed was not significantly different from the week before, or the month before -- or the year before, for that matter. For several years now my practice has been increasingly filled by teenagers whose problems seem out of proportion to their life circumstances. Like all of us who scramble to provide advantages for our children, I had assumed that involvement, opportunity and money would help safeguard the emotional health of children. Yet my appointment book forced me to consider quite the opposite: some aspects of affluence and parental involvement might be contributing to the unhappiness and fragility of my privileged patients.
Why kids who have so much can feel empty
In what therapists are fond of referring to as an "aha moment," I realized that I had been so profoundly affected by my cutter, with her oozing, desperate message, because with the single, raw word EMPTY she had captured the dilemma of many of my teenage patients. Many of my patients have teachers, coaches and, most of all, parents who have actively poured enormous amounts of attention and resources into these children. Paradoxically, the more they pour, the less full many of my patients seem to be. Indulged, coddled, pressured and micromanaged on the outside, my young patients appeared to be inadvertently deprived of the opportunity to develop an inside.
Parents who persistently fall on the side of intervening for their child, as opposed to supporting their child's attempts to problem solve, interfere with the most important task of childhood and adolescence: the development of a sense of self. Autonomy, what we commonly call independence, along with competence and interpersonal relationships, are considered to be inborn human needs. Their development is central to psychological health. In a supportive and respectful family, children go about the business of forging a "sense of self" by being exposed to, and learning to manage, increasingly complex personal and interpersonal challenges.
"Mommy is so proud that I can tie my shoelaces all by myself," is the pleased statement of a youngster who has been allowed the opportunity to master a difficult task on her own, knowing that her mother is also pleased by her growing competence and independence. Similarly, the adolescent who says, "I decided that it was more important to work things out with my best friend than study for my geometry quiz. My mom might not agree, but I think she'll understand," is also honing a sense of self by taking up the challenge of making a decision in the face of competing personal, academic and parental expectations. The fact that her connection with her mother is secure enough to withstand a difference of opinion allows her to make a decision that feels authentically her own because she is not diverted by her mother's needs or anxiety.
It is easy to see how always tying shoelaces for a toddler would be impairing her autonomy. No parent wants to still be tying shoelaces for a 10-year-old. The rationale behind "staying out of it" is less clear with the teenager (often the stakes seem higher -- academics, peer choices, drugs, sex), and parents are far more likely to chime in: "You can talk to your friend after the test. It's important to keep up your grades." The fact that the stakes are higher is all the more reason to provide teenagers with as many opportunities as possible to make their own decisions and learn from the consequences. Just as it was critical for the toddler to fumble with her shoelaces before mastering the art of shoelace tying, so is it critical for the adolescent to fumble with difficult tasks and choices in order to master the art of making independent, healthy, moral decisions that can be called upon in the absence of parents' directives. We all want our children to put their best foot forward. But in childhood and adolescence, sometimes the best foot is the one that is stumbled on, providing an opportunity for the child to learn how to regain balance, and right himself.
When we coerce, intrude on or take over for our children unnecessarily we may be "spoiling" them, but the far more significant consequence is that we are interfering with their ability to construct a sense of self. My patient was empty because she had not been able to develop the internal resources that would make it possible for her to feel that she "owned" her life or could manage her feelings. She felt little control over what happened to her and had no confidence in her ability to handle the curveballs of adolescence. Cutting was one of the few things over which she felt control. Cutting allowed her angry feelings to seep out in a measured way rather than explode.
The reason that so many of my patients feel empty is because they lack the secure, reliable, welcoming internal structure that we call the "self." The boredom, the vagueness, the unhappiness, the reliance on others, all point to kids who have run into difficulty with the very foundation of psychological development. Well-meaning parents contribute to problems in self-development by pressuring their children, emphasizing external measures of success, being overly critical, and being alternately emotionally unavailable or intrusive. Becoming independent, and forging an identity becomes particularly difficult for children under these circumstances.
The popular press has devoted rivers of ink to chronicling the "epidemic" of narcissistic, overinvolved parents producing spoiled, entitled children with poor values. But my experience leads me to a very different conclusion. Most of my patients are deeply troubled, not spoiled; most of their parents are not narcissistic but are struggling, often quite alone, with their own problems. The suffering felt by parents and children alike is genuine, and not trivial. The kids I see have been given all kinds of material advantages, yet feel that they have nothing genuine to anchor their lives. They lack spontaneity, creativity, enthusiasm and, most disturbingly, the capacity for pleasure. As their problems become more evident, their parents become confused and worried sick. As they either withdraw or ratchet up their involvement, their children seem less and less able to accomplish the tasks of childhood and adolescence -- developing friendships, interests, self-control and independence.
The traditional trajectory of adolescence -- withdrawal, irritability, defiance, rejection of parental values, the trying on and discarding of different identities, and, finally, the development of a stable identity -- seems to have given way to a far less successful trajectory. Fewer and fewer affluent teens are able to resist the constant pressure to excel. Between accelerated academic courses, multiple extracurricular activities, premature preparation for high school or college, special coaches and tutors engaged to wring the last bit of performance out of them, many kids find themselves scheduled to within an inch of their lives. Criticism and even rejection become commonplace as competitive parents continue to push their children toward higher levels of accomplishment. As a result, kids can't find the time, both literal and psychological, to linger in internal exploration; a necessary precursor to a well developed sense of self. Fantasies, daydreaming, thinking about oneself and one's future, even just "chilling" are critical processes in self-development and cannot be hurried. Every child has a different timetable, and most are ahead of the pack in some areas and behind in others. We would do well to remember "late bloomers" like Albert Einstein, John Steinbeck, Benjamin Franklin and J.R.R. Tolkein. Sometimes a nudge is helpful, but a shove rarely is.
What looks like healthy assimilation into the family and community -- getting high grades, conforming to parents' and community standards, and being receptive to the interests and activities valued by others -- can be deceptive. Kids can present as models of competence and still lack a fundamental sense of who they are. Psychologists call this the "false self," and it is highly correlated with a number of emotional problems, most notably depression.
Psychological development goes awry when children are pressured into valuing the views of others over their own. A young girl works madly to maintain her high GPA because "my mom would have a breakdown if my grades dropped." This girl might be an enthusiastic student under other circumstances, but her need to keep her mother's anxiety at bay is bound to interfere with her capacity to work independently and with pleasure. Ultimately, motivation for any venture needs to feel like it comes from inside. When it does, it feels "true"; when it comes from outside, it feels "phony." Working primarily to please others and to gain their approval takes time and energy away from children's real job of figuring out their authentic talents, skills and interests. The "false self" becomes particularly problematic in adolescence as teens are required to confront the normal proliferation of "selves" ("I'm so cheerful with my friends, but I feel like a different, unhappy person with my parents") and figure out who is the "real me." Authenticity is not aided when kids have to battle against parents who are implanting other, often unrealistic "selves" -- stellar student, outstanding athlete, perfect kid -- into their teenager's already crowded psychological landscape.
Adolescents need tremendous support as they go about the task of figuring out their identities. Too often what they get is intrusion. Intrusion and support are two fundamentally different processes: support is about the needs of the child, intrusion is about the needs of the parent. I highlight this difference because, without a full appreciation of the desirability of support, warmth and involvement on the one hand, and the damage of intrusion, rejection and criticism on the other, parents will continue to undermine their children's psychological progress in spite of good intentions. As long as kids are not afforded the opportunity to craft a sense of self that feels authentic, a sense of self that truly comes from within, psychologists will continue to see more and more youngsters at risk for profound feelings of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and emptiness.
Why we can't afford to trivialize the problems of privileged kids
Unhappy teenagers are hardly remarkable, and I needed to be certain that what I was observing in my own practice was not simply a puzzling local phenomenon. While it certainly seemed odd that parental concern and financial resources were not having the expected protective effect on the mental health of the kids in my community, I had no evidence that this paradox extended any further than my county line. After all, I live in Marin County, the target of endless stereotypes, some inaccurate, some deserved. My community is relatively homogenous (white, upper-middle-class, well educated), with parents who tend to be highly involved, competitive and extremely anxious about their children's performance. But what, I wondered, was going on in the rest of the country? Were other mental health professionals also seeing the empty, unhappy, hovered-over child of privilege that made up the majority of my practice? Was there any data to substantiate my observation that privileged children with well-educated and financially secure parents were experiencing higher rates of psychological impairment than before? Was it accurate that many of these problems stemmed from a poorly developed sense of self?
I began calling colleagues around the country, talking to mental health workers in urban, suburban and rural areas. I spoke to clinicians who exclusively treat the children of the affluent as well as those whose practices are made up squarely of middle-class families. The results of months of phone calls were surprisingly consistent. In spite of regional variations in language -- in metropolitan Chicago they were "vacant"; in a suburb of New York, "evacuated"; in a rural community in Vermont, "bland" -- it was clear that my smart, privileged, dependent but disconnected and empty patient was showing up in every part of the country. Not one here and there, but in droves. Like myself, the majority of child and adolescent psychologists and psychiatrists I called have outgoing messages on their answering machines saying, "At the present time I am no longer able to see new patients in either treatment or consultation." Worked to the gills, our practices overflowing, we may be helping individual children, but we are ignoring the larger issues.
Why are the most advantaged kids in this country running into unprecedented levels of mental illness and emotional distress?
Is there something about such factors as privilege, high levels of parental income, education, involvement and expectations that can combine to have a toxic rather than the expected protective effect on children?
Why are children of privilege, in record numbers, having an extraordinarily difficult time completing the most fundamentally important task of adolescence -- the development of autonomy and a healthy sense of self?
We need to examine our parenting paradigm. Raising children has come to look more and more like a business endeavor and less and less like an endeavor of the heart. We are overly concerned with "the bottom line," with how our children "do" rather than with who our children "are." We pour time, attention and money into insuring their performance, consistently making it to their soccer game while inconsistently making it to the dinner table. The fact that our persistent and often critical involvement is well intended, that we believe that our efforts ultimately will help our children to be happy and to successfully compete in a demanding world, does not lessen the damage.
We need to become familiar with the research showing that privileged children from affluent families are experiencing disproportionately high levels of emotional problems, and we need to learn more about why this is the case. We have to examine the disturbing social structure, the "culture of affluence," that surrounds ourselves and our children. While this book focuses on those children who are most clearly damaged by this culture, it is likely that all kids are vulnerable to one degree or another when pressure is excessive, parents are preoccupied and values are poor. We have to be acutely attuned to our own psychological issues and our own happiness, or lack of it. We have to be willing to take an unflinching look at our parenting skills. And finally, we have to begin to develop the kinds of relationships, homes, schools and communities that can act as a safety net not only for kids with "problems" but for all kids. We have to stop pouring our resources into the problem and begin pouring them into the solution.
This book is the outcome of evaluating more than a hundred studies on child development, speaking with dozens of knowledgeable clinicians and researchers and sifting through my own 25 years of experience both as a psychologist and as a parent. It is for those parents who are courageous enough to take a hard look at the way they are parenting, the culture they have bought into and the difficult but necessary modifications they must make to help their children grow into autonomous, moral, capable and connected adults. Mental health crises refuse to be ignored. They come back, often in stunningly ugly ways, to haunt us. Quite simply, we can no longer afford to ignore the epidemic of serious emotional problems in our well-manicured backyards.
From Chapter 6
Bad warmth: overinvolvement, intrusion and parental neediness
If warm connection has been shown to be the silver bullet of effective parenting, how can it possibly damage children or impair their development? The hard-to-face answer is that warmth and connection easily can slide into overinvolvement, enmeshment and intrusion. That's when parents are likely to hear: "Get off my back," "It's my problem, not yours," or "Stay out of my business."
Sometimes our children's unsafe behavior dictates that we have no choice but to fully insert ourselves into their lives, but more frequently we have drifted into overinvolvement out of our own fear of uncertainty or anxiety about loss of connection. At times it can be difficult to know whether we are being appropriately loving, or intrusive. But listen to your instincts, and your children; they will usually be only too happy to help you with this distinction.
Parents are genetically programmed to protect their children from threats. Thankfully, the more recent historical threats to our children's well being -- malnutrition and devastating childhood illnesses -- have been eradicated, or greatly reduced. Yet levels of parental anxiety remain extraordinarily high.
In less financially secure households, many parents are busy trying to keep the wolf from the door, putting time and energy into second jobs and making certain that they can make ends meet. Affluent parents, who are relatively free from the concerns of sustaining their household economically, have more psychological space; they can "afford" to spend more time worrying about their children's performance and sizing up the competition. While many affluent parents have extremely demanding and pressured schedules, others are relatively free of demands outside the family. Higher-income families also typically have fewer children, giving parents more time to obsess about the details of each child's life and to devote time, energy, and money to polishing their "star" qualities.
The perceived threats of contemporary society -- competition for grades, well-known schools, prestigious job offers -- should not elicit the same kinds of hypervigilant, controlling responses that, say, exposure to polio once elicited. Persistent worry about how well one's child stacks up against other children inevitably leads to parents who are overinvolved and emotionally exhausted as well as to children who are impaired in their ability to function independently.
The affluent parents of even the youngest children anxiously compare notes on developmental milestones, social progress and academic achievement, ratcheting up their involvement when they fear their children are slipping behind the competition.
In spite of good intentions, the levels of adult overinvolvement that have become typical in so many comfortable homes and communities are startling and counterproductive. Mothers and fathers spend whole weekends for months on end shuttling their children to athletic events, ignoring the fact that friendships and marriages suffer under the barrage of child-centered activities. Open house nights at school features the assorted talents of parent architects, engineers and interior designers, as grade school dioramas resemble corporate prototypes. Parents willingly pay thousands of dollars for tutors, coaches and preparatory courses in the hope that their child will outperform his friends and classmates and win an advantage in the classroom, the playing field or the admissions process. We seem to believe that if involvement is good, then overinvolvement must be better.
I want to be clear that children do need a great deal of involvement from their parents. High levels of parental involvement are shown to be an important predictor of success for children in many areas. But appropriately involved parents know the importance of stepping back as soon as is practical, and of respecting their child's strivings toward independence. Overinvolvement is not simply "more" healthy involvement; rather it is involvement that can get in the way of child development.
It is an umbrella term, often used to cover a wide range of overzealous parenting activities, ranging from the relatively benign to the downright disastrous. Overinvolvement refers to unnecessary involvement. It is usually, but not always, ill advised, and some children can be remarkably forgiving about this sort of behavior. I tend to think of overinvolvement as the things we do for our kids -- the forgotten dishes we wash, the unmade beds we straighten, the editing we do on our child's writing assignments. But overinvolvement stops short of psychologically manipulating the child. It is more likely to slow progress than to damage children. Intrusion, on the other hand, is always unhelpful, if not damaging.
It invades the child's developing psychological space, and blurs the appropriate and necessary boundaries between parent and child, invariably to the child's disadvantage. Listening in on our child's phone calls; repeating a complaint about a classmate that our child made to us in confidence; "encouraging" our child to take an honors class by making him feel guilty or ashamed -- these are examples of intrusion. "I know you tried hard, but I can't understand why you're not ashamed to hand in a paper that still has errors," says the intrusive parent, mistakenly believing that shame will motivate her child to try harder. Promoting guilt and shame invariably works against progress -- and, more importantly, they weaken the ties between child and parent.
Both intrusion and overinvolvement prevent the development of the kinds of skills that children need to be successful: the ability to be a self-starter, the willingness to engage in trial-and-error learning, the ability to delay gratification, to tolerate frustration, to show self control, to learn from mistakes and to be a flexible and creative thinker. Kids who develop these skills have a large toolbox to dig into, both to enrich their lives and to help them problem-solve.
Little has been written about the falling off of creativity among kids; it is, however, an ominous trend. Creativity, the ability to look at things from a fresh perspective, is an underrated but critical life skill. If your kid is withdrawn or your spouse is distant or your job requirements are changing, you need a repertoire of solutions.
Creative thinking gives us a range of tools to try when problems don't respond to the usual corrections. Your kid may typically respond to gentle humor when he's feeling down, but not always. If you also know how to invite him to talk, how to leave him alone, how to suggest activities, how to hug, how to allow distance, then your chances of helping him are greatly increased. The larger our toolbox, the more we can be creative and "think outside the box," and the more likely we are to come up with effective solutions.
Kids need this same ability to think flexibly and creatively when they find themselves having social, academic, family and personal issues. The falling off of creativity should alert us to the fact that kids have a smaller and smaller toolbox to dig into when they are unhappy, conflicted or perplexed. Whenever we prematurely solve problems for our children, we deprive them of the opportunity to come up with novel solutions that allow them to add another tool to their arsenal. We also deprive them of the sense of competence that comes with figuring things out on ones own.
Warmth often slides into unhealthy dependency when we turn to our children for the loving connections missing in our adult relationships. Affluent communities are tough places to form intimate connections. Our lives tend to be busy; and gates, large lawns and thick walls separate us from each other. Growing up, I can remember the parade of neighbors who stopped by our house for a cup of sugar, a bit of cream or an extra potato. The idea of trekking over to a neighbor's house when the pantry is short an item or two seems almost laughable now. The easy camaraderie that existed among working-class women, a function of both desire and necessity, has been lost to take-out food, housekeepers and a fear that revealing our problems, no matter how incidental, will result not in support but in embarrassment.
Many affluent women have active social lives but few real friends. Rates of marital dissatisfaction are high, affected by the same forces that burden our kids: too much pressure and too little real intimacy. Without a close friend to share our problems with, we are likely to turn to our children for solace. This leads to "enmeshment," when the boundaries between parent and child have collapsed. When we "bleed" onto our children, share our hurt and disappointment and anger, often about their other parent, then we make it impossible for them to get on with the business of growing up. Supporting an unhappy parent, being our confidants and advisors, saps children of the emotional energy and the sense of security they need to work on their own development. Warmth protects our children from psychological trouble; enmeshment and intrusion invite trouble into our homes.
Children can read the needs of their parents remarkably well. They know that the mother who spends a disproportionate amount of time and energy inserting herself into her child's life is likely to be fending off her own unhappiness. She needs to be overinvolved, and, in an unfortunately common psychological drama, her child is willing to sacrifice his own needs to meet hers. Parental overinvolvement and intrusion are typically indications that a parent's own needs are not being adequately met. The more we pour ourselves, our talents, concerns and aspirations into our children, the less room they have to develop their own talents, concerns and aspirations. Autonomy, not dependency, is always the goal of good parenting. Mother birds know the value of nudging their fledglings out of the nest so that they learn how to soar on their own wings. Overinvolved parents are clipping their children's wings.