It's About Them

Young People … Our Greatest Resource

When Our Children Strike Back

Dr. Sutton sent this letter to “Letters to the Editor” of USA Today on June 13, 1997. It seems this message is a strong one still today.


The June 9th, 1997 article, Parents, why do you push so hard? by Patrick Welsh, squarely addressed an issue that is troubling families today. When our children are so pressed to achieve, there is often a price to pay; they can become sick, or they can become sick of parental expectations.

As a child and adolescent psychologist, I see a wave of defiance in good and decent kids that is unprecedented, something I call the “Good Kid” Disorder. These kids shut down in the face of parental pressures to achieve, and, more often than not, they are not very open to talking about it. Their behaviors of noncompliance and underachievement does the talking. These youngsters have their parents (and their teachers) completely frustrated and totally baffled.

Often, parental frustration serves to make things worse. Take, for instance, the case of a 16-year-old girl who was brought to counseling by her father. Although she was bright and capable, she was failing her third year as a high school freshman. Every April, her father would give her the “Please, please, please; all I want you to do is pass” lecture. And she would fail. It seemed certain that her ability to control the emotional state of her father was more valuable to her than a high school diploma. Unfortunately, her story is not unique at all.

Although there aren’t any easy answers which will erase all the problems, I do believe that there are two interventions which can help: affirmation and empowerment.

We must return to affirming our children in ways that are not brimming over with conditions. For instance, a parent could say to a daughter: “You know Suzie, I really don’t say it to you often enough, but I’m glad that you are my daughter. You don’t have to say anything; I just wanted you to know.” Over time, this can be powerful stuff.

Offering choices is an excellent way to empower a youngster, although not everything is open to choice. Preparing a “menu” of options can eliminate a number of hassles, and, more importantly, it is usually perceived by the child as a fair and reasonable gesture. It’s not a panacea, but it is a move in the right direction.


James D. Sutton, EdD


(Dr. Sutton’s newest e-book, What Parents Need to Know About ODD, offers many insights and interventions. It can be accessed and downloaded through his home page:

July 13, 2006 - Posted by | Difficult Child, Parents

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