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Are You Pushing Your Kids Too Hard?

June 15, 2004 11:31 AM

By Jim Brown, Ph.D., Executive Editor, Sports Performance Journal (athletesperformance.com)

Achievement by Proxy (ABP) develops when parents of gifted athletes (or scholars, dancers, actors, and others) develop unreasonable and dangerous pride and satisfaction in the achievements of their children. ABP has been recognized by professional psychiatric groups as a potentially harmful syndrome to be addressed and prevented.

Too Much, Too Soon
Typically, the parents push as hard and as fast as possible, convincing themselves that everything they do is in the best interests of their children. Ian Tofler, M.D., a psychiatrist at Louisiana State University, explains that a parent might decide to sell the family’s home and move to another city or get a second or third job so that the child can quit regular school and devote full time to a sport. The problem is compounded by coaches who demand potentially dangerous sacrifices from the child athlete.

Tofler describes a continuum of behavior that leads to ABP. “It begins with simply helping a child achieve at a high level - not a form of abuse. The second stage is characterized by parent sacrifice and perhaps “plausible deniability,” saying that the child enjoys this commitment to training. Level three involves complete loss of the child as an individual and includes increasing pressure to perform, even if the child is injured or ambivalent. The child becomes an instrument of adult goals and normal peer relationships vanish. The last stage is when the parents encourage potentially dangerous behavior in order to gain recognition or to make money.”

To avoid the ABP syndrome, Tofler and his colleagues make these recommendations to parents:
• Balance your child’s total development needs with sports goals.
• Reclaim “decision authority” for the child’s welfare. (The child should not be allowed to say, “This is my decision.”)
• Monitor your own motivation by asking, “How will this affect my child?” and “Am I doing this for myself or for my child?”
• Consult a psychiatrist or psychologist if there is a question about motivation or doubt about the child’s best interest.
(Sources: Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry; Georgia Tech Sports Medicine & Performance Newsletter)

© 2004 HMS Publishing, Inc.
Jim Brown will be contributing new content to this site on a monthly basis. If you have a question for Dr. Brown please feel free to email him at




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