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"Follow Your Passion" and 5 Other Toxic Things Parents Say to Kids

As a teacher, Ms. Meyers knows a parent's words carry a lot of weight with their child. If not chosen carefully, they can do much damage.

Moms and dads today love to tell kids to follow their passion, presupposing that they have one.

Moms and dads today love to tell kids to follow their passion, presupposing that they have one.

Toxic Things Parents Say to Their Kids: Time to Retire These Damaging Utterances

  1. Follow your passion
  2. You can grow up to be anything
  3. I just want you to be happy
  4. Don't be a quitter
  5. Be careful not to make mistakes
  6. Beauty is only skin deep

These statements are routinely said by moms and dads today who are trying to sound positive, offer encouragement, and empower their kids. They may seem innocuous at first, but they're actually quite damaging. They can convince kids that their moms and dads are clueless about what's happening in today's world and lack good sense. The pernicious effects of these statements are explained fully below.

1. Follow Your Passion

Today, some parents delight in telling their kids to pursue their passion and follow their bliss. It’s a seemingly empowering message that they’ve probably appropriated from one of numerous TED Talks, self-help books, and parenting articles that have encouraged doing this.

Sadly, though, this advice can actually cause youngsters to feel stressed out because it presupposes that they have a passion. While a small percentage of lucky ones do, most don’t and never will. When suggesting that their kids should already have an all-consuming pursuit that motivates them, moms and dads are unwittingly putting intense pressure on them.

The author, Elizabeth Gilbert, counts herself as one of the fortunate folks who found her great love—writing—early on in life. When speaking before crowds of people, she’d tell them to follow their passion because she assumed everyone had such an overpowering interest like she did. Today, though, she regrets giving that advice and instead tells folks to follow their curiosities. She states “passion is rare; curiosity is everyday.”

When parents tell their kids to follow their curiosity, they’re giving sound advice that won’t cause them to become anxious and lose sleep. Instead, it’s something that’s quite doable. Moreover, by paying attention to what intrigues them on a daily basis, they may very well discover a lifelong passion.

In this video, Elizabeth Gilbert explains why she no longer advises people to follow their passion.

2. You Can Grow Up to Be Anything

If a parent wants to lose credibility with their child, then they should go ahead and use the cliche: “You can grow up to be anything.” Moms and dads who say this believe that they’re being encouraging and supportive, but they’re actually being the opposite.

A trustworthy parent acts as a mirror for their child, giving them a clear representation of their strengths and weaknesses and not a distorted fun-house depiction. More than anything, youngsters want their moms and dads to see, love, and accept them as they truly are, not as some idealized version to stoke their parental egos.

To feel secure, kids need parents to be their guides and explain how the world works. They need to understand the realities that they’ll confront. They should know, for example, that a career in modelling requires tallness and high cheekbones, engineering requires an aptitude for math, and basketball requires height and speed. They should be taught that there are pursuits that bring tremendous joy but are highly unlikely to become livelihoods such as acting, singing, playing an instrument, and competing in sports.

A thoughtful parent, for instance, will inform their budding thespian that less than 1% of those in the Screen Actors Guild make a living from the acting profession. Contrary to what some moms and dads think, this information won’t break a child’s spirit. Instead, it will help them plan accordingly and be prepared for the real world.

3. I Just Want You to Be Happy

This is one of the most crippling things that parents say to their children because it conveys the false notion that a state of happiness is somehow achievable. While we have glimpses of bliss in our lives, they’re transitory.

In fact, we’d never even recognize them at all if they weren’t contrasted with the other emotions of the human experience such as anger, frustration, grief, jealousy, bitterness, sorrow, and so on. Moreover, moms and dads whose aim is to limit their child’s experiences to those that make them happy are creating a selfish, self-centered, and superficial kid. It’s our struggles and sufferings, after all, that develop our character, promote compassion and connect us to others.

Dr. Shefali Tsabary, a clinical psychologist and author of The Conscious Parent, argues that making their children happy should not be a parent’s goal. Instead, moms and dads should encourage their youngsters to embrace all of life. She says, “Our children don’t need to be happy. Life is not about happy-happy, anyway. Life is to be experienced in every nuance as it presents itself as-is.” Therefore, a parent’s role is to teach a youngster to welcome challenges, trials, and struggles, knowing that they’re meant for them to learn, grow, and be better people.

4. Don't Be a Quitter

After being a scout for over five years, Finn decided to stop so he could devote more time to his studies and other extracurricular activities. His father, though, was disappointed with his son’s decision, wanting him to continue until he became an eagle scout. Upset and disappointed, he labelled his son a quitter and made him ashamed of his choice.

Contrary to what some parents like this dad believe, dropping activities is not necessarily a bad thing for kids to do. Young children, after all, are just beginning to discover the world and themselves. They need to sample lots of things until they find what suits them.

They may try piano, soccer, or tap dancing and find that it’s not enjoyable and not a good fit. It’s perfectly normal for them to try different activities without wanting to make a longtime commitment to them. If they choose to stop a pursuit, they shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed or get labelled a quitter.

Older kids, such as Finn, need autonomy to decide what activities they wish to continue. Moms and dads who micromanage are unwittingly conveying to their kids that they’re incompetent and can’t make good decisions. Julie Lythcott-Haims is the author of How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kids for Success.

She says that controlling parents are doing their youngsters a great disservice. She writes, “Parents protect, direct, and handle so much for children today that we prevent them from the very growth that is essential to their development into human beings.”

5. Be Careful Not to Make Mistakes

Today, there's lots of research that shows how making mistakes can help kids learn, grow, and eventually succeed. Because some moms and dads parent out of ego, though, they want their children to avoid any such stumbles.

They worry that their youngster's slip ups are a bad reflection on them and want to present a bright, shiny, flawless image to the world. Because of Facebook and other social media, a parent's desire to offer up a perfect picture is stronger than ever and is damaging to kids.

Instead, parents need to encourage their kids to take risks and embrace their mistakes, not shy away from them. This is the thesis of Jennifer Lahey's The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed. Their failures, after all, will teach them far more than their successes, and their blunders will be what connects them to humanity and keeps them humble.

Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors, encourages his employees to try new things without worrying whether they'll work or not. He tells them: "Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough." Parents should give the same advice to their youngsters, boosting their grit and drive.

Author, teacher, and parent, Jessica Lahey, explains that too many kids today are fearful of failure and this keeps them from taking risks and trying new things.

6. Beauty Is Only Skin Deep

Kids find it infuriating when their parents use this cliche because they're denying that being one of the pretty people is hugely advantageous. It makes them think that their moms and dads don’t understand the world in which they’re living where good looks are revered and rewarded.

Numerous studies, after all, show that attractive people are considered more intelligent, earn more money, and are more likely to get hired. Today’s world is a visual one where appearance really matters with Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, selfies, and the Kardashians all being proof of that.

Instead of challenging this, it’s far better when parents admit that people do get ahead because of their physical attractiveness. Most significantly, they need to teach their kids that self-esteem develops from what they do, not how they look. When they set goals and put in the effort to accomplish them, they gain pride in themselves. These hard-fought achievements are how they build confidence that’s deeply rooted and not based on the superficial.

Moms and dads should also point out some pitfalls of being beautiful. When models have been interviewed throughout the decades, many of them express dissatisfaction with their careers. They do so because their success isn’t based on what they did but on them hitting the genetics jackpot.

Moreover, as they age, models are more likely to be unhappy than average-looking folks. Because they were admired from their youth and beauty, it’s disquieting for them to lose that.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 McKenna Meyers