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Can parents take advocating for kids too far? | TribLIVE.com
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Can parents take advocating for kids too far?

Kellie B. Gormly
| Monday, January 18, 2010 12:00 a.m

Gloria MacLean of Upper St. Clair says she never wants to be one of “those parents” — the ones that drive others crazy because they are so pushy about their kids, and constantly get combative with other parents, coaches and teachers on their kids’ behalf.

“They just kind of make me cringe. … I feel bad for the kids,” says MacLean, 45. She has three kids: Erica, 16, Elizabeth, 14, and Paul, 11. “I think it’s a form of being a control freak. … The kids aren’t really learning to stand up for themselves.

“I’m not into the one-upmanship, and I’m not into competing with other parents,” she says. Some parents “expect that their kids are going to be some kind of superstar, in spite of the fact that they’re probably average like most of the kids.”

Parents generally want the best for their children, and work as advocates for their kids’ growth and success both within and outside the classroom. But many parents take things further and become pushy with their children’s teachers, coaches and other adults in an effort to help their kids. These are the parents who might constantly call their kids’ teachers and coaches to ask why their child didn’t get a better grade, didn’t start the game and the like. They might regularly question teachers, coaches and other parents, and demand more attention and time.

But several professionals say that, while some situations call for it, this style of parenting has more negative results than positive ones.

“You run into that all the time,” says author Jack Perconte, of Naperville, Ill. He wrote the book “Raising an Athlete: How to Instill Confidence, Build Skills and Inspire a Love of Sport,” and he has coached baseball and softball teams.

The parents “mean well because they want the best for their kids, but often they don’t understand, in my opinion, that they’re hurting their kids more than helping them by trying to force the situation onto others,” he says.

When parents are overly pushy, demanding and unreasonable, it can cause tension between them and teachers and coaches, rather than motivate the professionals to give more to the kids, Perconte says.

“I think it’s good that parents ask questions initially, but if they get pushy to the point that they question your judgment, then I think that it is very annoying,” Perconte says.

Whitney Fry, a Verona-based guidance counselor for Agora Cyber Charter School, says that, particularly for teenagers, parents who are overly pushy can diminish their kids’ autonomy and growth into adulthood. Kids, as they grow up, should be able to deal with more of their own conflicts and problems with teachers, coaches and others.

“When you’re going through high school and you’re learning about yourself, and you’re trying things out, it’s great to have a parent supporting you and going to your football games or dance recitals,” Fry says. But, if parents are “always contacting the teachers and coaches … if they’re overstepping their boundaries and doing things you should be doing, it can take away independence.”

Hillary Borland’s son — Kegan, 21 — spent 13 years on school swimming teams as a child, and she recalls feeling annoyed by combative and competitive parents of other team members. They would argue with the coach, and insist that their children were better than the others. Borland, of Vandergrift, would go and sit at the opposite end of the pool just to avoid the drama.

“It’s just ridiculous,” she says. “There were parents complaining about coaches, about other parents, about other children. You can only take it so long. You don’t want to get involved with it.”

With Kegan, Borland says she aimed to give him skills so that he could handle conflicts with teachers and coaches; she only intervened a handful of times.

“I taught my child to be proactive,” she says.

Brian Switala, 35, of Hempfield, can speak as a teacher, coach and father. He teaches math at Greensburg Salem Middle School, where he coaches the girls’ volleyball team. He has three sons: Aidan, 10, Connor, 3, and Kieran, 2 months.

Switala says parents should be advocates for their children, within reasonable limits.

“I think parents and teachers have a common goal, and that’s that their students have a quality education,” he says. “Problems arise whenever parents advocate for their children to the detriment of other students or team members.

“Some of the problem comes in when people don’t communicate, or communicate in an inappropriate manner. Both sides end up shutting down,” Switala says. “The end result is the need isn’t met. … It doesn’t always leave the coach or the teacher more motivated to resolve the issues.”

With his own kids, Switala says he will take a balanced and rational approach when discussing concerns with other teachers, coaches and adults.

“I think my approach is going to be, if there’s a situation that I feel needs to be addressed, then I’m going to have open communication with a teacher or a coach, express my views and have them express their views.”

Help, don’t hinder

• It’s good to be an advocate for your children and stand up for them, but balance that with teaching your children to advocate for themselves and solve their own problems.

• With sports teams, remember that the coaches are often volunteers, and they want what is best for the team. Your child just may not be one of the best players on the team.

• Realize that a teacher and coach is responsible for taking care of numerous children, not just your child. Try to understand situations from another perspective.

• If you feel the need to talk to a teacher or coach about a problem that is affecting your child, approach them in a caring and helpful way: “How can we work together to solve this problem?”

• Don’t demand benefits for your child to the detriment of other children’s needs.

Sources: Author Jack Perconte; guidance counselor Whitney Fry; teacher Brian Switala

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