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The Keys to Healthy Parental Pressure: ParenTalks Postscript

February 28, 2022

As part of the panel discussion to kick off the third ParenTalks of this academic year, featured guest, Dr. Hendrie (Hank) Weisinger, clinical and family psychologist and New York Times best-selling author, posed several key questions for the audience parents to consider and reflect on.

"…what is your own experience with parental pressure from your own parents? What were the expectations that they put upon you? And how many of those expectations that they put upon you, are you putting on your own child," Dr. Weisinger asked.

ParenTalks: Parental pressure panelists

"We have found that there are certain characteristics of parents that make pressure unhealthy," he continues. "It is a force. It is inherent in every parental-child relationship which is why the subject is studied on every continent. It creates a tremendous amount of mental health issues ranging from anxiety disorders, substance abuse, depression, to things like low self-esteem, counterproductive behaviors, such as lying and cheating."

Harmful versus healthy parental pressure is the subject of Dr. Weisinger's latest work, a book he co-authored with a fellow psychologist called, The Unlikely Art of Parental Pressure: A Positive Approach to Pushing Your Child to be their Best Self. The book was inspired in large part by the 2019 Varsity Blues college admissions bribery scandal in the United States that garnered global headlines.

During the ParenTalks live webcast, Dr. Weisinger shared strategies and solutions, contained in the book, to help parents strike a balance.

"What the parent can do to transform unhealthy pressure into a force that your son or daughter will experience as guidance, support, encouragement, and motivation, that when you do that, that is when you are pushing your child in a way that is going to help them leap forward rather than fail," he says.

SMCS student meeting with guidance counsellor in students affairs office

The panel also featured Dr. Mark Broussenko '07, ParenTalks' medical contributor and family physician, along with John Connelly, Director of Student Affairs at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS).

"…university applications and university acceptances are a huge thing, especially in the Grade 12 year, as you might expect," says Connelly, who leads a team of six guidance counsellors. "One thing we hear a lot, for example, is how do you get an early offer? How do you get an early acceptance? And this always gets me scratching my head a little bit, because surely the goal is to get an acceptance. The speed at which that acceptance comes in is presumably less relevant because one kid gets his offer in January, another kid gets his offer in April or May, but they both start in September of 2022. So this sort of time pressure — I know that the boys experience it."

Dr. Broussenko sees this topic from multiple lenses including that of hospitalist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and family medicine practitioner.

"Most of the things that hold people back are going to be part of their own self-identity," he says. "They're going to be things that are going to come from their close circle, and are going to be inflicted by those who are really close to them in positions of either authority or guidance. A lot of these themes are really pervasive, especially as families and adolescents and interpersonal relationships do start to break down, they do start to have conflicts and tensions between themselves."

Watch ParenTalks – The Many Faces of Parental Pressure

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