Have you ever been to a sporting event or performance where the parent behind you is shouting out instructions to his teen or berating the other youngsters participating? As the competition increases in middle school and high school so, it seems, does the obnoxious parent behavior.

Our culture appears not only to accept parental over-involvement in their kids’ activities but also to glorify it. Look no further than the Lifetime Series “Dance Moms” or the “professionalism” of children’s sports. For instance, about ten years ago I had a conversation with a first grade soccer coach.  He shared how, at the parent information meeting, he casually asked how many parents thought their child might obtain a soccer scholarship for college. He told me that half of the parents in the room raised their hands. The coach was astonished. Not only it was impossible for that many kids in a single age group from a one community to have that level of talent, but even if they did, that many soccer scholarships did not exist.

These may seem like extremes and they are. But even more restrained parents can find themselves going overboard. I should know. I have done it once or twice myself.  Parents get over involved and even lose perspective for many reasons…

  • Parents want to be supportive.
  • Parents want their kids to be the best that they can.
  • Parents enjoy the recognition that their child’s accomplishments bring.
  • Parents want their children to have the opportunities success might provide.
  • Parents sometimes try to relive their own unfulfilled dreams through their children.

So what can parents do to be supportive of their kids’ activities while not overdoing it?

Show in words and with your actions that you value your child over a sports scholarship, varsity placement or calling it before the ref. Remember to focus on your child’s needs and life balance.

In words: Professional coaching and motivational speakers Bruce Brown and Rob Miller asked numerous college athletes what their parents said after a game that made them feel the most successful and experience the most enjoyment. Most rewarding for these college athletes was having their parents simply say, “I love to watch you play.”

With actions: A cartoon taught me this lesson when my children were very young. In the first frame a young boy asks his mom to play circus with him. “I’ll be the ringmaster, the animal trainer and the elephant,” he says to his mother. “Then what should I do?” she responds in the next frame. “You be the nice lady who claps and throws peanuts,“ he answers. That’s when I realized that I had just run across one of the most important tasks of being a parent. Whether my teen was singing in the choir, playing a sport, or passing a driving test, my job was to stay on the sidelines and clap at the appropriate moments.

Clapping from the sidelines or telling your teen you love to watch him or her play doesn’t mean that you make a big deal about a mediocre performance. Instead, it is an indication that you take joy in something that gives your child a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

 Now excuse me while I head to the grocery store. My son is coming home from camp tomorrow and, depending on how things went, I may have to throw peanuts.

 Have you ever found yourself getting over-involved in your children’s activities? What do you think is the right level of involvement?


Article by Becky Mather

Becky is the Prevention Education Coordinator with the Wisconsin Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board where she oversees statewide efforts to offer professional development and training to family serving professionals to promote healthy family functioning and reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect. She and her husband are the parents of two adult children and a teenage son who challenges them to keep honing their parenting skills and strategies. Becky previously served as a parenting outreach specialist for the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension and was one of the co-founders of Parenthetical.