Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


How “Push Parenting” Becomes Child Abuse

Worldwide, pressure on children to succeed has negative effects.

Free Digital Photos
Source: Free Digital Photos

Bravo’s reality show, “Extreme Guide to Parenting,” made waves years ago by featuring one Long Island mother of one who prides herself on being a “push parent.” Pressuring children to succeed isn't going away anytime soon.

Marisa Silver-Eisenberg, mother to 5-year-old singleton Austen — who plays five sports, is routinely quizzed about the U.S. presidents, is refused food until he can write his name in the morning, and is criticized by his mom during moments of “weakness” on the show — said she has no shame about actively pushing her son to be “the best.”

“I am the push parent and I wear the banner proudly. Life is hard. I want him to be a boy who is going to turn into a great man,” Silver-Eisenberg said in a Today Show interview.

The Today Show presented clips of an obstacle course Silver-Eisenberg set up for her son — who appeared visibly distressed — to tackle. Like many instances on “Extreme Parenting” that have showcased Silver-Eisenberg’s intense approach it’s uncomfortable to watch.

Psychologist Dale Atkins weighed in, telling Silver-Eisenberg, “He also has to want to come to you for nurturing. And, he has to know that he’s going to be good enough and wonderful enough even if he isn’t the best, even if he doesn’t succeed.”

Atkins added, “Our kids come to us to find out who they are and if we’re not letting them know they’re perfect as they are, they’re going to wonder, what do they have to do to be good enough.”

The need to “push”

Silver-Eisenberg isn’t alone in putting an extreme amount of stress upon her child to succeed. The idea of success often comes interlaced with the growing need to edge out others or be the “best” no matter how many children you have. However, the intense focus on success can send levels of expectation to new heights and have a reverse effect—turning children off rather than motivating them to succeed.

As I discussed in my book, Parenting an Only Child, one sign you are pushing too hard is when your child regularly seeks affection, consolation or emotional openness from your partner — not you. Over time, a child will walk away from the parent who demands that task after task be completed without mistake.

When the quest for “success” is child abuse

Worldwide, there’s glaring evidence that overzealous parents’ quests for success — and unbending insistence on perfection — wreck havoc on children’s happiness, mental and physical health, and overall well-being.

In a previous post, I explored Internet addiction in males between the ages of 14 and 19 in China, resulting from the pressure to raise “star children.” Experts noted that when the teens felt they had failed academically, they sought refuge in the Internet. According The Washington Post, the Communist Youth League considers internet addiction "a grave social problem" that threatens the nation.

An eye-opening Op/Ed by Se-Woong Koo, editor-in-chief of website Korea Exposé and former teacher in a South Korean school, highlighted “cram schools,” which are becoming more and more prevalent throughout South Korea. These schools — while at the heart of what many worldwide see as South Korea’s top-level international test scores — filled with students who appeared so pressured to the point of having “dead eyes,” and physical symptoms of stress-induced health problems such as losing clumps of hair.

Koo, who taught a classroom of 11-year-olds at one cram school, wrote “Most South Korean children’s parents are the main source of the unrelenting pressure put on students. Dominated by Tiger Moms, cram schools and highly authoritarian teachers, South Korean education produces ranks of overachieving students who pay a stiff price in health and happiness. The entire program amounts to child abuse.”

Korea and China aren’t the only nations to show signs of widespread stress due to academic pressure. A study published in British Medical Journal showed schools in England are sacrificing students’ wellbeing in the name of academic performance.

The authors write that the educational system “increasingly encourages schools to maximize students' academic attainment and ignores their broader wellbeing, personal development, and health.” They rightly argue that there are skills necessary for fostering productive members of society other than adhering to rigorous academic standards. Healthy wellbeing contributes to better productivity, and intra-personal skills like team building or group problem solving.

The overwhelmingly negative effects of unrealistic pressure on children illuminate the growing problem and belief that “push parenting” is best for a child and the equivalent to “loving.” Are fanatical “push parent” taskmasters even capabale of lowering their expectations?

Related: Raising “Star” Children: The Pressure May Be Too Great ; Curbing Too High Hopes For Children’s Success


Anonymous. “’Extreme Parenting’ star: I want my son to be strong.” 6 Aug. 2014.

Bonell, C. et. al. “Why schools should promote students' health and wellbeing.” British Medical Journal, 2014; 348 (13 May 2014) DOI: 10.1136/bmj.g3078

Koo, Se-Woong. “An Assault Upon Our Children: South Korea’s Education System Hurts Students.” 1 Aug. 2014.

Newman, Susan. Parenting an Only Child: The Joys and Challenges of Raising Your One and Only. New York (2001): Broadway Books.

Copyright @ 2014, 2019 Susan Newman

More from Susan Newman Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today