Social Engineering in Parenting with Jennifer DelliquadriNov 08, 2023
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Today’s episode is a collaboration with my friend, Jennifer Delliquadri, and her podcast Raising Happy Teens. We’re diving into the concept of social engineering in parenting and the urge we often feel to shield our kids from discomfort and keep them on the “right” path.
My guest, Jennifer Delliquadri, is a life coach for teenagers and their parents. With over 14 years of experience working as a classroom teacher, Jennifer is an expert at connecting with teens. She’s also a certified yoga instructor with years of experience teaching meditation and mindfulness to all ages. When she’s not coaching, you’ll find her volunteering at a local dog shelter, spending time outdoors, and hanging out with her husband and two teenage daughters.
Join us as we talk about what social engineering is, what it looks like in parenting, why it’s a problem and how to put more trust in yourself and your child. We’ll challenge the idea that discomfort is bad and look at how it actually provides our kids with valuable experiences and opportunities for growth.
What Is Social Engineering in Parenting?
You may not have heard the term social engineering before, but I bet you’ve seen it (in other families or in your own). Social engineering is purposely orchestrating your child's environment for maximum popularity and success and minimum disappointment.
Social engineering seeks to create a situation where a kid is never put in the position to be hurt or disappointed. The parent tries to inoculate them from social harm.
It’s kinda like putting bowling alley bumpers on your kid’s life so that they stay in the lane that you want for them and don’t fall into the gutter.
It creeps into academics, athletics, other extracurriculars and even kids’ social lives. And it can cause a lot of problems for kids, even though that’s exactly what parents are trying to avoid.
Where Does Social Engineering Come From?
There are few common sources of this desire to control and engineer a child’s life, and most are based in fear. Guilt, insecurity and societal pressure often come into play, as well.
The parents that Jennifer and I see in our coaching practices are often so afraid. They fear that their kids will be uncomfortable, they won’t be in the right social groups or have all the advantages other kids may have. They fear their kids will fall behind and not have access to opportunities. And they fear that others will judge their parenting.
It’s likely that you’ve experienced some (or all) of these fears, too.
Between school, sports and other enrichment activities, kids these days are so busy. Parents see what other families are doing and think it’s normal, or even expected. Moms, especially, think they’re not doing enough for their kids. They think they could (and should) be doing more.
We also want our kids to be successful and happy. So when we see them disappointed, it feels bad to us. If you felt left out or like you didn’t belong when you were younger, you might want to protect your kid from feeling that same hurt and insecurity. Or maybe you want to give your kids things you didn’t have -experiences or opportunities that you felt you missed out on in your own childhood or adolescence.
Basically, we feel like it’s our responsibility to make sure our kids are okay. And this pressure leads to overparenting.
Why Social Engineering Is Harmful
There’s an energy in mom culture right now, an undercurrent of anxiety and scarcity. From an early age, we’re already worried about our kids going to the right school, getting good grades and getting into college.
From working with teens, we’ve seen that even when the path is paved, it doesn’t guarantee that a kid gets into their dream school. The path a parent paves for them might not be their path at all.
Often, social engineering comes from the parent wanting more for their kid than the kid actually needs or would benefit from.
We can’t truly know which experiences and relationships are going to be in the best service of our kids. When we over-engineer and manipulate their social circle and activities, we could be denying them valuable experiences.
The deeper problem with engineering the outside is that we’re not actually building them up from the inside. Without the opportunity to explore and find their own way, kids don’t know who they are, they struggle with identity or they’ve worked so hard to achieve that they end up in a mental health crisis.
When parents do everything for their kids, it robs them of the opportunity to develop a good work ethic and positive self esteem. Confidence comes from overcoming challenges. Good relationships with others begin with a good relationship with yourself.
What To Do Instead
You cannot orchestrate perfection. And even if you could, perfection doesn’t prevent pain. Your kids are going to go through hard things. They’re going to feel sad, disappointed and lonely at times.
Supporting your child starts with you being able to handle your own feelings so that you can then hold space for your kid when they are experiencing difficult things.
Start by putting less pressure on yourself and knowing that you are good enough. You can feel sufficient, trust yourself and know that you’re still good enough as a parent even when your kid is misbehaving or they make a poor choice or are not included or don’t make the team or fail a test.
Next, practice pausing. Pause before emailing the teacher. Pause before reaching out to ask another parent why your kid wasn’t invited to the party. And while you’re paused, ask yourself, “How could this circumstance serve my kid?” This will help you calm your nervous system and reframe the situation.
Supporting Your Kid
I believe that the antidote to fear is unconditional acceptance. I often talk about parenting the kid in front of you - just as they are, right now. When you can let go of the expectations of what you thought parenting would be like, what you thought your kid would be like, you can hold space for who they’re actually becoming.
You’ll also need to get comfortable with your kid’s discomfort. Parents often think that something has gone wrong if their child is sad, lonely or disappointed. But if you can come alongside and hold space for their feelings, it lets them know that their feelings are real and valid and gives them time to move through the emotion.
Embrace curiosity. How might they be feeling? What’s really going on here? Let them problem-solve with you about how to handle a difficult situation.
When you believe that your kid is (and will be) okay, they can borrow your belief. Think of your thoughts and feelings about your kid as a gift that you can give them. This becomes their self-concept.
Supporting Your Family
Step into your role as the leader of your family. Look at the big picture and ask yourself, “What is it that works best for my family? What does emotional well being actually look like? What do my kids really need? What does success in parenting look like for me?”
Look at it through the filter of what you want to make room for, rather than just trying to keep up with what everyone else is doing.
I define success in parenting as emotional health because I believe that if you are emotionally healthy, other successes become easier. You’re willing to take risks, have good relationships, develop passions and interests, set goals and overcome obstacles.
The parents we talk to (and we’d venture to say the majority of parents out there) don’t really care about the shiny gold medal. They just want their kids to be happy.
That happiness isn’t going to come from the outside. It doesn’t come from being invited to all the parties or getting all the recognition. It comes from that feeling that, no matter what, they’re okay.
- What social engineering looks like in parenting, where it comes from and why it’s a problem
- How a Positive Parenting Vision can help you let go of fear and trust that your kid will be okay
- Questions to ask yourself when you think about your child’s future
- Strategies to help you trust in yourself and your kid
Connect with Jennifer:
- Learn about working with Jennifer at https://www.jenniferdelliquadri.com/
- Follow Jennifer on Instagram @jennifer.delliquadri and TikTok @jennifer.delliquadri
- Listen to Jennifer’s podcast episode on Letting Go Of Expectations: The Key To Better Parenting for Teenagers
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