5 Things We Want for Our Kids That Can Hurt Them

Back in the 1930s, Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman was attempting to create a chemical compound that could stimulate the respiratory system. The compound he created did little but excite the animals he was testing it on, though. At one point he tasted the chemical and began hallucinating to the point that a colleague had to escort him home. It turns out Hoffman accidentally created LSD. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Life is full of unintended consequences. Sometimes we want something for our kids that is good on its face, but it turns out to have unintended, and often harmful, consequences. Here are 5 things we want for our kids that can hurt them.

1. Comfort

Comfort is a tricky one. None of us likes to be uncomfortable. And it makes us uncomfortable when our kids are uncomfortable. But comfort can often inhibit growth. It’s instructive that we experience “growing pains” as a natural part of life. Physical growth requires us to be uncomfortable. Anyone who participates in sports or works out knows this well. The most growth happens when you push yourself physically, which is often quite uncomfortable.

So when we do everything we can to shield our kids from discomfort, what we’re actually doing is stunting their growth. We’re shielding them from opportunities to become stronger, wiser, more compassionate, etc. It’s far better for us to walk with them through discomfort, helping them to identify opportunities for growth.

2. Wealth

Bill Gates has famously chosen not to leave enormous sums of wealth to his children. “It’s not a favor to kids to have them have huge sums of wealth,” he told CNBC. “It distorts anything they might do, creating their own path.” It’s really normal and healthy for us to want our children to have a life that’s better than ours. We love them more than life itself and so of course we want them to have the best life possible.

However, we often mistake wealth for happiness. While poverty is bad and we don’t want our kids to lack what they need, being wealthy is not a virtue. When our kids want for nothing they can become entitled instead of grateful. And gratitude is a far better indicator of happiness than wealth is. This isn’t to say that if you’ve been fortunate enough to acquire wealth that your kids are doomed. Simply that it brings it’s own challenges that you need to be attentive to.

3. Popularity

It’s heartbreaking when our kids feel left out. Most parents of teens know the gut wrenching pain of sitting with your child as she realizes a friend has betrayed her or catches a picture on social media of her best friends hanging out without her. We want our kids to be included and we certainly don’t want them to be bullied. But popularity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Often when kids are popular in school it can require a significant amount of “fitting in”. They need to align themselves with what most teens find attractive, funny, interesting or enjoyable. And we all know teens are not exactly the best judges of what is good. Rather than popularity, help your teen learn how to become a good friends. Popularity can lead us astray, but friendship is key to a fulfilling life.

Walking with our children through failure is key to their long-term flourishing.

4. Romance

Have you ever had a conversation with a parent who just dropped his kid off at preschool and is already telling you about his son’s new “girlfriend” he met there? Some parents are so fixated on their child’s need for a romantic relationship that they are constantly pairing him or her up with people, asking who he’s interested in and pressuring him in a myriad of ways.

Not only is this highly annoying for your friends to listen to, there are unintended consequences for your child. It can communicate to him that he lacks something without a romantic relationship and it can make every girl either a potential mate or nothing, causing him to miss out on great friendships because he’s just not interested in dating her. While it’s true that “he who finds a wife finds a good thing,” it’s also true that people are far more than potential mates. Teach him to treat people with respect and to be a good friend. Romance will happen when it happens.

5. Success

We all want success, and we all want it for our kids. Of course we hope that they nail the test, win the state championship and get elected homecoming queen! However, sometimes success isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, some of the deepest, most profound life lessons come as we grapple with failure. If she never fails she may struggle to empathize with others, to value herself for who she is rather than what she accomplishes.

It’s much more important that our kids develop into people of character, who work hard and do their best, but also cheer on others and have their value rooted in something deeper than external measures of achievement. Cheer for your kids to succeed, but allow them to fail. Walking with our children through failure is key to their long-term flourishing.

Sound off: What other things unintended consequences can there be for these things?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “If you had one wish, what would you wish for?”