Children of celebrity or generally pressuring parents frequently have difficulties in the development of their identities. This is because they are frequently under pressure to achieve the same or more than that of their parent. These children thus carry a set of expectations that elevate them to a level beyond that of children who do not have famous parents.
Children, in general, are more likely to develop a healthy sense of identity if their parents are encouraging and nurturing and if these children have the intellectual and/or creative potential to achieve at a similar or higher level than that of their parents.
When huge pressure to achieve is laid on these children, it can have devastating results. This is especially so should these children not have experienced the warmth, acceptance and caring by the parent. It is also detrimental to these children when the parent has been so involved in the pursuit of his or her career that important stages of these childrens’ development have been missed in terms of parent/child interaction.
Another difficulty can arise for children of famous parents when a public figure, as is often the case, becomes embroiled in controversy. These children often have to cope with this controversy and the court of public opinion levelled against their parent. Children facing this situation could respond by protecting and defending the parent; withdrawing from them or becoming angry with them. The children’s behaviour is also likely to depend on their stage of development.
The above issues are interesting in view of South Africa’s first/third world status. For example, many black students that I counselled at University of Western Cape’s Student Counselling in the 1980’s were first generation university students. They were so often under enormous pressure to achieve status for their working class parents. They were not, for example, allowed to watch television as this would detract from their study time. It was often the case that much financial sacrifice had been made on the part of the parent and on the part of the student. Besides the pressure from parents to achieve, there was also at that time, strong pressure from peers to become involved, or more involved in the broader social struggle. The students’ conflict was often one involving personal growth and fulfilment versus the struggle for a better social order. In this regard, many of the parents had over the years become more attuned and sympathetic to their students’ needs.
Within the social structure of the 1080’s, it seemed that the second generation university student had a different, but no less pressured influence on his or her identity formation. Take for example the first black professor at a local university. When he had sons, he would often express the wish for these male children to achieve an even higher career than he had achieved.
In general, parents would be well advised to encourage their children to achieve their own unique potential. However, undue pressure to do so, particularly when that pressure is placed on children of slower intellectual potential, is likely to create anxieties and possible depression in these children. In addition, the parents are likely to set themselves up for disappointment in these children and subsequent less acceptance of the latter for who they are. It is thus when childrens’ own interests, talents and abilities are not recognised nor nurtured by the parents, that difficulties such as adolescent drug taking, delinquency, anxiety and depression and other negative acting out behaviour can arise.