Stage Fright

Your 12-year-old son stands on stage ... shaking. No, he 's not reenacting a scene from the Alaskan adventure, "Denali Danger." He 's not acting at all.

That's pure, raw emotion. And the entire audience can see what he's feeling fear, paralyzing fear. Problem is he's supposed to be singing a few bars from "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown."

Instead, he stands quaking and silent as the middle school drama director tries feeding him a line and the audience starts inspecting ceiling tiles. Anything 's better than watching your son suffer on stage.

Come on, you think. Do something. You practiced a million times at home. You know this!

Finally, part of your son's body reengages. Unfortunately, it's his feet not his brain. He's spins on his heels and makes a hasty exit, stage left, knocking over a cardboard tree as he flees.

After the musical, you find your red-eyed son backstage. You try to find the right words to make everything better. But you know nothing you say can fix his public meltdown. His life is over: acting, social and otherwise. There 's no way to recover from this school-wide embarrassment.

Or is there?

According to Dr. James Dobson, mental blocks occur most frequently when social pressure is high or when self-confidence is low. Unlike a computer, our brain functions properly only when a delicate biochemical balance exists between the neural cells. A sudden emotional reaction can instantly change this balance and block neural impulses. In other words, we can 't think.

"This mechanism has profound implications for human behavior," Dr. Dobson says. "For example, a child who feels inferior and intellectually inadequate often does not even make use of the mental power with which he has been endowed."

Parents play a big role in protecting their preteens from feelings of inadequacy.

Dr. Stanley Coopersmith, former associate professor of psychology at the University of California-Davis, proved this with a study he conducted some years ago. After evaluating more than 1,700 preadolescent boys over several years, he found three important characteristics in homes that raised children with high self-esteem.

  1. High-esteem children were more loved and appreciated.
  2. Parents of high-esteem children were more strict in their approach to discipline. These homes demanded accountability, responsibility and self-control. Parents of low-esteem children, on the other hand, created insecurity by their permissiveness. These children felt the rules weren 't enforced because nobody cared enough to get involved.
  3. Democracy and openness characterized the homes of high-esteem kids. Once the boundaries for behavior were set, parents allowed for individual personalities to develop. Also, the atmosphere of the home was marked by acceptance and emotional safety.

So what does this mean for your son and his chances of recovering from his on-stage debacle?

"It's not unusual for a 12-year-old to choke in front of a crowd," Dr. Dobson says. "I once stood before 300 fellow teenagers with my words stuck in my throat and my mind totally out to lunch."

But Dr. Dobson worked through this incident by experiencing a few successes in front of audiences to build his confidence; your son can, too.

"Anything that raises self-esteem will reduce the frequency of mental blocking," Dr. Dobson explains, "for children and adults alike."

Background Information

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Other Things to Consider

TransitionsHaving a Baby, Preparing for Adolescence

Life PressuresWorking Moms, Stay-At-Home Moms, Time for Family

RelationshipsParents and Adult Children, Blended Families