by angeles mase
For the Herald

In spite of the affectionate relationship there is today between parents and kids, many youngsters lack the support system they need from their parents in order to grow into emotionally mature adults.
“The big problem is symmetry,” says the Head of the Escuela de Post-Grado en Orientación Vocacional Vincular-Familiar Claudia Messing. “The child looks in the mirror and believes he is the parent”, concludes the specialist referring to the current problems  that affect many children today.
In her new book, Symmetry between parents and children, the psychologist and sociologist talks about the current limitations that exist between parents and children and proposes possible remedies.
In a chat with the Herald before the presentation of her book, Messing talks about the challenges that have to be met and propounds the tools to face them.

What are symmetric relationships?
The first thing we should understand is that it is not a problem that concerns solely setting limits.
Children, from a very young age, copy their parents, especially unconsciously, and think that they are also adults. The worst part of symmetric behaviour is that in reality they are totally dependant on their parents for everything, but inside, they feel completely self-reliant.  There is no notion of the need of a support system and they believe that they can do everything by themselves. This situation makes the child feel like an adult, someone who does need his parents.

¿Does the traditional parent role apply here?
No, it does not because in spite of the fact that today, relationships between parents and children are much closer and affectionate, this affiliation is not correctly discriminated and the differentiation between who is the child and who is the adult is not present.
If we take the word symmetry —coincidence in form, size and position with parts of the other — it’s like glancing into a mirror. The child copies the parent reflected in the mirror and believes he is an adult. Consequently, the problem is that the child does not want the parents’ support or restraint (does not want to see him as THE parent); he just wants to BE the parent. He thinks he can be his own self but not going through the whole growing-up process. If he wants something, he wants it now, and so he copies the parent but is unable to connect to the learning process and his reality.

What are the results?
The child feels like an adult in a “pseudo-imaginary adulthood”; he thinks he knows it all.  This has strong emotional and intellectual consequences such as: being hyper-demanding, intolerant to frustration, and fearful of failure. As teenagers this can translate into phobic behaviour.

What can be done?
It’s important to tell parents how it is to live with this situation so that they can understand what the child is going through and help him to cope with less frustration. When a family understands what is going on, both parents and child feel an important sense of relief.
Symmetry provokes identification of the child with the story of his parents. These children live their parent’s life-story as if it were their own. If I’m symmetrical, I have not been able to differentiate myself from my parents, so I carry the burden of their lives. Communication is the key to doing away with this situation and not continuing to live a life that does not belong to me.

Why does this process take place?
It is a social problem. This is the product of the changes that have taken place in the world beginning with the French Spring, the fracture of an authoritarian model and the horizontal relationships that produce a more democratic bond, where the relationship between parent and child is not sufficiently defined. From an authoritarian relationship we have passed among equals.

How does it present itself?
Parents want to reach out to their children but aren’t able to. The parent tries to communicate with his child but the child feels offended, invaded, feels like the parent does not value him for all his worth. This basic misunderstanding can be solved when the parent comprehends what is going on in his child’s head and understands the child’s hyper-demand to know everything now.

What is the starting point of the problem?
It all comes down to relationships. In my previous book (Desmotivación, insatisfacción y abandono de proyectos en los jóvenes), I found that the parent- child relationship was one among equals. In this book, I stress on the fact that the process in unconscious, involuntary, structural and massive and if we don’t start dealing with it, we are in big trouble.

So what can be done?
We should start working with symmetry at all levels. The child needs to understand that he is not an adult and that he needs to learn and can be helped in the process. It is also essential to explain this situation to the parent so that he or she understands the reason why his child always wants to be in control: deciding what to eat, drink, at what time, what to wear, etc. Kids think they are equals with their parents but when parents understand the situation they can put a remedy to it by communicating in a different way with their child. Communication is the solution.

What can be done at a massive scale?
I hope that in the near future this can be worked on at schools. Teachers in high schools don’t know how to reach out to kids and already in primary schools you can observe motivational problems, a lack of hierarchy in work. If there isn’t a differentiation between parents and kids, how can you expect a child to understand what is most important in a text if everything is the same?

Messing explains that “symmetry gives us a new perspective to explain and understand the difficulties in upbringing, education and restraint of children and teen-agers, so that they may better deal with the emotional, educational and social strains they face in everyday life.”

Claudia Messing will talk about this subject and will present her new book Symmetry between parents and children, next Friday, December 11, at 7.30 pm, at Fundación OSDE, Leandro Alem 1067, City of Buenos Aires.


The field work was carried out among 764 youngsters between ages 17 and 27 in the city and province of Buenos Aires and cities of the rest of the country.

•95% felt the effects of symmetry in their behaviour.
•88% was intolerant to frustration.
•63% felt some kind of phobia toward the learning process.
•60% felt unmotivated or uninterested in their studies.
•40% felt disconnected from everything.
•12% had big problems when it came to understanding hierarchy and importance of things when studying.