Potential Parental Exploitation of the Talented Child


It is well established that, occasionally, parents may exploit the talents of their child to benefit themselves. Benefits may include social recognition and financial gain. Such parents may, too, have an emotional need to live their lives vicariously through their child.

This phenomenon is common enough to have been given a name : Achievement By Proxy Disorder (ABPD).

The disorder can develop over time and, as such, has been broken down into three stages; these are :





Let’s look at these three stages in turn :

STAGE 1 : RISKY SACRIFICE – In this stage the parent/s begin to fail to distinguish between their own needs for recognition and high achievement from those of their child so project these needs onto him/her.

These needs may be so powerful that the parent/s start to invest heavily (in terms of time and/or money) in developing the child’s particular talent (eg acting, sport, music). This has been termed ‘risky sacrifice’ as, at this stage, whether or not the child will succeed is still uncertain.

However, fearing that their investment may be ‘wasted’ (ie the child never meets the exactingly high standards the parents have set) they may start to exert increasing pressure on the child to succeed. Manipulation of the child may occur, for example, by parents saying to him/her things such as : ‘Look at all the time, money and energy we’re putting into this – why don’t you try harder? You’re letting us all down.’

STAGE 2 : OBJECTIFICATION – An apt analogy here might be to say that the parents start to treat the child in a similar way to how an owner my treat a potentially high performing (and high earning) racehorse. The parent/s begin to view the child as a way of making money and a means of gaining social admiration rather than as a person in his/her own right, with his/her own set of desires and feelings which may well not coincide with those of the parents. For example, s/he may not share his/her parents’ intense ambitions nor their desire to be in the glare of the public spotlight (and the inevitable pressures this entails).

The child, during this stage, may well come to feel that s/he is being treated as a kind of ‘money-making machine’ or business rather than as a sentient human being.

STAGE 3 : POTENTIAL ABUSE – This is the final and most extreme stage during which the parents may be flagrantly exploiting the child to such an extent that the child is caused obvious emotional harm.



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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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About David Hosier MSc

Holder of MSc and post graduate teaching diploma in psychology. Highly experienced in education. Founder of childhoodtraumarecovery.com. Survivor of severe childhood trauma.

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