Overprotective Parents, Underdeveloped Children: Part 2

I wrote Overprotective Parents, Underdeveloped Children: Part 1 over two years ago yet it still seems to be a popular post on this site.  I would now like to take the time to address this issue again and also add some insight and wisdom (if you can call it that) that I have gleaned over the past two years working with and teaching to Overprotective Parents. First, I truly understand that this style of parenting comes out of a love for the children and almost 99% of the time, the mother is the main instigator of this style of parenting.  I also believe this comes from a maternal instinct to protect the child and to reduce the child's pain and influence from external, sometimes hostile environments.  I would also add that for the first years of life, the toddler years, this style of parenting is not bad per se.

Where this truly becomes a factor is somewhere around the late elementary years and it definitely becomes a problem in Middle School and beyond.  So much that one college admissions adviser said that the first day of college is now akin to the first day of kindergarten.  Instead of parents hugging and dropping Johnny and Sally off at the dorms, they are going to enrollment and picking their classes for them and also talking with college professors to warn them of the child's strengths and weaknesses.  If this is you or even sounds like you, you need to stop.

The first thing we need to do is realize what a grave injustice we are doing for our children by coddling them for too long. Somewhere around ages 10-12 or Middle School, we need to start loosening the reins a bit and allowing our children to make choices for themselves.  In fact, the more choices we allow our kids to make, the less inclined they are to rebel in the teen years.  Furthermore, do we not want our children to grow up and make decisions for themselves?

I'll give you some examples of the types of choices they should be allowed to make at this age.  Note:  Don't laugh at some of these because I have met parents who DO NOT allow their children to make this choices.

1. Style and type of clothes  - as long as they are modest and not vulgar in nature.

2. Type of sports and extra-curricular activities to be involved in - without adding too much to their schedule.

3. They should be allowed to have whatever hair style they like.

4.  They should be given household chores, and an allowance or if you don't believe in allowance, some sort of money to manage.

5.  They should be allowed to pick their friends. - With guidance of course.

I'm sure some parents disagree with me on this, for instance on the friends issue.  We do not pick our children's friends however, our children also do not let their friends influence them towards unhealthy choices.  If we ever see this happening, my wife and I usually step in and have a discussion on whether this behavior is consistent with our values or not and this corrects the issue.  Also, the friends know that in our house, they follow our rules. Period. See Picking Friends and Pudding Proof

Along with these choices, you need to allow them to fail and feel the natural consequences of this failure.  Example: If your son forgets his homework, do not bring it to school for him.  Let him learn the consequences of unpreparedness.  I've heard of parents writing notes to teachers explaining that their son or daughter was "too busy" to complete their homework so the teacher should give them a free pass and not a failing grade.  Really?

In the real world, do we get a free pass if we run a red light?  Does our boss let us off if we forget an important presentation or task?  Then why would we ever want to give our kids the impression that they will get a free pass in life?  Why would we want to give our children the idea that the world will bend to meet their needs? Reality is much more healthy and honest for their growth and development.

Finally, the over-protectiveness usually stems from fear based parenting.  The parent is afraid of something and therefore feels that denying the child the interaction with this fear will lead them to happier lives.  What happens in reality is that this fear then usually gets adopted by the child and if too many of these fears and over-obsessions are adopted by a child; emotional, developmental and behavioral issues tend to follow. I know kids who cannot swim because their parents are afraid of water. This is neither safe nor being responsible as a parent.

"Many well-meaning parents jump in too quickly," says Robert Brooks, a clinical psychologist in Needham, Mass., and coauthor of Raising Resilient Children. "Resilient children realize that sometimes they will fail, make mistakes, have setbacks. They will attempt to learn from them." When parents intercede, Brooks says, "it communicates to the kid that 'I don't think you're capable of dealing with it.' We have to let kids experience the consequences of their behavior."

For more on this topic see:

Good Parents, Bad Results Part 1, 2, 3