Does “over-parenting” damage children?
Two news stories caught my eye over the last week. One from the UK reported that some children were behaving like ” Little Buddhas ” at school because they were so mollycoddled at home. Some children are reacting poorly to classroom discipline and displaying a poor work ethic because of the way their parents indulge them at home.
The other detailed an annual Easter Egg hunt in the USA being abandoned because overly pushy parents in previous years had caused it to become a health and safety risk. Parents had caused a virtual stampede in their over zealous efforts to ensure their child “found” a chocolate egg.
Both articles relate to a phenomenon known as Helicopter Parenting; this is where parents are overly involved in their children’s lives to the extent that they hover around them rather like a helicopter.
When I think back to my own childhood I can think of many anecdotes that would horrify the parents of today! Like the time my older sister tied me and my friend to a tree in a wood as part of a game, then forgot about us and went off to play elsewhere. She remembered a couple of hours later and came back to release us. I don’t think I even told my Mum; nowadays social services would probably be called in!
Our parents often had very little idea of where we were and we had hours of unsupervised free play. Nobody thought anything of it because that’s how families were – my husband can remember cycling to a wood several miles from his family home with his younger brother, aged about 9 and 7. They spent most of the day there until his brother fell out of a tree and broke his arm. My husband just cycled home with his brother on the back of his bike. Again Social Services would be involved today!
Have we gone too far the other way as parents and become overly protective of our children?
Whilst it is important that parents support and protect their children there is growing evidence that Helicopter Parents are actually damaging their children’s development, both physically and emotionally.
One study in the USA found that children with parents who tended to hover while they played were less active than their peers with parents who allowed more freedom.
Another study by psychologist Neil Montgomery in 2010 looked at a group of 300 first year college students to assess for effects of helicopter parenting. He found that students with parents who hovered could suffer when the time comes for them to become independent:
“We have a person who is dependent, who is vulnerable, who is self-conscious, who is anxious, who is impulsive, not open to new actions or ideas; is that going to make a successful college student?” Montgomery said.
Whilst it is important to have high expectations for your children and to support them in their development do overly pushy parents set their offspring a good example?
I have seen parents in social situations become aggressive and rude in their endeavours to ensure that their child succeeds. At a free event I attended at my local art gallery, a woman pushed her children in to the front of a queue of about 30 children (including my own) all waiting patiently to be given their free craft kit. When another parent politely pointed out that there was a queue, she claimed to be unable to see it and yelled at her children to get their kits and take a seat. This resulted in her children getting a kit first but every other child in the gallery giving them death stares! What kind of a lesson in manners or consideration of others did that set her children?
Whilst we all want our children to succeed and be happy, some parents can go too far and inadvertently smother their child’s development as an individual. Children cannot effectively develop communication and decision making skills if their parents are omnipresent. They may struggle to cope with failure and never learn by making mistakes. They risk becoming overly dependent as they grow older and feel insecure about their own identity.
As with most things in life, maybe the best approach is a happy medium; whilst I wouldn’t advocate children having the freedom to tie their siblings to trees, maybe modern parents do need to make sure that they step back and give their children the freedom to be themselves.
Are you a helicopter parent? Try this quick quiz!
- Aggressive parents break rules, force cancellation of town’s children-only Easter egg hunt (offthebench.nbcsports.com)
- Helicopter Parents, You’re Damaging Your Kids! Stop Hovering! (blogher.com)
- Overbearing Parents Helicoptering Way Into Adult Children’s Offices [Parents] (jezebel.com)