When Parents Take Over-Protectiveness to the Extreme
It’s pretty obvious that parents aren’t the same today as they were even a decade ago. Kids of yesteryear never wore helmets when riding their tricycles and they didn’t worry about drinking tap water. Today, however, many things have changed. Even kid’s playgrounds are made out of protective, cushioned “mulch”, whereas, in past generations, they had to just tough it out and scrape their knees on real dirt. And, interestingly, about a third of all parents now send their kids to school with a bottle of hand sanitizer – because of the dirty bathrooms, of course. While in some instances parental over-concern is warranted, the question remains: Where do we draw the line? What message does this hypervigilant attitude toward everything send and what long-term effect does it have on the psyche of our youngsters?
Its par for the course for parents to be concerned about their children’s health and welfare, and, in fact, it would be considered quite unnatural not to feel the need to keep our kids as safe as possible. Where some parents are going overboard, however, is in the anxiety-driven, micro-managing of their children’s lives to the extent that natural tendencies to run, jump, play in dirt, and explore, are severely impeded. Children cannot be expected to tip-toe carefully through this phase of life.
Inappropriately overprotective parents send the message that the world is an extremely unsafe place to live and, although this premise may contain some truth, experts still agree that when children live in chronic fear, many harmful conditions can and do develop.
What Constitutes an Overly-Concerned Parent?
Children depend on their parents to protect them from harm and make sound judgments about safety, so how does a parent know when they are being too overprotective? Here are some clues:
* You constantly worry that benign physical activities like playing on a slide, or swinging will end up in serious injury. Many parents don’t allow running on the playground for fear that their children will critically injure themselves. Others don’t allow any climbing or jumping for fear of broken limbs.
* You are not at rest if you don’t have your eyes on your child at all times, even when they are at school. Some mothers actually watch their children sleep to make sure they continue breathing.
* When your child interacts with other children, you make sure you are there to give them play-by-play coaching. Oftentimes, parents are so fearful that their children will not know how to interact socially that they are compelled to micro-manage their conversations with other children.
A parent’s neurotic behavior serves as a blueprint after which a child will model their own lives. The unfortunate outcroppings of teaching a child to give in to inappropriate fears are wide ranging. At the very least, children suffer from a sense of powerlessness, lack of confidence, and low self-esteem. The worst cases, however, are characterized by debilitating levels of anxiety, chronic clinical depression, and suicidal tendencies.
Thomasgard, Michael. “Parental Perceptions of Child Vulnerability, Overprotection, and Parental Psychological Characteristics .” Child Psychiatry and Human Development (1998): 223-240.