Common Parenting Challenges – Over Parenting
Jennnifer Manning, MSW, LSW
It seems that helicopter parenting came as a reaction to two things, the media’s hype about “stranger danger” and the effort of a generation to parent the opposite of how they were parented. On July 27, 1981 six year old Adam Walsh was abducted at a Sears department store. This became national news and a movie in 1983 that was viewed by over 38 million people. This set off the media’s coverage of children abducted and murdered by strangers scaring millions of children and their parents. Although the Adam Walsh story is tragic and horrifying, the reality is that less than one percent of children are abducted by strangers. Not only are most children abducted by a parent or caregiver, but — perhaps surprisingly — many abduction reports (thankfully) turn out to be hoaxes or false alarms. The media tends to only focus on the one percent of stranger abductions, giving the appearance that children are in constant danger, thus making parents hyper vigilant about their children.
Another recent generational phenomenon is reactive parenting, or parenting out of a reaction to how they were parented. Reactive parents fight their children’s battles and fix their problems so their children do not have to “suffer” like they did. The problem with reactive parenting is that these children have a hard time realizing that their life is a result of their choices and that it is possible for them to change what they do not like and create the life they want for themselves. Because of their parents being the constant buffer between themselves and the world outside their home, they are unfamiliar with the basic meaning of responsibility. They haven’t become acquainted with the natural relation between cause and effect; that what they do or don’t do has an outcome and that they have to face the consequences of that action or non-action. For instance, they may come to believe that nothing is ever their fault because their overprotective parents have made mistakes disappear rather using them as opportunities to make them learn and grow.
Regardless of the underlying reason for over parenting, research shows that the consequences for children are high. The negative effects of helicoptering tend to make the children unhealthily “dependent, vulnerable, self-conscious, anxious, impulsive, not open to new ideas and actions.” Studies conducted at Wollongong University in Australia found that overprotective parenting could result in “natural deficit disorder” and might be related to several problems including attention disorders, weight issues, resistance to disease, slowed or underdeveloped cognitive and motor skills, and a lack of empathy. Based on these findings, it seems that helicopter parenting not only affect children’s emotional and social development, but might also impact their physical health.
Here are some helpful tips in the effort to reduce the tendency to over parent; try sometimes taking step back so that your children can make decisions on their own and get to understand the concept of consequences and realize that their life is a result of the choices they make rather than the ones that you make. Try to refrain from ‘hovering’ or monitoring your children while they are completing a task, but show them that you trust them to work without continual supervision. Even if a job is not done perfectly, resist fixing it or doing it for them. Allow children to make mistakes and be okay with these mistakes. Mistakes are a natural step in self-discovery and independence. Practice listening! Practice asking non-judgmental questions that force your children to think about their actions and their effects.
Being too protective of children preventing them from doing anything that may involve risk is also one of the typical pitfalls of helicopter parents. Not only does the child not learn to handle risk, the child is also likely to suck up and incorporate your fear for the world. The result of such over parenting may result in unhappy, insecure, or fearful children who view the world as a scary place that should be avoided. Rather than never letting them go out alone for fear of strangers, teach them how to protect themselves, recognize signs of danger, and respond appropriately to these situations. Preparation is much more effective than overprotection because it teaches them to function in the real world.