We are doing more harm to our children with our overbearing and overprotective parenting

The recent scandal in the US about parents bribing elite universities to gain admission for their children has increased our awareness of the great lengths some parents are willing to go to protect or give their children anything they want. 

Researchers have classified these parents as (1) Helicopter parents – are parents who take an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child or children; or (2) Snowplowing parents – parents who go to great lengths to remove challenges, hurdles, and obstacles from their children’s path. They are also overly involved and are personally invested in their children’s goals.

Helicopter and snowplowing parents may justify their parenting practices by arguing that they are protecting their children from suffering, negative outcomes, and to guarantee success in their endeavors.

Although they have the best of intentions, helicopter and snowplowing parents unwittingly may weaken their children and actually set them up to fail in the long-run. Their overprotectiveness or over-involvement contribute to their children becoming ill-prepared to handle the challenges and problems that are inherent in the human experience. 

Researchers have empirically linked helicopter and snowplowing parenting to:

  •  Higher levels of depression and anxiety
  • Lower levels of psychological well-being
  •  Less satisfaction with life
  • Less perseverance
  • Feeling less competent
  • Inability to manage life and its stressors
  • Diminished self-confidence and school engagement
  •  A heightened sense of entitlement – others must solve their problems or rescue them
  • Inability to independently problem-solve and think critically
  • Stunted psychological immunity to hardship and painful experiences (less resilience)
  •  Lower openness to new experience
  • Foster dependency rather than independence
  • Stunted accountability, responsibility, and self-sufficiency
  • Reduced social competence

 All is not lost for parents who realize that they may be hindering the development of their children’s social and life skills. There are a few shifts parents can make in their parenting. These include:

1.    Allow your children to fail. Allowing children to experience failures, for example, not making the sports team or failing an exam can help to develop their resiliency muscles. Failure allows children to understand that they can survive the ups and downs of life. They also get the opportunity to examine what work and what didn’t work, and the alternative options they need to consider. Children who are allowed to fail and learn from their failures have an increased sense of capability, competency, and self-worth.

2.    Show faith in your children. When we show faith in our children to be responsible, achieve their goals or bounce back from setbacks, we empower them to develop courage, and faith in themselves.

3.    Don’t rescue or fix your children’s problem. Children develop their problem-solving skills and disappointment muscles through experiencing the consequences of their actions and decisions. Instead of rescuing or fixing be supportive by allowing them to go through their experiences while expressing empathy and emotional support, and if needs be, assist them by joint problem-solving. 

4.    See mistakes as opportunities to learn. Instead of responding to mistakes with rescue, shame, blame or lectures respond with compassion and kindness. And encourage your children to find and appreciate the lessons in their mistakes. 

5.    Give age-appropriate responsibilities. Independence, competence, and capability develop from having a sense of responsibility. Children should be given age-appropriate chores in the home, and parents must ensure that they do not do for children what they can do for themselves. 

6.    Empower your children by taking time to teach. Do not expect children to know what to do without training. Take time to teach social skills, time management, organization, and decision making and problem-solving skills by focusing on solutions together and engaging in joint problem-solving. 

7.    Learn to let go. Letting go can be a scary endeavor for many parents. Letting go does not mean you are abandoning your children. When you let go of the need to always control the outcome of their lives, you allow your children to learn responsibility and to feel capable.

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Taniesha Burke, PhD is a certified parent educator, family relationship coach, developmental psychologist, and child development lecturer. She's the author of Parenting Journal: 120 Days to Strengthening Your Parent-Child Relationship.

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Family Well-being