Do you fuss too much over your kids and wrap them up in cotton wool? Jack Xij Oughton investigates
‘Challenge is a dragon with a gift in its mouth. Tame the dragon and the gift is yours’ – Noela Evans.
Would you let your children tame dragons?
It’s very possible that you may be doing what some people call ‘over-parenting’. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. Parenting is a devoted act, an act of love that you lavish on your children with the best intentions. Nobody can fault you for that. Better to care too much than too little. And, after all, there’s so much guilt parents feel. This feature is certainly not about making you feel guilty. It’s about highlighting what over-parenting is, and perhaps it may give you a new perspective on how to empower your children by letting them get on with that dragon taming. Metaphorical dragons, of course.
What is over-parenting then? Well, probably the best way of putting it is to say it’s taking too much responsibility. Yes, you can do that.
‘Too much’ parenting is a sign of the times. There are books about over-parenting and TIME Magazine wrote it up as a cover story in 2009. TIME’s opening paragraph catalogues the absurd lengths that extreme parental supervision has taken with some people. ‘We bought macrobiotic cupcakes, hypoallergenic socks and hired tutors to correct a five-yearold’s pencil-holding deficiency.’ Hugh Grant has also talked about the effects of over-smothering with love. These examples are certainly funny, and although you probably don’t put your kids through this extreme kind of thing, over-parenting is a problem.
Over-parenting, a world-wide problem
The Americans refer to it as ‘helicopter parenting’, describing controlling parents as helicopters hovering over their kids. The term was first used in the 1990 book Parenting With Love And Logic. The Japanese use the pejorative term kyōiku mama, which translates literally as ‘education mother’. The stereotype is the mum who relentlessly pushes a child to study, far beyond what is healthy. They’re often blamed by the Japanese press for school phobias and youth suicide.
In Scandinavia, they call it ‘curling parenthood’ a metaphor for parents who sweep all obstacles out of the paths of their children. In Nigeria, a culture that expects you ‘to nurture your child continuously’, some people are blaming the huge youth unemployment rate on over-parenting. One Nigerian recruitment expert called it ‘the greatest evil handicapping Nigerian youth’. Strong words, but perhaps best taken with a pinch of salt.
The basis of over-parenting
If you inhibit your child’s ability to respond for themselves, by taking too much control, you then lessen their responsibility (‘response ability’). You diminish their personal power and their ability to choose. You do want your kids to be able to think for themselves, right? And what about their inexperience? Well, they’ll be inexperienced for ever unless they get the chance to have those experiences. And that doesn’t mean throwing them in the deep end for everything, it could just mean taking a few steps back. Catching them when they fall, not propping them up.
Ask an expert
Dr Tina B Tessina is a psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex And Kids. She says over-parenting is common and happens in tandem with under-parenting. ‘Today’s parents tend to over-parent in some ways andunder-parent in others,’ she says.’I think it’s a style born of our lifestyles and attitudes. They over-parent by being too worried about safety and over-structure their child’s lives; and under-parent by being overworked, overcommitted and too self-involved.’
Anna Palmer is the CEO of WinWinApps, a software development company that creates software to ‘help you help them’. She believes that over-parenting is more common. ‘I see much more over-parenting than under-parenting,’ she says. ‘Extreme examples of this include installing spyware on a kid’s smartphone or sneaking into high-school bathrooms to “collaborate” on exams. Over-parenting sends your children the message that you don’t believe they can succeed in life without continued intervention from you.’
I think I was over-parented, but I’m not too bothered about it. Would I have been a more exciting person if I’d been allowed to push my comfort zone in different ways, and more often? I think so, but I have no proof. Everyone agrees that children need help and support and the benefit of your experience, but perhaps we can consider that parenting doesn’t need to be as much work as we think it is. Sometimes a little less interference and a little more support is in everybody’s best interests. After all it’d give parents more energy and time to pursue their own interests, and maybe it’d give your children chances to build self reliance and proactivity.
And, needless to say, parenting a little too much is not the end of the world. Just watch out for the macrobiotic cupcakes. And the dragons.