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Understanding What Can Appear To Be "Over-Parenting"

Updated on March 13, 2016

Author's Note About "Helicopter Parents" And "Over-Parenting"

The following thoughts have been written in reply to a HubPages question that asked....

"Do you believe that there is an increasing amount of infantilization of children in post-modern era? American culture & society to the extent that they have become risk-averse, being unable to make the most simple decision/bereft of basic social/survival skills, & aren't capable of exercising initiative, always going to their parents?"

With my own three children now grown, I'm the first to say that I've often been stunned at the behavior of parents who have been called, "helicopter parents". Such parents are, without a doubt, out there. I don't think too many people would argue that truly "helicopter parents" aren't doing their kids too many favors. Neither would too many argue that truly being a "helicopter parent" is a healthy thing.

As with any "phenomenon", though, once a term has become widely used by the general public, there is often the tendency among that public to either over-use, mis-use, or misunderstand that term. People often lower the bar for what would actually constitute unhealthy behavior (in this case, parenting). Some people may raise that bar either because they can't see their own "helicopter" behavior or else because they, themselves, have a low bar for how much involvement parents should have with their kids lives. In other words, these days we have a "general public" that throws around a lot of terms related to what's emotionally/mentally healthy and what isn't without an adequate understanding of where the healthy/unhealthy line is drawn.

Because of that, my reply to that particular question will set aside the terms, "helicopter parents" and "over-parenting", and instead take a broader approach with my reply to that question.

"Over-Parenting" Is Quite Often In The Eye Of The Beholder (Perhaps, More Accurately, The "Judger"

Assuming that one is not talking about a case of "over-parenting" that would be considered by professionals as "completely unhealthy", keep in mind that "over-parenting" is often very much in the eye of beholder. Here are a handful of things that can make a "beholder" believe parents are "over-parenting":

1. The kid, himself, if he thinks someone his age ought to pretty much be able to do what he wants to do.

2. Friends of the kid who think just the way he does.

3. The friends' parents. Maybe a friend's parents are the kind of people who "would jump off a bridge if everyone else jumped off a bridge". Or maybe a friend's parents had him when they were very young. The fifteen-year-old born when his parents were thirty-five can seem a lot less "all grown-up" to them than, say, the fifteen-year-old born to parents who were sixteen when he was born.

4. Older people whose kids grew up in that simpler world that we all know is no longer.

5. People who grew up "like weeds"

6. People who think growing up "like a weed" is "being free"

7. People who don't know the individual child/teen and/or the individual circumstances or history

8. People who had over-bearing and controlling parents, themselves, and who therefore tend to view all parenting with resentment; and/or are under the mistaken impression that all parents are alike

This list could probably go on and on. Maybe eight, in this instance, really is enough.

Are Too Many People Raising Kids Who Are Too Immature And Essentially Socially Incompetent By "Making Babies" Out Of Them?

My personal thoughts on that question are as follows:

Not necessarily, or at least not as the biggest reason some (maybe more these days?) people are (or seem) "risk-averse". One thing is that children who are particularly bright are often kids who are often more likely to "look before you leap" kids. (The "look before you leap" thing is something I read years ago, so I'm sorry that I don't recall the book title. Maybe it would be better if I'd look it up, but I'm replying to the question "off the top of my head", and, again, what I'm offering here is only personal opinion.)

They've been called (and I think I'm recalling correctly) "thoughtful" kids by Dr. Sears in (again, if I recall correctly) an article on how more "thoughtful" toddlers often don't walk as early as some more "risk-taking" (this time, my own words there) toddlers. I think more and more children are more and more "thoughtful" these days. Either way, and "more thoughtful or not", though, I think young children generally continue to be "brighter and brighter" earlier.

One problem is that far too many people tend to underestimate how "smart" children are while they also tend to underestimate how emotionally mature they are. This can mean you have kids who think that if their parents can't see how grown-up ("smart") they are they can't always trust that their parents (or other adults) know what they're talking about. Throw in underestimating how emotionally grown up kids are; and not only do you have kids with unmet emotional needs, but you have a) kids who are generally unhappy and want to be grown up faster, and b) kids who further realize that their parents expect more of them than they're able to offer. More people are better with babies and preschoolers these days, but it looks to me as if far too few pay much attention to child development and needs once a child enters grade school. (More thinking, "That one is all grown up. Time for another one now.")

To me, a widespread lack of solid understanding about human development from school age through to early twenties means a whole lot of kind of lost children/teens left to muddle through figuring things out themselves, with "information" from peers, and having resigned adults who don't know better just write it all off as "Well, kids grow up faster these days." Children over the most recent decades have grown up in a world so many adults not only kind of passively accept that "children just grow up faster these days", but also kind of passively make choices/policies based on a "they're going to do it anyway" "school-of-thought.

Such passive approaches is hardly "over-parenting" or "helicoptering" (whether it's parents, school officials, or others who take those passive, resigned, approaches). Not EVERYONE is that passive about children. Those who are, however, sometimes contribute to a culture that it makes it more and more necessary for parents to become more active/proactive.

Now throw into the mix a culture that is far more complicated (technology, etc.) than it's ever been. Consider, too, the additional, "human", complications that result when young people (sometimes truly children) are surrounded by things and choices for which they are a lot farther away from being emotionally mature enough to handle than so many people seem to think they are.

Now throw in that while kids are surrounded by, and listening to, other kids, as well as any number of those fairly passive adults. While we're at it, throw in, too, all those adults who were kids in a simpler time "when parents weren't so over-protective", who now say whatever they did when they were kids "and I'm OK". (And by the way, so many of those people aren't nearly as "OK" as they think they are; but even if they're reasonably OK they're still so often completely out-of-touch with what today's parents and kids are dealing with.)

There's the fact that it's natural for most children to gravitate toward independence. It's kind of built in to human nature. Most often nobody really has to worry about that. The trick for parents is truly understanding the difference between "protecting" and "over-protecting", and that difference/line (although not all parents see it) is pretty much built in according to stages of development (all the way to the twenties, not just in babies or preschoolers).

In an era in which so many people are either ill prepared for, or far too removed from, truly understanding that being a parent (particularly, a mother) involves a whole lot more than just feeding the child(ren), making sure they have clean clothes and dry diapers; and reading a book to them often enough; far too many kids (more and more, perhaps) grow up missing out (for one reason or another) on having a parent/parents who truly understand their role and responsibilities (or miscalculate the number of years it will take before their role and responsibilities grow and change into something different).

Let's throw in one more thing here, and that is to consider a culture in which so many kids are (whether it appears to be the case or not, and regardless of how much income and "stuff" their family has) growing up to some extent on their own. Think, too, about how often it is when something clearly isn't right for a child or teen but when, rather than ask, "What wrong FOR this child/teen?" parents and/or teachers instead ask, "What's wrong WITH this child/teen?").

All of this is the culture in which children have been growing up over the last, say, thirty/forty years, with things becoming more and more challenging over, say, the last twenty or twenty five.

It's an era in which, as children's intellectual ability is often underestimated while their emotional maturity is underestimated in some ways but overestimated in other ways (while either way something is missing or wrong "FOR" them); the "opportunities" for poor choices aren't just everywhere and more serious or sobering than ever before, but are of a kind that is far more life-de-railing than most former kids of past eras ever had to deal with.

It's not making a baby out of someone who IS a baby, and it's not making a baby out of someone who is still in need of a certain amount of "sheltering" to make sure that child or teen gets what he needs until he grows up. From what I've seen, kids who get what they need when they need it tend to be people who, at a surprisingly young age, will "rise to the occasion" if/when the "occasion" arises. While most young people tend to feel invincible, and most, to one degree or another, will take some stupid risks (either because they don't realize what could happen or because they don't believe it will happen to them), some are bigger dare-devils than others. Then again, as in the case of being a "helicopter parent", there is a line between what's healthy risk taking and what is a sign of a mental-health problem.

With each of my own three children, I'd sometimes look at one of my babies or toddlers and think, "I have to try to get you from here to about twenty-five - safe and whole, and ideally, happy." It was easy enough before they started school, but it didn't take long before it so often felt as if pretty much the whole outside world (outside my relationship with each child) was working against me/us..

Life is what it is, people are what they are, and the culture has been when it's been for last few decades (although more challenging now, I think). Each child is different. Each parent is different. Each set of circumstances (of one kind or another) is different. If anyone believes he can size up all the problems or "deficiencies" of one or another generation of young people of recent times, that person doesn't understand all the choices, challenges, and concerns of the parents of those young people.

That person hasn't put in twenty or thirty "child-years", trying to figure out how to handle any number of different challenges or concerns about one child or another. That person hasn't had to think about which pieces to try to pick up after someone "out there" broke something in a child's life (and maybe his heart in the process). They haven't had to live with watching and knowing that sometimes there's no picking up of pieces. And, they don't have, say, a thirteen or eighteen-year-old kid "out there" today, knowing that in so many ways things are so much more potentially harmful to a kid who has to get from that thirteen or eighteen to twenty-five.

It's not all gloom and doom, I don't think. Things in our culture are, in so many ways, better than ever. What seems to me to be worse is the odds. In any case, anyone tempted to judge and/or size up in so many words which kind of parent is to blame for which kind of perceived "flaw" in today's young people really needs to resist that temptation.

With the way our culture has been over the last few (but especially, maybe, last two) decades, the role and responsibilities of parents has, in many instances, changed. That's not suggesting that what's healthy in a relationship has changed. It's saying that even in the healthiest of relationships between a parent and a kid, the growing nature of the child, the parent (mature parents know enough to grow), and the relationship, itself, make always knowing exactly what the right thing to do is pretty challenging in a culture that so often works against parents.


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