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Why You Shouldn't OverProtect Your Kids and Other Loved Ones

Updated on September 10, 2012

In the television series "Roots," there is a scene where a group of slaves are working with a kind overseer. The owner of the plantation walks up to the group, and wants to whip one of the slaves. The overseer takes the whip from the owner and starts whipping the slave himself.

As a young teenager, I was completely baffled by this. I had thought that the overseer was a nice man. My brother explained it to me, "The overseer is protecting the slave. The owner would hurt him worse." I tried to wrap my young brain around this concept. The overseer was really hitting him. Hard.

But the show kept going and I had to stay focused on the rest of the saga.

Was It Really Protection?

There may have been other things that supported the overseer's case for protection, but I haven't seen the show in a very long time, so we will stick with the story as presented in this hub.

Looking back on it, I still think that the overseer was wrong in punishing the slave himself. There are several reasons for this:

  • We don't know for a fact that the owner would have caused greater damage. In an effort to make a realistic show of force, the overseer was really punishing the slave hard. How do we know that the owner wouldn't have gotten tired and walked away after a lash or two?
  • How do we know the overseer's motivations? I think it is quite possible that the overseer was simply looking out for himself in trying to keep his job. Maybe he thought he would be fired if the owner didn't think he was an effective taskmaster.
  • The other thing that bothers me is that the emotional pain of being beaten by someone on your side would certainly be greater than the physical pain that the owner could inflict. Having someone you trust turn on you is very painful, even if they think they are doing it for your own good. If people who care about you deliberately inflict pain on you, what does that say about the world in general?

Protective Family

You may think that this is a pretty extreme example to bring up in our modern days. After all, we are not slaves, and we usually don't go around whipping each other and causing that kind of pain.

But in our overprotective family, I think we have a tendency to try to protect each other from the "horrible world out there" as if that kind of pain does still exist out there.

In fact, I think we inflict much more pain, in the name of protection, than the world really would have inflicted. And the more we try to protect our loved ones, the more pain we continue to cause every day, in small ways and in big ways.

I tried to protect my daughter from wearing leggings at a family gathering.
I tried to protect my daughter from wearing leggings at a family gathering. | Source

A Modern, Less Extreme, Example of Protection

One day, we were having a family gathering, and my daughter came downstairs wearing leggings and a pretty long shirt. It is a very fashionable style amongst her group of friends and looked very good on her.

I told her that it looked good on her, and had no objection to her wearing it. But I warned her that my mother might have issue with the outfit, because the leggings were tight, and my mother might think it was too sexy an outfit.

My daughter decided to continue to wear the outfit. At the gathering, received compliments for her outfit. As far as I know, my mother did not say anything positive or negative about it.

Let's examine what happened here.

  • My intentions were good. I thought that if my daughter simply changed her clothes, she would avoid the horrible consequences of wearing leggings to a family gathering.
  • I was wrong about the consequences. My mother did not find anything wrong with the outfit, and there were people who complimented her on it.
  • I inflicted pain in her in an effort to help her avoid pain. She was probably uncomfortable and self-conscious throughout the gathering trying to figure out what everyone was thinking about what she wore.
  • She gets a horrible message about relationships, that loved ones are allowed to inflict pain if it is well-intentioned. She can't hate me for hurting her because I meant well.
  • It also provides a false perception of the world. If a loved one can hurt you this much, just imagine the hurt that strangers and enemies can inflict.
  • Really, how bad would it have been if my mother had said something to her? Isn't the pain inflicted by me as bad as the potential pain inflicted by my mother? I would guess it is probably worse since she is closer to me.
  • Would my mother have insisted that she go home and throw the outfit in the trash, never to be worn again, or would she say that it was inappropriate for a family gathering? My daughter would not know my mother's exact opinion unless she went through with her actions.
  • If she had listened to me, and had changed her clothes, she would not have known which of her family members had an objection about her mode of dress. She may have had to assume that all of them had a problem with what she was wearing.
  • It was only because she faced the world, and continued to wear the outfit, that she was aware of the actual consequences of her actions.
  • By facing the consequences of her actions, she learned exactly which people had issues and which ones did not. Even if I had predicted that several people would have a problem with her outfit, by continuing to wear the outfit, she would know which ones did say something to her. She would also learn how strongly they felt about the issue. By trying to protect her, I was actually keeping her from having knowledge about where the landmines actually are, and whether they were actually landmines or windmills. This lack of knowledge actually leaves her less prepared for the world.

Stop Overprotecting Your Loved Ones

There are times when your loved ones need protection. If they have an abusive spouse or a bully, or suffering from an illness, of course, you will need to step in and provide assistance. But, by and large, your loved ones are capable individuals, and able to handle the "terrible world out there" on their own. In fact, they may come to find out, as my daughter and I did, that sometimes the world is actually less terrible "out there" than it is at home.


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    • Philanthropy2012 profile image

      DK 5 years ago from London

      Yeah maybe it's Gran's fault for not being more accepting, though one could say she was brought up with different standards. At that point it is the question of whether it is the adult or the child that should change their ways, I would say adult, they should they know better/more. If it's not despicable by modern standards and has no health risks, then what does it matter D:?

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

      That is a great way of looking at things in this situation Philanthropy. Thanks for your insight. I feel better. :) Knowledge is power and almost always good. I'm not sure I want her to know how often I am wrong! LOL

      It is a fine line between protection and over-protection.

      I'm not sure though that she doesn't feel some slight discomfort whenever she wears that outfit, knowing it has potential to upset someone.

      And really, doesn't she have a right to her style. As long as her clothing fits the rules of general society's decorum, shouldn't she be allowed to express herself, even if it does upset Gram, and maybe even everyone in the room?

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

      Thank you for visiting and for your insightful comment poetvix. Do you have any examples about learned helplessness you can share with us?

    • Philanthropy2012 profile image

      DK 5 years ago from London

      @Millionaire Tips,

      I agree but wouldn't agree outright, sheltering is bad, but it's important -on the basis that you are a rational and better learned human being-, to say what you would and wouldn't do yourself and the reasoning you use behind that.

      That way, your loved ones will respect that they have the choice, but know what the authority, or other close loved ones think about the particular decisions.

      "I wouldn't wear that because it could upset Gran, knowing Gran" would be better than "don't wear that because it will upset Gran" because then if she wears and it and does upset Gran she will learn that you were right and she shouldn't have done it. If Gran doesn't get upset, she will learn that you can't be trusted with Gran-related decisions in the future.

      It's all about knowledge, choice and learning (: imo. The knowledge of the validity of her parent's logic is just as important as everything else!


      Oh, as for the pain of "wondering if everyone was looking at her or not" I would think that it's important to learn things even if it causes a little discomfort? That is the point of the hub at all, in an odd sense, not telling her and keeping her in the bliss of thinking that everyone will be happy with her clothing is sheltering from the truth? At least what you think is the truth.

    • poetvix profile image

      poetvix 5 years ago from Gone from Texas but still in the south. Surrounded by God's country.

      I agree with you too, especially in the case of young people. Please don't misunderstand. I think children should be protected from harm but I think we go too far and by doing so instill a sense of learned helplessness that I see too often in my students. Everyone has to struggle to grow. By overprotecting what actually happens is the one protected does not gain the skills they need to later protect themselves and fight through hard times.

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

      Thank you for reading and your insightful comments. We have a tendency in our family to overprotect, and it has turned out to cause more and more problems, since everyone is trying to protect everyone else. I am going to be working hard at avoiding doing that this year and ever after.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 5 years ago from Taos, NM

      I really like this piece of writing. I agree with you, overprotection is worse than the "real world out there." Everyone needs to live and make their own mistakes. By protecting our loved ones, we actually repress their experience of life rather than allow them to freely experience whatever is to happen to them. Overprotection is meddling in someone elseslife and is an intrusion rather than a help. I come from two very overprotective parents who actually harmed my life experiences rather than helped me by meddling in my life.