Parenting can be quite challenging sometimes, no doubt. But sometimes, parents, in order to raise their children “perfectly”, end up following dubious methods of fear-based parenting styles.
The Many Shades of Fear-Based Parenting
I have long been advocating, on this blog and elsewhere, for what I refer to as trustful parenting. Trustful parents allow their children as much freedom as reasonably possible to make their own decisions. They trust their children’s instincts, judgments, and ability to learn from mistakes.
Trustful parents do not try to guide their children’s development; they trust their children to guide their own development.
They support, rather than a guide, by helping children achieve their own goals when such help is requested and needed.
Trustful parenting is the most natural and least stressful form of parenting, for both parent and child. Ethnologists have found this style of parenting to be universal in hunter-gatherer cultures (here and here). Many families in our culture now, especially those in the Self-Directed Education movement, have adopted this style of parenting and written about its pleasures and benefits. My own research on young people who grew up with trustful parents bears this out (e.g. here and here). Trustful parents are not afraid of life, and they are not irrationally afraid of their children’s lives. Trustful parents have faith in their children’s capacities, and that faith becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
As I wrote nearly ten years ago (here), trustful parenting sends the following messages to children: “You are competent. You have eyes and a brain and can figure things out. You know your abilities and limitations. Through your self-directed play and exploration, you will learn what you need to know. Your needs are valued. Your opinions count. You are responsible for your own mistakes and can be trusted to learn from them. Social life is not the pitting of will against will, but the helping of one another so all can have what they need and most desire. We are with you, not against you.” I add now these additional messages: Your life is yours, not mine, and life is to be enjoyed.
The enemy of trustful parenting is fear, and, unfortunately, fear runs rampant in our society today. It runs rampant not because the world is truly more dangerous than it was in the past, but because we as a society have generated dangerous myths about dangers. We are afraid that strangers will snatch our children away if we don’t guard them constantly and that our children will be homeless, or in some other way life failures, if they don’t get all As in school, do all the proper extracurricular activities, and get into a top-ranked college. Somewhat more realistically, we are also afraid of others’ judgments of us, if others see that we are not guarding, pushing, and pulling our children in all the ways that society says we should guard, push and pull, but instead are letting our children be and are enjoying their being.
Fear-based parenting is all about control. Read 6 Signs Of Controlling Parenting And The Effects It Has On The Child
Fear-based parenting comes in various shades, depending partly on the types of fears most prominent in the parents’ minds and partly on the parents’ personalities and economic means. Here is a list.
1. Helicopter Parenting
The term helicopter parenting has been used for at least the last three decades (here) to describe parents who are overprotective and, more generally, over-involved in their children’s lives. The typical helicopter parent, on hearing my argument favoring trust, would likely say (and I have heard some say), “It’s not my child I don’t trust, it’s the rest of the world.” They’re convinced that danger lurks around every corner, and so they guard and advise their child at every turn.
In a previous post, I described how researchers have identified helicopter parenting using questionnaires and have found at least a correlation between this style of parenting and offspring’s subsequent poor coping skills in young adulthood. These parents have difficulty letting go, even when their children are adults, perhaps partly because their offspring actually seem to need extra help, as they developed habits of helplessness resulting from all the previous helicoptering. These parents continue to want to know all the details of their adult children’s lives and to offer unsolicited advice as the latter pursue higher education or careers or start to raise a family of their own.