Overprotected children always grow up to be under prepared to face the world.
The first time I met D’s six year old, she was absent-mindedly sitting at the window and staring out at a bunch of kids kicking a ball this way and that. I went up to her and asked if she wanted to join the group outside, and she answered with a meek shake of the head before coiling up into a book next to her.
In subsequent conversations, D mentioned she likes the fact that her daughter is quiet and appreciates her seeking permission for almost everything. By the time I was going to come away, I knew what D had on her hands was an overprotected child, who longs to face the world with more fearlessness and yet, is not able to do so.
This is just one instance narrated from personal experience but research has proved that “helicopter parenting“ is a real phenomenon. And what it unambiguously leads to is a child who is overdependent, averse to risk-taking and more prone to becoming an adult incapable of negotiating the world’s many challenges.
The phenomenon rose in the 80’s after the infamous abduction of Adam Walsh, which triggered fear and anxiety in parents. And in 1990, researchers specializing in child development Foster Cline and Jim Fay coined the now oft-cited phrase “helicopter parent”, to describe a parent whose behaviour is an antithesis to the behaviour that aids independence in a child.
In a recent research study, spearheaded by the University of Minnesota, it was found that children with more overprotective parents tend to struggle a lot more at school, finding it difficult to make friends and becoming prone to “acting out”.
The study assessed 422 children over a period of 10 years – first at age 2, then age 5 and finally at age 10.Unsurprisingly, it was discovered that a child exposed to overprotective parenting at 2 had emotional and behavioural regulation issues at 5. In the study, the researchers found parents prone to over protectiveness trying to control even the smallest aspect of their child’s behaviour, including how to play with a toy and cleaning up post play.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, it might be time to take your own understanding a step further.
You might be an overprotective parent if some of the following ring a bell.
6 Signs You are raising an Overprotected Child
1. Low self-esteem
Does your child find it difficult to speak of what’s on their mind?
Do you sense they are afraid or reluctant to give voice to what they need?
You might be dealing with a lack of self esteem here and might need to create space to observe your own parenting style. In a 2015 study by Brigham Young University where 400 university students were evaluated, it was found that while an overprotective style of parenting might emerge from good intentions, it was often the one defining cause of risky behaviour in young adulthood as well as poor self-worth issues.
Self-esteem is a valuable tool to face the world. It is that one quality that allows us to experiment and experience without continuously having to second-guess or doubt ourselves. And when self-esteem starts young, it aids an individual’s growth in independent as well as community circumstances.
Children who have healthy self-esteem naturally feel accepted and don’t have to try too hard to fit into a group. Similarly, they also have a better sense of boundaries and know when they are being mistreated (as against a child who tries too hard to feel accepted and “good enough”).
To decode this quality and how it develops, we need to examine how it takes shape. Self-esteem is slow to grow since babies and infants are helpless and have to be assisted in almost every way. However, as they become toddlers and then grow up a little more, they also learn new skills, which they then find opportunities to apply and feel efficient about. To foster self-esteem, the parent needs to create an environment of love, trust and acceptance where the child instinctively experiences non-judgment.
2. Aversion to exploration
Children in their natural state are in that developmental phase where curiosity and a sense of exploration can reap great dividends. If you notice your child is withdrawn or unwilling to explore play with other children his age, you might have to question your own parenting style.
Are you prone to helping your child out with almost every little thing?
Are you scared that they won’t be able to navigate without your intervention?
While your concerns may be valid in certain aspects, a larger over protectiveness can send out signals that the world in fact is to be feared. A 2012 study (Padilla-Walker, Nelson) concluded that people who had grown up in the care of helicopter parenting, had struggles with self-growth in adulthood, since similar exploratory opportunities were missing when they were children.
So what message does overprotective parenting subtly offer to the child?
It can range from “you are helpless” to “you deserve to be treated specially” to “you need to fear the world.” Based on the nature and nurture dynamic in a specific parent-child relationship, this can land differently in a non-verbal way.
What goes without saying though is that an aversion to exploration can stem from entitlement, apprehension as well as a sense that the parent is more capable of coming up with solutions. And as you can sense, all of these can become habitual and make life difficult for the child as they grow up.