The Hazards of Over-Protecting
My seven year old daughter wanted to go door-to-door in our neighborhood to sell her art work – without me. Every horrible scenario that could possibly happen to her passed before my eyes. I said no. Her defeated look forced me to examine my fears. Was I crushing her spirit? Was I sending her the message the world is a dangerous place? I retracted the no, and agreed to let her visit the neighbors we knew, with her brother, for fifteen minutes. When they returned home safely, the sparkle in their eyes told me I made the right choice. Lenore Skenazy of the site, Free Range Kids, was not surprised. — Erin Janda Rawlings, Mommy on the Spot – TMC Contributing Writer
How would you define over-parenting? How is it different than protecting our children?
I don’t think people over-parent; I think we have been taught to overreact.
Overreacting is a part of our culture. Even the government overreacts. Twenty states won’t let your child stay in the car while you run a quick errand, like picking up your dry cleaning or getting a pizza. This is an overreaction. Some kids do die in cars each year, but they take trillions of car rides every year. The belief is that there is no gradual along the continuum – you are either in grave danger or perfectly safe. No one is perfectly safe, and we can’t seem to come to grips with that.
Our job is to teach our children how to be pretty safe in the real world. That means you have to teach your kids how to cross the street safely and looking for cars pulling out of driveways. You can talk to strangers, but you cannot go off with strangers.
The media feeds this. For example, a 3 year old was accidentally served alcohol in Applebees. Everyone thought it was so horrible and instead of Applebees saying it was an accident, they genuflected at the alter of reaction saying that a child will only be served single-serving juice boxes so this horrible tragedy would never happen again.
What are some signs to clue parents in to the fact they might be over-reacting or over-protecting?
It’s hard to trust our instincts because they are a product of their era. Fight back the fear that is foisted upon us, turn off the TV, and go outside. Fear reliably fascinates us and keeps us glued to the screen. The real world is so different than the TV world. It may be more boring, but it’s nicer and safer; it’s a place where you belong instead of feeling terrified all the time.
Read a book that was written before 1970. Kids were having little adventures. They were going to the diner and having a donut after school or making a fort – it was all normal. Why isn’t that normal now, especially since crime rate is back down to the time before colored TV? Kids need time and space to just think and explore.
Remember what you loved to do as a kid and what are you not letting your kid do. Ask yourself why you are taking this out of your child’s life if you loved it.
What are some of the potential pitfalls of over-parenting?
It is important not to dwell on the long-term effects. There’s too much pressure on parents already, and eventually everyone turns out fine. All you have to do is love your kids and feed them.
Let your kids do the thing you’re afraid of: walking to school, going to the bathroom, riding a bike. When kids can do these things and feel happy and proud, parents change and become less fearful. They need to have that delicious moment of “Mom I did it myself!” Kids thrive when we trust them and give them rope.
Lenore Skenazy, a reporter for 14 years, now writes for Free Range about the importance of giving kids freedom in order to foster independence and confidence. Lenore also does house calls to help parents work through their fear and has been featured on The Today Show and The View.
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