I was reading a recent article on the subject of “helicopter parenting” and how cell phones and the internet have changed parents’ ability to hover over their children. The parents that supposedly hover the most are moms and dads of the “Millennials;” children of baby boomers, born between the early 1980s and 2000. As I read it, I could not help but think of my own childhood. I was the sixth of nine kids and I can safely say my parents most likely didn’t know where I was 70% of the time. It wasn’t that long ago, and I was raised in a small town, prior to cell phones, internet, and the idea that something catastrophic could happen to me if my parents lost sight of me.
My parents weren’t neglectful any more than my neighbors and friends parents. We didn’t have the technology and we also didn’t have the angst that comes with the technology. There wasn’t the feeling that if I wasn’t constantly busy with piano, soccer or tutoring I would fall behind. My parents saw their role as providing a secure home life, plenty of sleep, good food, and help with homework.
Times have changed. Parents talk to their child every day via texts, emails, Facebook, and web sites. Even when the child goes to college mom and dad are still instrumental in guiding their courses, career, and social life. The kids cannot escape and what’s more is many of them don’t want to. Colleges hire additional staff to answer parents’ phone calls and emails just as summer camps do. Research supports that when parents become involved in their children’s activities the children do better. They seem to enjoy the activity more whether it is college or an after school event, but there is a fine line, and the positive effects diminish when parents take over and try to control the activity the child is in.
Being there as a guide to support your child may be helpful, but if your guidance becomes you telling your child what to do, think and how to respond, your child begins feeling incompetent to handle the situations they are involved with. Soon, your child cannot make a decision without asking mom or dad.
From the time your child is born there is a process of learning to let go of them. The key to being a fantastic parent is watching your child and understanding when and how much to let go. Just as children have developmental milestones to attain, parents do too. Hanging on too tightly to your child begins to produce several of these behaviors listed below:
1. Your child becomes less confident in their own ability to take care of themselves in situations at school or play.
2. Your child becomes fearful and withdraws from novel activities.
3. Your child will develop more anxieties and school phobias may develop.
4. Your child may become less interested in things around them unless you take an interest. A parent should be supportive of a child’s interest, but not responsible for it.
5. Parents who are over protective actually suffer more from sadness and poor self image. When you have all of your needs invested in your child to be a success there is little left for you.
It is scary being a parent. We hear stories of abductions, kids getting harmed physically and sexually, and we feel a need to protect our children. If you feel you hold on too tightly though, or if your child seems embarrassed by your unwanted overprotection, there is a way you can loosen your grip without putting your child at risk. Rather than thinking about protecting your child think about empowering them. This will help you raise confident children while allowing you to be engaged:
1. When your child is small you can allow them more freedom to explore, climb and be independent if you provide a safe environment. Look over the playground or park in advance, and find the park that provides security from traffic, while still offering a fun atmosphere for your child to experience.
2. Make mistakes a good thing to experience. Kids who grow up anticipating mistakes take more risks, are less fearful and feel more confident about themselves. We all make mistakes; children have so much to learn in a relatively short period of time. Make sure they can experience their mistakes while being protected in their family. The outside world will never be as forgiving as your own family.
3. If you have a lot of fears from the way you were raised in your family of origin, make sure you deal with those with professional help. Fears are given/taught to children. This is demonstrated by children being terrified of people, things, or events with which they have no experience. The parents often instilled leftover unresolved fears of their past. Being afraid of life and all it has to offer is something you do not want to pass on to future generations.
No one will ever love your child the way you will. Protect their childhood, love them, and offer them new experiences so they can grow and learn. When a child tries something new, it is clear that they look at the new adventure and look back at you. If they see a loving parent who embraces the new while having confidence in their child’s ability to master it, they will be empowered to soar.
Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. Read more about the book at www.StartTalkingBook.com and more about Rapini at www.maryjorapini.com.