Robert A. Heinlein once said 'Do not handicap your children by making their lives easy.' Parents feel that it is their duty to protect their little ones from harm, and not let anything bad happen to their darlings. But sometimes, they might go overboard, albeit unintentionally, and become overbearing and overprotective.
Despite having the child’s best intentions at heart, this can be detrimental to his or her present and future psychological wellbeing. Sometimes, these cases can be extreme. In 2004, a woman in Italy was arrested for having smothered her son by such protectiveness that it amounted to psychological abuse, and hampered his physical development. He was not allowed to mix with other children, and even his food was cut up into tiny bite-sized morsels. Due to lack of exercise, he had the motor development of a three-year-old, when he was finally allowed to go to school at the age of six. His mother and grandfather were finally sentenced to an imprisonment of 1 year and four months.
This mollycoddling, or excessive parenting, has led to the term ‘helicopter parents’ to refer to parents that continually hover over their children, lest something horrific might happen. A recent conference in Brisbane heard evidence against the overprotective nature of society, which predisposed children to depression in adulthood. This is supported by studies by experts.
Parents’ own nervousness and anxiety transfers onto the children through their fussing, and these children become anxious too, and become reluctant in stepping out of their parents’ protective shadow, and demotivated when it comes to trying new things. This can foster low self esteem and confidence, and oversensitivity.
Being mollycoddled and pampered will prevent children from experiencing their own mistakes, and they will never become self reliant or responsible if everything is done for them by their parents, and thus their success will be contingent on their parents’ help. However, this does not mean they are not capable, but that they have learned to be dependent. Also, they cannot reflect on their experiences objectively if they have no experience of being independent.
According to U.N. figures, cases of suicide are maximum in teenagers and young adults from affluent or protected backgrounds. This shows that living in a protected environment diminishes resilience, and these children cannot handle failure, or cope with stress. They will be unprepared to deal with real obstacles in life. Thus, adversity at a young age can act as a vaccine.
Over involvement of parents also affects the social standing of children, and they are looked down upon by their peers as “mama’s boys or girls”, and often bullied because of their lack of confidence, and obvious deficit in street smartness. They will be unable to make new friends for fear of meeting ‘dangerous’ people, and will often remain alone.
Sometimes, indulgent behaviors by parents can take the form of spoiling the children, where every wish and desire is met, and excessive praise for every little thing is given, in order to keep the child ‘happy’. At other times, the authority figures are so overpowering and strict in what the child can and cannot do, that he or she becomes submissive, and loses his or her individuality in trying to please the dominating parents. Both policies can never work in the long run.
What needs to be understood is that all that children really want is a bit of independence, and a chance to prove themselves, and deprivation of adversities to face is actually deprivation of essential life experiences, which are required for self reliance
. They should be treated with respect, and asked their opinion. Boundaries should be set with scope for curiosity and exploration, and not forced down the throats of children because ‘parents know best.’ Fears of parents should not be imbibed in the children so they do not become their parents’ replica. After all, what differentiates humans from animals is individual differences, that arise from different experiences.
(This column includes research by Apurva Sapra)