Teen Health 411
Teen Health 411

Overparenting - Can There Be Such A Thing?

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When did it happen that the merit of a person became based on the success of his or her children? I must have missed that switch, but I see it around me every day - parents who have nothing to say that is not about their child(ren). Is it the fact that we worry that globalization will take away jobs or create an even tougher economy? Is it our own feelings of inadequacy causing us to try and recreate our childhoods through our children? Is it the guilt working mothers feel about not being at home all the time?

Whatever the cause, this focus seems to come with children who interrupt, are the center of every activity, have no ability to wait or problem-solve, and who my father would have called "spoiled." Now we say they are "overparented" by "helicopter" parents who are fixated on the achievement, health, and every activity of the child, started before birth.

This achievement focus has lead (sadly in my perspective) to the demise of the old preschools and kindergartens - where children would play house and pretend, sing songs, finger paint, work with clay, and get as dirty as humanly possible each day. Now kids have to be able to count to 100, know their address and phone number, and oodles of other stuff before they can "graduate" to first grade.

These kids not only have had this academic pressure hoisted upon them, they also have afternoons filled with language classes, sports practices, dance classes, and music lessons, which I always thought was to introduce children to different things, in hopes that they found a passion, but now seem to be "just another pressure" and step stone to success.

Granted, busy kids and those with parents who know where they are (most of the time, and without a GPS device in their phone) are the most likely to delay participation in alcohol, drugs, and sex, but, is the chronic stress and exhaustion a reasonable price, and is that the only path?

The true test of whether someone is a helicopter parent seems to come when a teen goes to college. If you are editing his or her papers via email, talking and emailing daily, and consider buying a home in the town they attend college, call someone for help! The whole idea of growing up and going to college is to be independent - have a trial run at adulthood - and that means being able to handle life without a parent, and in order to do that, there must be a gradual handing over of responsibility to the teen, between the ages of 13 and 18.

Somehow we have to find our way back to enjoying our kids, trusting our own parenting instincts, and knowing that what matters is who they are on the inside!

Happy Holidays!
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About the Author

Dr. Brown is a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent health.

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