You May Destroy Your Child’s Future and Not Even Know It if You Fall into This Trap￼
Remember, the person you are raising is their own person, too.
On a scenic, famous strip of California’s Monterey Peninsula known as 17-Mile Drive you can’t miss the stunning sight of The Lone Cypress. Per Pebble Beach, this tree has stood tall atop a rocky outcropping jutting into Carmel Bay for more than 250 years. Unprotected by a single other tree, The Lone Cypress endures wind, rain, salty sea spray, the change of the seasons, and anything else the elements can throw at it with perfect equanimity. Shaped by and adapted to its environment, The Lone Cypress is an icon of resilience.
Now imagine how a bonsai tree would do were it suddenly placed on the rocks beside The Lone Cypress. Picture a little tree, perhaps a Japanese Maple, that has been lovingly tended, raised for years with constant attention, its soil moisture and pH levels monitored often, its leaves trimmed daily, and its diminutive trunk and branches wrapped with wire to help them achieve a gentle perfection of shape and size. Were that bonsai tree nestled down beside The Lone Cypress one day, it’s easy to imagine that within one week exposed to the elements, the sun and rain, the lashing waves of the Pacific Ocean, the howling winds, and the heat of the day cold of the night, that little tree would be wilting if not deceased.
So, on the one hand we have the consummate survivor shaped into a rugged but twisted beauty that can endure the harshness of the world alone. On the other hand, we have a tree so sensitive and needy that it depends entirely on help from others to survive at all.
Were we discussing not trees, but people, which tree would you say had received the proper parenting? If you’re thinking: “Well, neither of them!” then you are absolutely correct. Because in the case of The Lone Cypress, the story is one of loneliness and neglect, with the bonsai tree, that would be classic overparenting. Both extremes must be avoided if you want to raise a child with the best chances of becoming a self-actualized, successful adult.
What Is Overparenting? It Takes Two Forms And You Might Be Doing Both
We’ll assume no explanation of why parental neglect is a problem is needed, so for the remainder of this article, we’ll be discussing the issue of overparenting. To be clear, overparenting is not the same thing as so-called tiger parenting. In fact, it is in many ways the opposite of tiger parenting. In a nutshell, a tiger parent is one who is extremely strict with his or her children and who continually pushes them to excel in all areas of academics, sports, the arts, and high-status extracurriculars, per Very Well Mind.
In contrast, overparenting involves not pushing your child toward ever greater success, but shielding her from any possible sense of failure, embarrassment, struggle, or other necessary and formative life experiences, difficult though they may be. The first shape overparenting takes is that of over involvement.
A mother who helps a child with his homework so much that the student fails to actually learn the material is overparenting. A father who always chooses his kindergarten-age daughter’s outfits for her, never encouraging her to choose her own clothing, is doing the same. Overparenting can take the form of parents helping write a high school admission essay, tying a preschooler’s shoes every day instead of teaching the child to do the task, allowing a child to stay home from camp or school any time they express reservations about attending, and on it goes.
The second common form of overparenting involves treating a child as one to be doted over rather than coached. While of course love, affection, praise, and support are all essential for a child’s wellbeing and happiness (not to mention for a parent’s wellbeing as well as for the successful dynamic of the whole family), this does not mean that praise must be ubiquitous nor that constructive criticism has no place in parenting.
In fact, being critical of a child when he or she fails – be it in a social situation, such as when the child lies, be it when the child does not meet an academic standard for lack of studies or a sporting goal for lack of practice, and on it goes – is essential. Plus, genuine praise given only when it is due will make the child’s sense of achievement and pride that much stronger.
The Dangers of Overparenting
It can be hard to resist lavishing approval on our kids at every turn – most parents are hard-wired to make their kids feel good. And it can be hard to correct, criticize, and even punish children even when these steps are merited, for so too are we hard-wired to protect our kids from disappointment and reproach. But correction, criticism, and reform are necessary at times, though they need not be overly harsh.
A parent can critique, guide, and teach a child in a loving way that will help empower and enable the youngster to face a wider world that is rarely as loving of a place. The life skills kids don’t learn at home – namely resilience, resourcefulness, and responsibility, per CNBC’s Make It – become much harder to acquire later in life.
Beyond an underdeveloped sense of resilience and responsibility, there is a further issue that comes with an absence of constructive criticism and punitive measures. And it’s even worse in cases when undue praise is routinely given – think: “Oh, you did all your homework? You’re such a smart boy!” or “Did your team win the game? I bet it was all because of you!” or “Don’t worry that she got the lead in the school play, you’re so much prettier that the teacher must have felt bad for that other girl.”
Empty praise like this will foster a sense of entitlement, a false perception that things in life come easily and with little work needed, and can lead to arrogance and laziness later in adulthood. Overparenting in that style does not shield a child from the challenges and difficulties he or she will face in life, it only delays the exposure and makes it likely the young man or young woman will have even more trouble navigating their lives successfully once out of their parents’ orbit.