The Problem With Overprotective Parents
I recently came across a post on the Parents Community from a father who was "concerned/ paranoid" about his school-aged daughter's safety when traveling to and from school and friends' homes. He said he was thinking of using some kind of location tracker until she turned 14 or 15. Another member of the Parents community chimed in and said she felt the same and doesn't let her kids ride their bikes to school alone, take the bus to school, or "do sleepovers... ever." She also mentioned how she worries about her nephew who, at 9-years-old, is allowed to play with his friends outside without parent supervision. The mom brought up one specific incident where one of her nephew's friends fell and broke a body part (and lost some teeth) so one of the kids had to ride his bike to get help. But my thought is, what's so wrong with that?
While it's reasonable to put rules in place to keep your child safe like setting a curfew, having him call to check in, or setting limits on where he can play, it's not great for parents to spread the safety net too far. This kid and his friends, for example, learned a valuable lesson about how to react to an emergency. Maybe there wasn't a parent around to call 911 or drive the injured kid to the hospital, but that group of friends had to figure out who would go get help, who would stay behind, and how to handle themselves during a scary situation. These are life skills that help a child grow and prepare to take care of themselves when mom isn't an arm's reach away.
At the same time, a study published in the journal Child Abuse and Neglect last April found that kids of overprotective parents were more likely to be bullied. When parents "try to buffer children from all negative experiences they prevent their children from learning ways of dealing with bullies and make them more vulnerable," said Professor Dieter Wolke, one of the study's authors.
When I think back to my childhood and the warnings my parents gave me, I realize why I was the "fraidy-cat" during grades k-12. They scared me so much with tales of what could happen to "little blonde girls" like me that any stranger I met might as well have been a serial child abductor. However, I was still allowed to play with my friends unsupervised at a time when (gasp!) 10-year-olds didn't have cell phones. Although I'm still fighting my fear of crossing the street, I like to think that my parents were on to something with their terrify and release tactic. By freaking me out with their warnings, they knew I was bound to come home in one piece.
Maybe they realized that having a constant fear about their child's safety would also have an impact on their mental health. They might have thought that eventually I would want to go to a sleepover, or summer camp, or college away from home. If a parent doesn't learn how to handle letting kids play unsupervised, how will they ever be mentally prepared for when their kiddo moves away?
Though I'm not a parent, and can't even imagine what it takes to keep a child from accidentally injuring themselves, I do know that when my parents gave me space it helped me become independent and resourceful. Even if I still have to call mom sometimes.