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The Over-Protective Parent

Over-protective parents.  What does that term really mean?  Society is changing, and the “norm” for parents is changing too.  Below, I will touch on these and other elements of the label of “over-protective parent”.

When I was young, forty years ago, many cars did not have seat belts at all.  We would go for car rides, unbelted, sometimes even laying on the back deck of the car (right under the rear window).  This was not perceived to be a major safety risk at the time: it was just a fun Sunday car ride. 

Forty years ago, I walked to school about a half mile from my home . . . and I was not escorted by a parent.  While it is true that kidnappers, pedophiles, and murderers existed at that time, we, as a culture, did not emphasize those potential dangers as we do today.  My walk to school was not considered to be risky.  To use a trite phrase, “everybody (was) doing it.”

Forty years ago, a group of my friends and I swam in a nearby lake . . . with no lifeguard on duty and no adult present.  We thought water that looked clean was clean and clear of contaminants.  We never really thought about the risk of drowning or of breaking our necks when we dove into the water.  Our parents thought what we were doing was “good, clean fun”. 

If parents today allowed their children to do any of the above, those parents would likely be viewed (at least by many) as negligent.  What seems reasonable to parents today would have seemed over-protective to the parents of 40 years ago.

If it is true that what constitutes “over-protective” is subjective and time-specific, then is it possible to create a definition of the term that can accommodate the vicissitudes?  I would like to offer the following: an over-protective parent is a parent who has heightened sensitivity to risks, as compared to the sensitivity level of the “average” parent in the society of the time, and who responds to those perceived risks by attempting to minimize their children’s exposure to them.

Most of us, as parents, experience at least some degree of anxiety about some of the risks our children face today.  Over-protective parents simply experience greater risk-related anxiety than their “average” contemporary.  Also, “average” parents may differ from over-protective parents in the life lessons that they choose to emphasize and how important those lessons are to them.  For example, what is more important:  minimizing risks to increase safety or fostering confidence, bravery, and coping skills in a world that will always involve some degree of risk?  In the end, we all have the same goal at heart: to love our children and help them grow to be safe, healthy, happy, productive adults.

*This same label can apply to nannies, babysitters, and other caregivers in addition to parents.

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