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Possible dangers of helicopter parenting

Could extreme levels of parental protection and responsiveness to children be counterproductive?

By Charyn Pfeuffer - MSN Living Editor Feb 1, 2013 9:18PM

When did obsessing about kids’ safety and success became the norm? And what happens to students who aren't allowed to suffer through setbacks?

A new study out of Queensland University of Technology examines the concept of “overparenting,” which is characterized as parents' misguided attempt to improve their child's current and future personal and academic success. Other common terms for this parenting style include ‘helicopter parenting’ (hovering closely overhead, rarely out of reach, whether their children need them or not) and ‘lawnmower parenting’ (mothers and fathers attempting to smooth out and mow down all obstacles).

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In a recent article in The Atlantic, English, Latin, and writing teacher Jessica Lahey of Lyme, New Hampshire talks about this whole new level of overprotectiveness and the findings of the study. “Parents who raise their children in a state of helplessness and powerlessness, children destined to an anxious adulthood, lacking the emotional resources they will need to cope with inevitable setback and failure,” Lahey writes.

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In an attempt to understand such behaviors, the authors of the study surveyed psychologists, guidance counselors, and teachers. One example of overparenting that surfaced included parents who “take their child's perception as truth, regardless of the facts," and are "quick to believe their child over the adult and deny the possibility that their child was at fault or would even do something of that nature."

As a teacher, Lahey encounters most what the authors term "high responsiveness and low demandingness" parents. These parents are highly responsive to the perceived needs and issues of their children, and don't give their children the chance to solve their own problems.

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You know the type. The parent who drops everything to deliver forgotten homework or lunch money. They are so overprotective of their children that they never learn to take responsibility (and the natural consequences) of their actions. Yet, given a choice, teachers say, overinvolved parents are preferable to invisible ones.

The challenge is helping parents know when they are crossing the line.  A 100 percent safe world is not possible. And every teacher has a story of a student who needed to fail in order to be reassured that the world wouldn't come to an end.

Back in 1918, D.H. Lawrence offered this advice: "How to begin to educate a child. First rule: leave him alone. Second rule: leave him alone. Third rule: leave him alone. That is the whole beginning."

Do you think that overparenting could negatively impact a child’s wellbeing?

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