We all want to raise healthy, happy and confident kids. But while we want to protect our children, the side effects of overprotective parenting can end up undermining our good intentions.
Many parents may feel overly protective of their kids and want to control every aspect of their lives, fearing dangers such as drugs, alcohol and violence in schools. But there's a difference between being involved in kids' lives and being overprotective.
"Parents have always worried about their kids, but I think this trend has accelerated in the past several years for a few reasons, including perceived threats in the environment, increased concern about personal safety in the post-9/11 world and fear of crime and gun violence (despite statistics which have trended in the opposite direction)," explains Paul Donahue, PhD, director of Child Development Associates in Scarsdale, New York.
Many parents also worry that they must do more to ensure their children's success, whether academically, athletically or socially, especially those living in highly competitive communities, he adds. Add to this the pressure to maintain economic advantages and give kids an early leg up on the overheated college admissions process, and you can see why parents might go overboard in their efforts.
Here's why overprotective parenting can backfire — and how you can rein it in.
1. It Can Undermine Kids' Self-Confidence
Overprotective parents send the message that their children can't handle life's challenges on their own — and this can lead to a lack of self-confidence. Kids may feel that if their parents don't trust them with the freedom to make mistakes and tackle problems on their own, then they may not have the ability to succeed in life without their help.
"When parents are constantly trying to smooth over any rough edges or snowplow the way, their kids aren't necessarily developing other skills, such as how to be more independent, manage challenges on their own, develop their own games and problem-solving strategies," Donahue adds.
2. It Can Foster Risky, Rebellious Behavior
Parents themselves may believe that they have a handle on keeping their children safe and protected by being overprotective. This can create an illusion of control over their children, who may rebel as they grow older and shatter that belief.
As children reach the teen years, it's natural for them to spend greater amounts of time beyond parents' reach. This freedom can lead to greater risk-taking behavior for children of overprotective parents — and some teens may be more likely to participate in sexual activities, drinking or drug abuse.
Teens often test the boundaries of their overprotective parents because they have likely not developed a sense of responsibility for their actions. To set healthy boundaries for your teen, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends getting to know your child's friends, discussing what a respectful relationship looks like and modeling your own good behavior when it comes to alcohol use.
"The goal is for children and adolescents to not only develop specific talents, but also to learn how to manage their own lives and traverse some of this difficult territory on their own," notes Donahue.
Read more: Parents' Effect on Child Behavior
3. It Can Affect Their Self-Esteem
Overprotective parenting can also impede the development of self-esteem. In fact, Harvard Health Publishing notes that being too protective or engaging in "helicopter parenting" can impact a child's self-esteem and implies that perhaps he can't handle things on his own. This is because the child is not allowed to face challenges without parental intervention or help.
Part of the development of self-esteem in kids comes from surmounting challenges on their own, which can be denied to them by parents who hover too close.
The best advice? "Step back and allow for more downtime and free play, when kids get to decide on their activities and negotiate their own rules with their peers," offers Donahue.
And let your kids take on chores and manage their own homework, beginning in the elementary years.
The AAP encourages parents to support their kids while they do homework and field questions — but not to actually do their assignments for them. "Kids benefit when parents have the confidence and faith in them that they can be successful and manage expectations with fewer and fewer interventions from adults," Donahue says.