Monday, 16 January 2012

Are you guilty of over-parenting?

You might have read this article at the end of last year from Boston Magazine, called, Welcome to the Age of Overparenting. It talks about the current parenting tendency towards bonding with our children, spending as much time with them as we can, wanting to make them 'happy' and be their 'friend', doling out the positive reinforcement, micromanaging their time, activities etc. Whilst all done with good intention, the end result might not be what we want or expect.

I started reading the article thinking, 'oh I'm not one of those parents'. I mean, I've always thought it a bit strange when parents say they are their child's best friend. In my opinion, friends are people we are drawn to and develop a relationship with out of our own choice. They're not family. You can have a great relationship with your child without needing to be their 'friend'. I think family psychologist Richard Weissbourd makes an excellent point saying that, 'Treating kids as equals doesn’t allow them to idealize their parents and learn to adopt their values.'.

Further through the article however, I recognised that I am definitely guilty of the positive reinforcement thing! Just as Weissbourd says, it comes from a concern of my child's experience with failure. Not that I have ever thought of it that way, it's just an automatic reaction to praise and put a positive spin on everything. Thinking about it, it's like anything else that if you do or say something too much, it loses meaning. Maybe I need to be a bit more conscious of when and how I give praise to ensure it holds significance when it's really needed.....
"While today’s middle- and upper-middle-class children have an unprecedented array of opportunities, their experiences are often manufactured by us......But their experiences aren’t very rich in the messier way — in those moments of unfettered abandon when part of the thrill is the risk of harm, hurt feelings, or struggle.".
Parents are all too ready to make time for organised activities, classes, team sports and such like, but does that leave less time for letting children play and explore by themselves? Are we overly concerned with safety that we don't want to run the risk of letting our own children do some of the things we enjoyed in our own childhood? Is it the convenience of handing over responsibiliy to an instructor / teacher rather than us dealing with the responsibility that comes with allowing children a bit of freedom?

As with everything, it's about getting the balance right. I'm sure many of us like the idea of having children who enjoy exploring and having their own self-led little adventures but in order to allow that part of their childhood to develop, we need to give them the time and opportunity. There's nothing wrong with some structured classes too, where they can learn specific skills and interact with peers.

I'm sure you'll agree that it's an interesting article and provides lots to think about. Is there anything that stands out in particular to you? Do you think you too might be a little guilty of over-parenting sometimes?
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