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The “tents of love” is a new phenomenon observed in several Chinese universities. It refers to the setting up of free tented camps to accommodate parents who accompany their children when they join a new university. These tents enable them to see off their freshman children and to ensure they have everything they need. Some call it a show of love, others see it as the ultimate sign of dependence.
The phenomenon of “over-present parents” is not limited to China alone. Educators and employers the world over are speaking of parents who are too present in their children’s lives, preventing them from doing things they should be doing by themselves. There is evidence that an increasing number of parents are finding it hard to cut the apron strings: some parents are doing their kids’ homework or disputing the grades they receive, others are calling their children’s schools or summer camps for the slightest reason, and other parents keep calling their kids all day long on their cell phones.
Even in the workplace, “parental interference” has become increasingly common, with parents calling their grown children’s employers to negotiate salaries or even submit their resumés for them.
In 1996, David Bredehoft, Jean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson set off to study how overindulging children affected parenting practices and children’s adult lives. After observing more than 3500 children for several years, they wrote the book “How much is too much? Raising Likable, Responsible, Respectful Children—From Toddlers to Teens—In An Age of Overindulgence” They found that there is such a thing as “too much parenting.” This is how the authors describe overindulgence:
“Overindulging children is giving them too much of what looks good, too soon, and for too long. It is giving them things or experiences that are not appropriate for their age or their interests and talents. It is the process of giving things to children to meet the adult’s needs, not the child’s”.
“Overly-concerned parenting” is a long-standing phenomenon, often referred to using a variety of terms: helicopter parents, over-indulgent parents, cosseting parents or simply cosseters. In his book “Between Parent & Teenager”, Haim Ginott speaks of an adolescent who feels “hovered over like a helicopter”. It was this remark that gave rise to the term “helicopter parenting”, in reference to parents who were much too involved in their children’s educational and social lives.
What does being too involved in your child’s life mean?
Doing too much or giving too much to your child is a recipe for disaster. We now know that being too present or being too indulging can prevent them from reaching their full potential. As Bredehoft, Clarke and Dawson note, it can “hinder children from performing their needed developmental tasks, and from learning necessary life lessons”.
Every child needs to know that they are loved unconditionally, and they also need to have their needs met. But there’s a huge different between nurture and over-nurture, between caring for and over-indulgence.
Being too involved in your child’s life means doing things for them that you shouldn’t be. It means doing too much, and letting them do too little. It means constantly “hovering”, constantly letting them off the hook instead of teaching them about accountability, constantly protecting them from “life’s challenges” and constantly ensuring that they “aren’t bored”. Over-nurturing is doing all you can to “protect” your child and “make their life easier”.
Constantly hovering over your children is bad for them. Here are just a few good reasons to stop.
Too much parenting: How over-indulgence affects children
Over-indulgence is good for no one, but it is rather common practice. We all occasionally do things we should be letting our kids do for themselves: we get them dressed even though they are perfectly capable of getting dressed by themselves to avoid being late for school; we don’t ask them to clean up after themselves because we know they’ll do a poor job; we don’t ask them to participate in household chores because we don’t want to get them angry. In short, we do many things for them to keep them happy, anxiety-free and boredom-free!
Researchers from the University College London tracked over 5 000 people who had been born in 1946. They found that those whose parents were over-protective or over-controlling had a harder time regulating their emotions and controlling their behavior in adulthood. Their results showed that respondents who had memories of dependence in their childhood had lower levels of happiness and less fulfilling lives in their 30s, 40s and even in their 60s. While it is true that the study may have been biased as the participants were expected to recall their childhoods years later (and the study was based only on these participants’ memories), other researchers have highlighted the dangers of over-parenting.
Some researchers suggest that overparenting makes poorer leaders, and one study found that the more parents were present in their children’s lives, the higher were the chances that these children would struggle with emotional issues, decision-making and academic success.
Here are some of the negative effects of over-indulgence that Bredehoft and his colleagues observed:
- Helplessness: Over-parenting can teach your child that they cannot succeed alone and always need someone to be there to “smoothen their path”.
- Irresponsibility: When you do not hold your child accountable for their actions or when you do not teach them that every member of the family needs to participate in the family’s chores, there is a high chance that they will become irresponsible.
- Sense of entitlement: The more you give your child, the more they will believe that they are entitled to everything. This may also lead to the need for immediate gratification, a materialistic attitude and a desire to always be the center of attraction.
- Poor self-management: Doing too much for your child prevents them from developing the skills they need to do things for themselves, such as self-control skills. The researchers also found that poor self-management also meant poor boundaries, which could lead to behavior such as overeating, excessive expectations (fame, wealth, etc) and an inability to know what is enough.
- Poor problem-resolution: Poor problem resolution results from your child’s lack of skills in dealing with conflict situations. This may lead to personal and professional relationship problems.
Although the participants interviewed often spoke of “feeling loved”, most of their feelings revolved around confusion, embarrassment, guilty, sorrow, shame and anger. Here are some of the comments obtained from the study:
- “I have extreme difficulty making decisions.”
- “I need praise and material reward to feel worthy.”
- “I don’t have to grow up, because other people will take care of me.”
- “I feel like I need lots of things to feel good about myself.”
- “I’m unlovable.”
- “I have to buy gifts to be loved.”
- “I constantly need outside affirmation from my friends.”
So what does being too involved in your child’s life look like?
3 signs that show that you are an overindulgent parent
Childhood overindulgence refers to a form of excessive parenting. Jean Illsley Clarke speaks of three types of overindulgence:
- Doing too much
The first type of over-indulgent parenting is when you do too much for your child or give them too many things. This means too many toys, too many extracurricular activities, too many books, too many video games, too many clothes, etc.
Over-nurturing is when you “smother your child with love” and always have to be present in everything they do. It is giving them too much attention. This could also mean constantly calling your child to find out where they are, what they’re doing, and who with. Professor Richard Mullendore has referred to cellphones as “the world’s longest umbilical cord”, in reference to parents who can now constantly check up on their kids.
3) Soft structure
The third type of over-indulgent parenting is when you do things that your kids should be doing for themselves. This could mean not requiring them to do chores or excusing their behavior even when you know that you shouldn’t be.
When you give your child too much, or fail to provide the structure they need to develop important skills, then you are an overindulgent parent. Wondering if you overindulge your kids? Download the quiz below to find out!
Parental overindulgence always comes from a good place. It is always an attempt to ensure that your child’s needs are met. Problem is, by doing everything for them, you prevent them from developing the necessary skills they will need to make it alone in life.
In her book How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success, Julie Lythcott-Haims speaks of the dangers of “overhelping” children. She sees over-parenting as a trap and urges parents to let their children experiment and learn from their mistakes. She says that to help your child grow into a successful adult, you must be able and willing to tell them the following: “You must figure this out for yourself.”
Here are a few tips for parents struggling with overindulgent or helicopter parenting.
How to stop being too involved in your child’s life to prepare them for success
- Figure out your overindulgent pattern
Do you do too much for your kids or give them too much stuff? Are you over-nurturing, always there, always hovering? Do you have a soft structure, do you always excuse inappropriate behavior? The first place to start if you want to raise a more responsible child is to figure out where your “greatest weakness” lies.
Staring small is always a good idea. This means that instead of trying to tackle all forms of overindulgence, start with the form that is the biggest problem for you: what two things will you stop doing from today? What three things will you start doing from today? Once you have that under control, you can shift to a second form of overindulgence.
2) Let go!
Many over-indulgent parents believe that by doing things for their kids, they are helping them out. That is a false belief. If you have been doing too much for your child, it is time to let them start doing things for themselves. This could look like:
- Having them do chores. An easy way to get started is to propose multiple chores that need to be done and have them choose at least one chore to do during the week. Here are over 70 age-appropriate chores is you are short on ideas.
- Making them responsible for their homework.
- Making them accountable and allowing them to learn from their mistakes. You can begin by letting them know that they are expected to clean up after themselves. Even the youngest children can participate in “making things right”, for example by bringing a broom to sweep up a mess they’ve made, or by using the dustpan to help clean up. Remember that accountability has nothing to do with punishment. It is simply teaching your child that everyone makes mistakes, but everyone is responsible for making amends when those mistakes happen.
- Setting firm and reasonable rules and establishing appropriate consequences when those rules are broken.
3) Teach your child that they are capable of success
Helicopter parenting sends the signal that you have no faith in your child’s ability to manage by themselves. It teaches them helplessness and makes them doubt their ability to succeed.
If you have been an overindulging parent, the time has come to show your child that you believe they can succeed by themselves, that you know they have what it takes to learn from their mistakes and achieve their objectives. If you need help getting started, this guide has lots of easy ideas you can start using from today to help your child learn to deal better with failure.