About The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting

time magazine cover overparentingOn Saturday, Time Magazine was dropped through my mail slot and I glanced at the mail and was intrigued to see that the cover story was by Nancy Gibbs on the topic of “helicopter parenting”.

Here’s the introduction:

“Overparenting got way out of control in the past generation. But now a band of rebels is trying to restore some balance and sanity to family life and help bring all those anxious helicopter parents down for a soft landing”

Read the full article here

bubble wrap kid

Here are some timely thoughts that you may want to consider as you read:

1.  Are there certain areas of our children’s lives where overprotection is a plus, yet other areas where it would be a minus?

2.  What have you personally learned as a result of a failure?  How can past failures be an instigator for future successes?

3.  Are parents searching for a “magic pill” or “secret recipe” to raising children which will allow them to stop thinking and simply rely on experts?

4.  My grandfather had specific jobs in the family farm when he was six years old.  How has our shift from a rural to an industrial society affected the way children contribute to their families and their level of responsibility and maturity?

What do you think?  Speak your mind below:

Here’s to a protective-but-not-too-protective parenting experience.

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  1. Hi Ellen, I noticed this magazine in the checkout lane, thank you for bringing it to our attention. When I was a kid, we played outside throughout the neighborhood for hours- my parents were happy if I came home before dark! Now, my kids have arranged playdates- which takes lots of effort to organize. I wish I could send my kids out to play on their own, but our neighborhood (although just a few miles from where I grew up) is not that safe. Am I being overprotective? Some may say so, but I believe I’m being reasonably cautious.

  2. I’ve been a high school math teacher for nearly 20 years. There is no question that many parents are overinvolved in their teenager’s academic lives. As the article states, many parents see their kids’ college acceptance as a reflection of their parenting skills.

  3. My experience is different. My son is 18 and this year 2009 was in and out of mental hospital trying to kill himself 4 times now. We had a very hard time getting him graduated from HS. Now, he’s a freshman at College, we did everything but he wanted to quit and did not want to go to school. I am not overparenting, I am lost on how to deal with him, think for him, reason with him, take care of everything for him. I am tired and still have a full time job to do. My daughter seemed fine, graduated and has a good job.

  4. I am a grandmother who is stepping in since my daughter in law decided to step out. I told my almost 6 yr old grand daughter that my grandmother let me help her wash dishes when I was six. For her 6th birthday she received a step stool so she could safely reach the sink. if you could only hear how happy she is to be a “helper” washing dishes with her Memaw. Now the issue is her younger 4 yr old sister wants to help sometimes too.

    • Hi Liz-

      We have our two year old help with the dishes.

      And since this month my wife is away, my two year old an six year old help with the laundry. The six year old sorts the lights from the darks and hands them to me. I toss them to the 2 year old and he puts them into the washing machine. Plus, since I don’t have a clue whose clothing is whose, my six year old helps me fold them and put them away.

      Little kids can do a lot if you just let them.

      Anthony Kane, MD



    There has been one murder in my town in the 125 years that my town has been, yet I am close to a family that won’t let the daughter walk from the bus to her house down her own driveway. If the mom isn’t home to get her, the grandparents (on both sides of the family) drive there to pick her up and drive her from the bus to the house (we’re talking 400 yards). She’s also not allowed to play outside without supervision at her RURAL home, yet she’s free to play video games and watch tv to her heart’s content.

    This girl also can not pour herself a glass of milk when she’s thirsty. First, she has to ask someone, and second, she can’t lift the gallon of milk to pour it (she’s that weak).

    She’s 13 years old. She’s 5’1″ and weighs 180 pounds. She’s failing 8th grade and surfs internet porn regularly. She has few friends.

    They worry that something “might” happen to her walking from the bus to the house. I wish they’d open their eyes to see what IS happening to her.

    • My heart goes out to this girl…i would say this is the cause of overparenting. it is like tying the hands of the child behind her back and for her not to think on her own, know that she is a unique individual who has her own strengths and weaknesses…that she too makes mistakes just like anyone else. I would say that the parents and the grandparents themselves have issues to face and settle…how it is really affecting the 13 year old girl.
      Every child is uniquely, fearfully and wonderfully made by the LORD in HIS own image and likeness. This child has great potentials in her waiting to be unleashed, this child has her own blueprint and can make a positive difference in other people’s lives! my prayers for this 13 year old girl.

  6. With hindsight comes the best wisdom. My 21 year old son is living with his dad, dropping in and out of school and is upset that I don’t take care of him the way he thinks I should. Did I overparent? Maybe, probably. He was a special needs child and I did everything in my power to help get him through school – I thought I was helping him. Maybe if I’d made him more responsible for himself then, he’d be more responsible for himself now. My 23 year old daughter graduated college this year and is working full-time now and was pleased with herself that she is almost totally self-supporting now (I still pay insurances for her). She didn’t get as much help to get through growing up and had to fend for herself more since I was always busy getting her brother through. I always felt guilty that I didn’t give her more – I think I should stop feeling guilty now. I think I may have done better by her in the long run.

  7. We do have to leave our children in God’s hands, but He expects us to make wise choices for our children. I personally would not send a nine year old on a NYC subway alone. That is an unnecessary risk. I don’t believe it is overparenting to protect them in that way. Also, I have a special needs child who is grown now and is moderately independent. Now we have an adopted 6 year old with some mild CP, but in both cases, even if they wanted to, I monitored certain activities, because some things were not practical for them to do having the physical disability. I’m not going to just automatically allow them to do something that could be a great risk to cause them physical harm. When they are grown, they need to make that choice, but when they are young, the parent IS responsible for keeping the children safe. Common sense is the key.

  8. This article is yet another attempt at blaming the parents. The term “Helicopter parent” came from our school systems in this country, in an attempt to marginalize parents. I recommend all parents who have children in our public schools read “Educating For The New World Order” by B.K. Eakman. It is alarming. Our education system is squeezing parents out of the process. They are the “Experts” and at the same time blaming parents when their policies fail. They look at parents as nothing more than “Breeders and Feeders.” This book is a must read for ALL parents! They do this while insisting they want parental involvement. The fact of the matter is that lay people have no say in education policy. Involve yourself and you risk being labelled a “Helicopter.”

  9. Hinda Leah says:

    Dear Ellen:

    I saw Time magazine in the checkout line today and didn’t bother to purchase it. The title and the picture were both bothersome to me. I began reading the article on your website and it made me think of many things that us baby boomers didn’t have in the 50’s, but survived. . and now our children “have them” and can not survive without them.

    Protection vs. Overprotection. . that is the question. I have been accused many times by my children of being overprotective, but I have made it perfectly clear to them that they “should not make the mistake of me being an overprotective parent with, simply, me being a responsible parent.” In this overindulgent year of 2009 I see parents afraid to tell their children “no.” I see children “ruling” the household. It is the “me generation” who has taken the easy way out by allowing their children to have, and do, and say whatever they want.

    Isn’t it much easier to let them have their way than to say no? Of course. But, just like cheaper is not necessarily “better”, neither is having parents do things the “easier” way. ARMCHAIR PARENTING DOES NOT WORK. An armchair parent, just like an armchair coach. . . is not willing to get up off the chair and make certain that their child “does what the parent asked them to do.” If you are willing to SAY IT. . . you better be sure that you MEAN IT.

    Here is where I draw the line with protection vs. overprotection: If the situation is an “age old” issue, then I will take the bull by the horns and intervene. Some perfect examples of that would be landing natural consequences on a child who has shown disrespect for a parent, violates curfews, shows dishonesty, etc. If the situation is not dangerous to the child, I will simply sit back and watch what happens. Some examples of that would be if a child leaves his bike outside, leaves his lunch or homework at home because he was disorganized, can’t find his shoes in the morning causing him to be late for school, etc. I believe in the FFF rule: Firm, Fair and Friendly.

    If his assignment gets lost in my pile of papers on the kitchen table, then I am happy to take his homework to school. If his homework was on the table, but he just “forgot,” I will not take it to him. I will do the same with his lunch. I am Firm with the rule, I am Fair with the rule and I remain Friendly with the rule.

    Am I doing my children any favors by implementing the FFF rule??? absolutely.

    Just My Humble Opinion

  10. Before I state my experience and beliefs, let me give you my background.

    1. I was a single full time MALE parent. Divorced and received sole custody of son when he was 12.
    2. A graduate electrical engineer and not a helping professional.
    3. Presently my age is 71, son is 41. Son is very very very successful.
    I believe the most important job in the world is “Parenting.” For 40 years I have been researching this subject.

    I am attempting to write a book entitled, “Children come with Training Manuals, would like to learn to read them.” But since I have Dyslexia, I find it is easier to make web sites with videos, than write. My first attempt can be found at http://www.meaningfuljoy.info I am attempting to explain how to give happiness, joy, well being, meaningful joy to your child and still honor the child’s temperament, talent’s, attribute’s and gift’s.

    I am interested in your opinion of my viewpoint I have no books, products or courses to sell, I am just a parent with a burning passion to help our children find meaningful joy. You may send your comment to: justwait@vol.com

    What I believe about over parenting: Our job as parents is to protect a child’s life, NOT from life.

  11. This is a tough one…on one hand, I do see parents who are vastly over protective. For instance, a neighbor who would not let her 9 year old outside to play without a parent with him, in our very quiet neighborhood, on their family’s land.

    On the other hand, I do think that many schools are pushing parents out. I’ve dealt with two school systems…one is very parent friendly, encouraging us to volunteer and be present (within reason) at the school. The other…was like visiting a prisoner! They shut me out. I eventually withdrew my son and began homeschooling. We are now back in the first district, and they are happily going to school.

    I do see an indoctrination that happens in some schools. Parents should be wary of this – it IS the PARENTS job to see that their kids have applicable knowledge, not just having high test scores. They need to KNOW how to apply that knowledge, which is something few schools teach now. The schools are too concerned with making certain numbers so they look good…it’s all a big political game in many places.

    The article also does not touch upon the fact that many parents are scared to death of being charged with neglect of abuse over letting their kids make their own mistakes – or for not making them do something different when the kids are engaged in a “dangerous” activity. (my son likes to skate board…building his own ramps…yes I cringe…and yes I let him do it) The government has us so scared that we don’t dicipline as we need to when we need to in the manner that is effective for our kids. This too is a huge problem.

    I say let the kids be…let them learn on their own. They will learn better if we just stop pushing them. I also say that we need to stand up for our families and tell the government to butt out. I birthed two children…they are MY responsibility and I take that responsibility seriously. They are fed…whole foods, organic and hormone free as much as possible. They no longer have TV (*some would say they are deprived) but they play more creatively and are getting more exercise on their own. They are also playing our keyboard and reading more often. On their own. They are clothes..albeit second hand often…but they fit and are comfortable. Money is very tight this winter, so the heat is lower…they will be fine, as I was in a wood heated house (my room was very cold…all the time!) I’m none the worse for wear and nor will they be.

    I think we need to look back a century to see what we’re missing…or rather…how we have way, way too much.

    • Phil Rubenzer, CFS sufferer says:

      Your last sentence is so very true. It’s too easy to choose an easy life these days. Could todays kids be pioneer immigrants?

  12. Man created society for support systems however, the society seems to be directing lives in a manner which is not conducive. Parents seem to have become stooges/ puppets in the hands of society. They are like the TV whose remote control is in the hands of others. The poor dependent children initially are forced to do what the parents think is right or what they wanted to be and later many such parents get dumped. Newton’s 3rd law seems to act with interest. Specially here in India, many children are brain washed to get into what their parents could not do and wanted to. High level of frustrations and stress related activities are a sign of the same. Imagine a donkey being asked to run with a horse as they are look alike? A cow can kill 4 dogs and with grafting look like one, and later learn to bark like one with an expert – however, the traits cannot be developed and thus the frustration and strain while it works outside a bank as a security officer!

  13. Chris Keller, MSN, RN says:

    I am of 2 minds on this.

    I see the need to hover over my youngest son, who has a string of disabilities, such that he will never live independently. I feel the need to “set him up” for success, and to “filter” his exchanges with the world around him, which fails to understand him and sometimes “fears” his differences. I would protect him from harm, predation, abuse, since he, as a person with disabilities, is so much more vulnerable.

    I also see how “structured” the adult world is–I, as a nurse, am micro-managed to the nth degree–and how it may be a service to our children, disabled or not, to prepare them for a world in which there are surveillance cameras and microphones that watch their performances; and policies and procedures everlasting; and accountability up the wazoo.

    I also would prepare them for independence and for original thinking. I would prepare them to make thoughtful choices and accept the consequences of those choices. I would prepare them to be creative and come up with new ideas and eye-popping creations. I would want them to know how to problem-solve when they get themselves into various binds . . .

    I think it is a little of this and a little of that. It is a walk on a balance beam. I need to give them roots and then (whenever the time is right), give them wings, as the adage from the 60s goes. I also need to let go and stop believing that I am in charge. I am not in charge. My children are only lent to me, as The Prophet once wrote . . .

    Chris Keller, MSN, RN

    • Phil Rubenzer, CFS sufferer says:

      After “growing up” with no supervision and constant praise, it did not prepare me at all for becoming totally mentally and physically disabled at age 36. As long as I was healthy I behaved as an adult, but now being disabled I have no coping skills for constant failure and hopelessness. I wish I would have been disciplined more, supervised more, and criticized more, as I find that now I am disabled I cannot handle those things. But the little unsupervised time I did have, did cause me to rely on myself at work, in the middle of the wilderness, and are the only parts of my childhood that I see as useful. I am and will never be a parent, but I feel kids need to fall, fail, be accurately criticized, be given responsibilities, and then booted out of home at 18 so they can finish growing up. I feel I would be much better off today if I had been held accountable, been given household chores, and made to accept responsibility, and the consequences for any stupid actions, not have had my mom “fix” everything so I could do whatever I wanted to – I guess I was fortunate that I was not a hellraiser, but it doesn’t change the fact that I have never grown up because of too much hands off parenting with regards to being given adult responsibilities as soon as possible. I think helicopter parenting is horrible, but troublesome kids do warrant more supervision. I guess it depends on the temperament of the child, but the adults I know and respect the most were supervised a lot until about age 10, then left to fend for themselves. They cope the best and act more responsibly than myself and many other “adults” I know. Lay off the kids and let them learn by and for themselves.

    • A lot of people that has not had to deal with a handicapped child does not know what a parent that does, have to go thru or deal with and have to worry about the time when we are no longer around to be there for them.The world is cruel in a lot of ways and children with handicapes can be taken advantage of and we have to worry what will happen when we are gone.There are some support systems for this but not much.Parents that have never had to deal with this type of situation do not realize how lucky they and there child or children are.Teach them to be kind to these children that do grow into adults and deal with the world the best they can.

  14. I think there is a fine line between protecting and overprotecting our children. Especially teenagers. I have a 17 year old. Who thank God is a great kid and has caused me little to no trouble. My friend has 2 teen girls 14 and 15. She has a counselor telling her she needs to let them do more things alone. Like for instance let her 14 year old spend the night with her friend, who is also 14, and the Nanny who is 18. There will be no parents around, in fact the parents don’t even have time to meet my friend. She says no way and I agree. An 18 year old watching 2 14 year olds for a weekend I don’t think so. We have both extremes in this world overparenting and no parenting. The counselor says that the girls are going to be rebellious. I don’t believe so, my friend allows them to go with their friends to the movies, football games, and the mall, alone. Where do we draw the line. Suzy

  15. Cass Collins says:

    Of our 4 sons, the youngest is only 10, so it is too early to tell, only one could be considered a success. We have done the best we could. We raised them to care about others, to know the Lord, (and i mean we went to church together, prayed and read the Bible together, showed them His love, etc.) and encouraged them to do their best in school. After our experience and speaking with other parents, we have come to this conclusion: it is in them or it is not. It seems that there is almost nothing you can do wrong to mess up good kids, or right to fix careless ones. We know many fine, careful, loveing families whose children turned their lives upside down with grief. IN the end, you do your BEST (no excuses, really do your best, unselfishly)love them with words and discipline and pray for them.
    Still hoping.

  16. Wow, great article and a big thank you for sharing. Wow, I’m blown away. I’ll go ahead and put my name in the over-protective parent collumn. Like others who grew up in a period of worry free neighborhood: kids can play/walk/bike around unlike today. I consider our neighborhood safe: Great neighbors,plenty of kids who are the same age as my kids and get to play together. But I still have had to pull the reign and have talked to my kids about staying close to the house and just have an awareness of where their at at all times. My daughter who is 8, has asked to walk her dog reasoning that she is old enough to do this by herself. I’ve told her no and have agnonized over my decision because I couldn’t take the time(making dinner) to walk with her therefore she will not go. My reasoning, better to be safe than sorry, as i may feel comfortable with our neighborhood, who knows if there is pedophile who happens to be in around at same time she’s walking her dog? Soo I agree we have become paranoid parents and we are sending that message to our children. I’ve realized this yet it’s hard to wean yourself from the paradigm we’ve created in our society.
    I’m working on it….. please keep sending these tips, articles. I’m empowered by these info.

  17. i am a new parent.

    i love a million things. i love to learn. i love to create. i love to write. i love to sit and think. I love simple pleasures, and slow peaceful moments with family. Free range parenting sounds like it would be up my alley.

    But i am afraid oi’ll probably be too strict, even though i am free spirited. I know the indignity and desire to rebel brought on by overly strict parenting, but conversely, i’ve suffered the worst blow-back from of too lenient parenting; like the loss of my own freedom and almost the loss of my own sanity and life. Were they my decisions? Yes.. did i learn from them and become better? yes i would even say more “complete.” But i would do all in my power to prevent my son from going through something similar because of my laxness.

    Moreso, as an older person now, i see the benefits in a structured life – even if you are creative you can be economically creative – that is, wise and efficient with your time. I wish is was ingrained with more of these skills and wonder if my parents could have helped more. Mistakes are ok, and must be acknowledged as part of the process, but part of growing up, maturing, to becoming an adult is to continually gather the wisdom needed and the will to govern your actions and manage your time better as. Adult to me means to be more “professional” — i.e. responsible, accountable, trustworthy, honest, emotionally healthy — all good things.

    Although i know there will be some things i will absolutely not bend on, if I want my son to be able to choose his own path based on what he loves, i also need to acknowledge he will someday define his own personal version of success; as my version may be different than his. He may yearn to live among the poor, in hollywood, in suburbia, or in the woods. He may burn to join the clergy, the armed forces, or politics. Wow — and i’d have to accept any of those as his choice — fabulous, and frightening, each one in their own specific way.

    The best i can do is give him the best education of the importance of values i feel are the most important (family, creativity, integrity, perseverance, faith, self control, intelligence, and kindness), and arm him with a framework to make smart decisions by the time he starts making the most important decisions for himself…

    Good article!

    p.s. thanks Mom and Dad for raising me, each with a different style — Happy Thanksgiving!

  18. I live in a city neighborhood 1.3 miles from my 7th grader’s school. I have encouraged him to walk to and from school. He is also allowed to walk or bike in the neighborhood to friends’, the pizza place, the music store, ice cream, etc. Just want him home by dark. I think this fosters responsibility, self-reliance and independence. The school on the other hand is constantly sending out notices telling parents that middle-schoolers should not be allowed to go unsupervised to the pizza place, coffee shop, etc. Well, I disagree and have told them so. It’s good for them to learn to go in groups, watch out for each other, learn their way around and be self-reliant. I think 6th grade or age 12 is about the right age to gain independence in this way.

  19. I’m a huge fan of Lenore Skenazy and her website, http://www.FreeRangeKids.com.