Over parenting has pitfalls



St Francis Bay freelance journalist Beth Cooper-Howell takes a look at the other side of life in Woman on Top, her weekly lifestyle column.



The #feesmustfall campaign hasn’t only been about money. Whether by design or accident, it has thrown into focus what it is to be young, with all its passions and potential pitfalls.

That education is a right, is a given. How that happens, and how much it costs, and what is sacrificed to attain it, is the crux of a student’s story. But what about the stuff that silently supports the development from child to well-balanced, successful adult?

There are aspects of education which are being ignored at our peril, say academics – and these have nothing at all to do with education.

Helicopter parenting, or “over parenting”, is a worrying trend that strips our kids of their intrinsic human ability to think independently, act responsibly and take charge of their lives, according to an interview on www.dailycrackle.com with author and former Stanford University freshman dean, Julie Lythcott-Haims.

In our battle to better the new generation with astounding academic skills and a foothold in a globally competitive market, we have forgotten the basics that actually lay the foundation for real success. Hint: a bouquet of A symbols in matric isn’t one of them.

Lythcott-Haims noticed that each fresh batch of first-year university students was “more accomplished” than the last. They had higher school-leaving scores, additional achievements outside the school environment and had even published novels. Who were these people, she wondered?

But academic excellence wasn’t all that separated these geniuses from previous generations. In fact, they were failing at the most basic of levels.

They seemed to “lack the executive function necessary to make it on their own. Many students don’t make eye contact, don’t interact with teachers” and couldn’t make decisions without texting their mothers first. These are classic signs of the consequences of “helicopter parenting”, which is defined as a parent’s will to “engineer” a certain outcome for his or her child.

Naturally, as parents, we have done a little helicoptering to nudge along achievement in a project, or to improve an exam result. We’ve even been helicoptered ourselves, by parents who knew that a good matric result meant the possibility of further education, which in turn secured a better job.

But lately, the push towards a “superhuman teen” has backfired, says Lythcott-Haims. Recent studies show that students are “more depressed, anxious, and hopeless than ever before.” The reason? Life simply isn’t better if you’re handed everything on a plate.

She explains that basic problem-solving skills are key to developing self-awareness and confidence.

These skills, she points out, are the foundation of daily life, such as tidying your own room, fixing your own meals, learning to manage your time, remembering your own deadlines – that sort of thing.

Nowadays, many parents are so afraid of failing at the oft-quoted mantra, “no child left behind”, that they pin themselves to the fabric of their children’s lives, forgetting that one day, they won’t be there to cushion the blow, or pick up the pieces, or smooth over the cracks.

Lythcott-Haims says that straight As and academic achievement are not a recipe for success. Instead, real success is a result of emotional, problem-solving and intellectual skills that are mostly learned in childhood.

In short, our grandparents were right. The two best things that we can do for our kids, and which will help them to be better adults, is to give them chores and to teach them love, says Lythcott-Haims.

This is not fluff science. The Harvard Grant Study (named as one of the longest studies of humans ever conducted) credits life success as resting on having done chores as a child – the earlier, the better. It also concluded that happiness stems from love – love of people and of the human experience.

How could all this translate into a solution for free or affordable education? It doesn’t – not directly. But it does make a promise – that raising our kids to do more chores and to know and understand what love is, will help them to achieve what they want to achieve, with or without that solution.

One thought on “Over parenting has pitfalls

  • September 29, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    While it is true that children should not be smothered, the anti-helicopter movement tends to downplay the extent to which they need love and affection. I am a child psychotherapist who everyday sees the damage done when children lack love and affection. Loving your child is not the same as permissiveness and does not make you a “helicopter” parent. Children who are appreciated and cared for develop an unshakeable inner well-being that actually makes them more resilient and able to withstand life’s ups and downs. In the parenting book, Smart Love: The Comprehensive Guide to Understanding, Regulating, and Enjoying Your Child there are specific strategies for dealing with every age and stage from birth to adolescence in a loving manner that is also effective and growth-promoting.


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