Parenting styles can be seen as a continuum with over protection at one end of the line and neglect at the other. Over reaction to very rare cases of child abduction have led to a generation of ‘bubble-wrapped kids’ with helicopter (or hovercraft) parents who supervise their every move and prevent them from playing outside with friends. At the age of eighteen, some have never travelled on public transport. The adolescent’s inappropriate and criminal behaviour is excused, parents pay their fines and we saw recently where a mother paid over $5000 for a tennis star’s shirt because her daughter was upset that she didn’t get it. Over-protection and intrusion stifle children’s emotional, social and physical development and prevent them from gaining independence. They grow up lacking self confidence and the ability to make decisions for themselves because they have become dependent on their parents.
Helicopter parents deny children the opportunity to take risks and learn from mistakes. They think that by controlling every move, they are protecting children from harm but in reality they are denying them the skills to stay safe outside the extended family. Children beyond pre-school years need opportunities to experiment with parents teaching safety skills and acting as a safety net.
Over-protection is stifling but equally dangerous is giving children choices and freedom before they have the skills and maturity to use it wisely. Parents who want to be their children’s best friends and fail to parent store up problems for the future. Children need limits, routines and boundaries for sound development and a sense of security. Sadly, some parents don’t seem to care where their children are so long as they are “out of the way”. Girls of twelve say that they are going to stay at a friend’s place but, scantily clad, go to night clubs and stay out all night. With “come and get me” written all over them, they are ill equipped for dealing with the situations they encounter.
Although there are parent help-lines to assist with parenting problems, we do not seem to know what to do with feral adolescents. We can’t lock them in. Truancy officers no longer investigate school absences and parents can’t rely on over-loaded child protection services. There are few deterrents for anti-social behaviour. Parents face uncertainty about when to permit children to do things on their own and when to say, “No, you are not old enough”.
Such are the problems that there are millions of parenting sites on the internet. Good parenting involves getting the balance right between strong, protective parenting and helping children to be responsible for themselves. As they grow, the adults must step back but the timing is crucial. Much depends on children’s maturity, safety knowledge and skills. If in doubt, seek help from your state parenting service.
Emeritus Professor in Child Development
Dr Freda Briggs AO is Emeritus Professor in Child Development at the University of South Australia and author of "Smart Parenting for Safer Kids". "Smart Parenting for Safer Kids", reviewed by SingleMum.com.au here, gives tips on keeping children safe in a wide range of situations from cyber space and sexual abuse to bullying. The book is available in all good bookstores and can be ordered by phone on 03 9681 7275 or online at JoJo Publishing
You can read more of Freda Briggs's Profile here.
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