Overprotecting kids in Chicago: Helpful or harmful?

Parenting articles have become so prevalent (and contradictory of one another) that even erudite The New Yorker recently spoofed them. I totally understand the fatigue, but “The Overprotected Kid,” a recent article in The Atlantic, really made an impression on me. It hit upon something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, which is that I don’t think we’re doing our kids any favors by scheduling every minute of their lives and being so omnipresent in their lives.

I highly recommend reading the article in full, but the gist is exactly what it sounds like — our hyper-vigilant parenting, from safe (if boring) park district playgrounds to never allowing our kids any alone time — we’re creating a generation stuck in a prolonged adolescence who don’t know how to think for themselves.

Full disclosure: Parent-led playdates drive me crazy — ones where the parents are basically ventriloquists for the kids and intervene every two seconds to correct behavior, either on behalf of their kids or mine. Who’s having fun there? I do intervene if my kids hit or shove — that’s not cool — but otherwise, I let the kids sort it out. And they generally do, even if the resolution only makes sense to a toddler. But hey, if no one’s crying or hitting, I call it a win. I spend a lot of time at home reinforcing sharing, but what makes the lesson stick for my toddlers if another kid gets upset because they don’t share. That peer consequence has a lot more effect than mom’s “blah blah blah.”

When I was growing up, I was one of eight grandkids on my mom’s side that were all born within 10 years. It was complete mayhem, but really, really fun. We made up our own games, ran around the cul-de-sac and were largely left to our own devices. The parents usually intervened only in the case of property damage. If we reported kid-on-kid crime, we were almost always told to “sort it out.” And we did.

In fairness, I think a lot of parents would be more willing to just let kids play if not for pressure from other parents to act super involved, lest they be considered deadbeats. On a larger scale, this constant supervision and “concerted cultivation” of our kids with lessons and activities results in no free unsupervised times to kids to play and explore because, as the article states, “Failure to supervise has become, in fact, synonymous with failure to parent.” So instead we overprotect and overschedule. What’s the harm in that? Well, maybe something.

As noted in the article, Millennials — the first generation that experienced this hovercraft parenting and without freedom in childhood — suffers in large proportion from depression, narcissism, a decline in empathy and an inability to make their own choices. Millennials are a convenient whipping boy lately (man, nobody likes those guys) but it does make me nervous.

My kids, even at ages four and 1 ½, have shown themselves to be risk takers. Obviously they’re too young to be left to their own devices, but I’m going to have to remember, when they’re 12 and 9, that they need a little room to grow. If we’re trying to make adults, they need some freedom to become them.

The article has one mantra that I think is worth considering: “We can no more create the perfect environment for our children than we can create perfect children. To believe otherwise is a delusion, and a harmful one; remind yourself of that every time the panic rises.”

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