Saturday, November 22, 2008


How often do you see overparenting in your life?

I was extremely interested when I saw an article on overparenting in The New Yorker called "The Child Trap" by Joan Acocella. The point of the article, besides going over the issue, is also to promote certain books, but I still found some of the major points entirely interesting.

Overparenting has other names and terms you might be familiar with: spoiling, helicopter parenting, hovering parents, hothouse parenting, or death-grip parenting. The terms have been changing based on factors involved in the overparenting. Two new elements have been added to overparenting, since the past when it was just called spoiling: Anxiety (Will the child be affected by the imprint of the parent's overcontrol?) and Solicitude (The pressure with achievement and succeeding in every aspect of life).

Hara Estroff Marano's book In a Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting credits NCLB, No Child Left Behind, for adding to overparenting. Many preschools have now begun to substitute more reading and math skills time when normally children would have been allowed playtime. The pressures to succeed and pass NCLB tests not only put stress and pressure on students but on the parents. Marano says that "there is now a four-billion-dollar tutoring industry in the United States, serving most elementary school children."

I can't believe that mandated tests could have this much of an imprint on our students. Increased tutoring rates are astounding as well. But, when students are tutored one on one, they have a 90% chance of retaining the information taught. That number is astounding. One on one work should be used more often so students can retain the information that they should learn.

Adolescents who return home directly from college have a new coined term, boomerang children. "A recent survey found that 55% of American men between the ages of 18 and 24, and 14% of between the ages of 25 and 34, live with their parents. Among the reasons cited are the high cost of housing, heavy competition for good jobs, and the repaying of college loans, but another factor may be sheer habit, even desire."

Marano states potential causes for overparenting:

-The working mother (who, if staying home during a child's youth and quits her job, may lose up to a million dollars over the course of her career).

-The insecurity bred of the global economy (America cannot be left behind to other countries). Noted factors: Sputnik, NCLB.

-Brain plasticity research published in the 1990s ("while the infant brain is, in part, the product of genes, that endowment is just like clay; after birth it is 'sculpted' by the child's experience, the amount of stimulation he receives, above all in the first three years of life").

Carl Honore, who published another book on overparenting, talks about the impact of the self-esteem movement of the 1970s as contributing to overparenting. "According to the research he's read, such ego-pumping [such as praising and hanging up each piece of work the child does on the fridge] confers no benefit. A review of thousands of studies found that high self-esteem in children did not boost grades or career prospects, or even resistance to adult alcoholism."

Gary Cross notes that "the one reason that young men are refusing to grow up is that the women's movement has elimnated rewards for doing so." He credits the feminism movement for such effects. I don't agree with this. I know that feminism has changed how the world has been running, but I don't think it's THAT discouraging to males. I heard recently that more females are going to college now than males. I'm not surprised but I wouldn't cause it to be that disheartening.

But, is overparenting really a problem in today's world? Certain research also argues against the point:

-"Recent surveys have found that today's teenagers are volunteering for community service at a rate unequalled since the 1940s."

-"America's youth on average are now bigger, richer, better educated, and healthier than any other time in history."

-We've seen these arguments before in the past. In the 1950s, it was called "Momism" and it was thought to turn boys into homosexuals.

-There are other bigger problems to worry about than overparenting: "The percentage of poor children in America is greater today than it was thirty years ago. One in six children lives below the poverty line."

Research suggests so many things that you have to pick and choose what you think is right. Is it a major concern for this country? I don't think it's helping make individuals independent and ready to be citizens of this country, but maybe it's been that way for years. It's just more troubling now since we are now competing on a more global scale and other countries might not have overparenting issues as strong as we do now.

I've seen really bad cases in my own life that makes me angry about the issue. I get mad at mothers; how can they cause such dependency in older children? Don't they see what they're doing to their children? Or do they care too much? It's hard for me to comment since I'm not a mother and I won't really know how it is until I have my own children.

One case I want to highlight briefly really has made me angry about overparenting. This boy is now in college and does not know how to cook a single meal. His mother delivers food to his dorm weekly for him to eat (he could also go to the dining hall in emergencies) and she also picks up and drops off his laundry for him every week. When his mother doesn't cook him meals or fetch him food and drink, his girlfriend fills in. He is provided finances like gas expenditures, clothing, and gadgets (such as new iPods when the others become outdated). He doesn't clean his space either. He lets it get dirty until someone else does something about it. Perhaps this is also only-child syndrome going on here as well.

How long can this go on? I don't think he even realizes that he's being this odd and different from his peers. And what does he do with all this time off from doing other tasks that every other person does? No wonder he is gaining weight at rapid amounts. The whole situation is just disgusting.

Anyway, what do you think of overparenting, no matter what the argument is?


Tamar said...

It can be maddening to see excess in any context, don't you think? But you ask an important question-- do parents not see what they're doing, or do they care too much? I am a child psychologist who has been writing about this issue for a while now, and I think that it is important to recognize that these parents are responding to the same (increasing) anxiety that we all feel about the uncertainties of the future-- but how they are responding is (trying) to insure a good future by doing FOR their kids, rather than teaching their kids how to build that good future themselves.

I think we need to shift from finger pointing to solving problems as the turbulence of these times will undoubtedly only create more fear and the set up for overparenting.

In my new book, Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking: Powerful, Practical Strategies for Building a Lifetime of Resilience, Flexibility and Happiness, I take a compassionate look at this overparenting urge and provide specific strategies for how parents can shift their emphasis on promoting success through their child's own competence and resilience rather than by the rather precarious task of trying to remove every obstacle from their child's path.

You can take a look at an excerpt of the book at

Thanks for keeping the issue on the radar.

Tamar Chansky

dave said...

Was this the Acocella article from a few years ago, in which she basically looks at the question: When did we start treating children as distinct from adults?

I have one child--a two-year-old daughter--and am strongly opposed to overparenting. I grew up in a dysfunctional home, went far away to college at age 18, then went to go live in Asia--quite on my own--at 22. None of this was easy, but it made me into a very strong, self-sustaining, and highly aware young adult. I wish these traits for my daughter, too (though I'd like to get her through her childhood without the "dysfunctional home" part).

Neat blog. I found it via a Google search for Frida Kahlo.

Jami said...

It was actually an article from the New Yorker from two weeks ago. It's at the back of the issue attempting to promote some books on the subject. Great comments and advice. :-)