In the past few months there have been several articles about overprotective parenting and the ill effects of being a helicopter parent. I have opened all of the ones that have crossed my internet screen and find myself, time and time again, rolling my eyes.
There’s this one that says that being overprotective will cause your child to be depressed and incompetent in college. Or this one, that says that if you’re overprotective, your kid will be bullied. Or this one, that says we’re raising a “nation of wimps.” And let me be clear, it’s not that these results are insignificant. No mother wants their child to be depressed or incompetent (whatever the limits of that term may be) and certainly we never want our child to be bullied. I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that I think we need to take a look at what overprotective parenting really is, because I think the definition is getting a little lost.
My child will be 2 next month. He rides rear facing in a car seat, and he will until he outgrows his car seat. He wears a helmet whenever we go bike riding. We put shoes on when we walk outside. We put sunscreen on him in the sun and we wash his hands after he plays outside. We force him to hold our hands when we walk across streets or in busy public areas and we even sometimes use a cart cover when we put him in the cart at the grocery store. And these things, simple though they seem to me, have me pegged by many parents as overprotective.
I am an overprotective parent because I read research about car seat safety. I am an overprotective parent because I eliminate risks in my child’s life and because I watch out for safety hazards. I am an overprotective parent because I love my kid so damn much that I don’t want him to get hurt. And I just have to say, I’m really sorry that I’m not sorry.
The leading cause of death in 2010 for children was unintentional injury. Obviously not all unintentional injuries are avoidable, but a whole lot of them are. My child suffered a preventable, unintentional injury that could’ve been catastrophic. I wish I had been more protective and I know that many parents across this country feel similarly.
The leading causes of unintentional death in children in 2010 includes suffocation (under age 1), unintentional drowning (ages 1-4), car accident (ages 4-24). When spelled out this way, it’s hard to not see how some of these can be prevented. There are safe sleeping guidelines to prevent suffocation and following those does not make one an overprotective parent. Unless you ask in the internet. In which case, suggesting that a new mother not use crib bumpers, because they’ve been shown to increase the risk of suffocation, makes you a worry wart and a person who sees a risk in everything and these people feel sorry for our kids. Or suggesting that one needs a gate around their pool or an alarm on a door going out to the pool means you don’t trust your kids or that you’re a bad parent. Keeping your child rear facing until the NHTSA recommended age of 4, and keeping them harnessed until they max out their forward facing car seat or keeping a child in a booster beyond the bare minimum and until their seatbelt actually fits them makes you a hovering, uptight, helicopter parent.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve read that I am handicapping my kid for life by keeping him rear facing. I can’t tell you how many parents I’ve seen say that we don’t need to keep kids in boosters beyond the age of 8, even if they’re small, because “we survived.” The implication is that if you put your child’s safety, and current research, ahead of what has always been done, you’re somehow a lesser parent. You’re somehow weaker and by connection, so is your child.
And here’s what I think every time I read one of these studies. Yes, my child’s emotional health is incredibly important. Yes, letting my child experience life is critical to his development. But ignoring safety laws and regulations is not overprotective parenting. It’s being a good parent. It’s being a protective parent. And I would rather be called a helicopter parent every single day for the rest of my life than have my child become a statistic. I would rather get my child help for depression and incompetence in college, or manage bullying, than be another tally on the list of avoidable deaths or injuries.
Being a helicopter parent may result in more cautious kids, but since when is having a healthy understanding of safety a bad thing? Since when is caring about the safety of your child a joking matter? It’s not.
I am a protective parent. And I’m really not sorry about it.