In Defense of Protective Parenting

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.

10 Responses to “In Defense of Protective Parenting”

  • Susan:

    Oooh, I just read an Alfie Kohn book about this very subject! All this disdain about “helicopter” parenting is completely without evidence. There are lots of anecdotes and journalists seem to loooove writing stories about the subject, but according to him, it’s pretty baseless. His book is called “The Myth of the Spoiled Child.” Here’s the blurb:

    “Somehow, a set of deeply conservative assumptions about children–what they’re like and how they should be raised–have congealed into the conventional wisdom in our society. Parents are accused of being both permissive and overprotective, unwilling to set limits and afraid to let their kids fail. Young people, meanwhile, are routinely described as entitled and narcissistic…among other unflattering adjectives.

    In The Myth of the Spoiled Child, Alfie Kohn systematically debunks these beliefs–not only challenging erroneous factual claims but also exposing the troubling ideology that underlies them. Complaints about pushover parents and coddled kids are hardly new, he shows, and there is no evidence that either phenomenon is especially widespread today–let alone more common than in previous generations. Moreover, new research reveals that helicopter parenting is quite rare and, surprisingly, may do more good than harm when it does occur.”

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  • Lex:

    I dont think what you are doing is helicopter parenting. Just based on the articles you cited, the Time article suggests that interfering with your child’s life once they hit college level is detrimental as suggested by the questions the researchers asked, ” Are your parents involved in selecting classes? Do they contact your professors about your grades? (Schiffrin herself has been on the receiving end of such calls more than once.) Do they intervene if you have a roommate issue?” none of which involved the safety of a child, just parents that fight their child’s battles. The Healthline article didnt explain much about the ages of the children they surveyed, so I cannot comment on that. Even in Psychology Today, the focused seemed more on letting children express themselves, not keeping them in car seats for the recommended time.

    The common theme in all these articles are parents who did not let their child deal with emotional troubles, like being told “no” or having to talk to their teachers about their grades, or even letting a child deal with a disappointment (like losing a game). None of which I think you are doing.

    You arent a helicopter parent. You are a safe parent.

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    Katie Reply:

    @Lex, I would agree, but I have been labeled overprotective and helicopter by others (who don’t know me well) based on the things I wrote about. And then those studies have been tossed in my face as evidence that I am ruining my child’s future.

    Trust me, my kid hears the word no a lot of times each day. :)

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  • <>

    This. I think of helicoptering, or being overprotective more about shielding our kids from the regular bumps and bruises of their emotional lives, and missing opportunities to encourage independence and resiliency. Physical safety is nothing to be trifled with. I hate the video that keeps resurfacing on the Interwebs about being a “child of the 60′s, 70, or 80′s” (in other words, anyone between the ages of 24 and 54), and how it states that “we survived”, therefore everyone today is crazy. There is a difference of magnitude between keeping your kid rear-facing and/or in the appropriate car seat and calling your kids’ college professors to complain about their grades.

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  • Melissa:

    Who cares what anyone else thinks or what any study says. I’m not saying its not good to stay informed about things, but you make the rules for your life. No one else. If you’re comfortable with how you are parenting, that should be all that matters. Safety, especially in young children, is a lot different that micromanaging a high school student. Just sayin’.

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  • Anna:

    I think there’s a huge difference between being a safety-conscious parent and being over protective/helicopter. Seatbelts, helmets, sleep safety; all that is purely safety and I don’t think is going to set your kid up to fail. I do think there is something to be said about over-involved parenting hurting kids in the long run – but it’s impossible to know where the line is and, really, I’m a lot more worried about kids who have neglectful parents than kids who have parents who are too involved in their day-to-day lives. Definitely the wrong focus (but it’s a lot easier to tsk tsk helicopter parents than it is to deal with systemic abuse/neglect).

    All that being said, I feel like most people actually are more judgmental of under-involved parents. Case in point: I made the huge mistake of articulating out loud that I don’t think I am going to go to all of my kids’ sports games: if the game is at 6 and I have to work past 6, which is most days, I’m not going to rearrange my work schedule to go to the game. If i’m not working on a Saturday and there’s no other appointments, I’ll go to a game. But, again, I’m not rearranging everything to go to every soccer game. OH THE LOOKS OF JUDGMENT AND FURY. People reacted like I was planning on letting my infant play with knives. No, kid, my job is more important than your soccer game. Because it’s what let’s you play soccer. My parents went to a few games each season, when they were free to do so. I knew they loved me, but I didn’t think their lives revolved around me. And I DO think that that kind of upbringing is important – to teach kids that they are loved and cared for, but they need to be a little self-sufficient.

    Whoa, big rant, sorry. But I seriously haven’t been able to convince anyone that I’m not a horrible person for not going to every game my kids will ever have!

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  • purplebreath:

    I hope you’ve never felt any heat from me on this topic. I think you are doing an outstanding job! I ribbed you the other night about “first child” parents. I meant no criticism, only to say I had been in similar circumstances and gone the safer route as well.

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    Katie Reply:

    @purplebreath, Oh goodness no. This is in no way directed at you.

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  • Laura J:

    I keep telling myself you can’t be a helicopter parent to a toddler. Because otherwise I’d be one too. It’s not the same to make sure they’re in a rear-facing carseat as long as possible (which HAS been shown to save lives, not just in testing) as it is to interfere in high school or college-age kids grades. My daughter is currently 19 months and if she cannot get to the first step of the play structure, we’ll help her get up there. We also try to let her decide if she’s actually hurt before coming to the rescue when she falls while running. I’m not sure that what you’re doing is any different that what other parents of kids this age are doing.

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  • Allison:

    I do everything on your list except the rear facing and quiet as much have washing and I really don’t think that makes you a helicopter parent. If you didn’t let your child challenge himself while playing then I would say you should worry but the rest is normal responsible parenting. I have two boys and if I didn’t do the things on your list my kids would be in trouble and eating way too many worms:)

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Welcome!
I'm Katie, a 30-year-old, wife, mom, former teacher-turned PT, who also had brain surgery in November of 2007. This blog chronicles my daily life, from mundane to crazy, often with far too much detail. Sit down, get comfortable and stay for a while.
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