Sunday, January 13, 2008

Are We "Overparenting" our Children?

Recently, I was driving down a rural Arkansas road and got "stuck" behind a school bus. That gave me an opportunity to observe the children that got off the bus. In one instance, there was this cute little redheaded kid that couldn't have been more than 5 years old, who got off the bus (at a busy road). His back pack weighed almost as much as he did. He proceeded to run happily down his rather long driveway to his farm house as his little dog made its way to meet him halfway. As small and young as he was, there were no parents or siblings there to meet him, escort him home, make sure he was safe, etc. But he looked fine, and very self assured for such a small fry.

For the next four or five stops, it was the same: The kids got off, happy, were not met by anyone, and proceeded towards their house to get started on the afternoon's activities. Where were their parents? Weren't they all being neglected? In my community of West Little Rock, these kids would all be met at the bus by at least one parent and, in most cases, would be whisked off to dance or music lessons, then on to a fast food restaurant or other venues, always closely supervised, accompanied by lots of questions, etc.

On the other hand, as I thought more about it, these kids were learning, at an early age, how to be more independent, how to solve problems and how to entertain themselves without the need for their parents to be in tow. In West Little Rock, parents tend to "helicopter" their kids and the result is often a child who goes off to college underprepared for independence, problem solving and good decision making.

Surely there is a balance in parental attention v. allowing the child to be away from a parent to learn the skills of becoming an independent person. But how does one achieve it? How do you know how much parenting is enough without smothering your kid with your attention? To what extent, I thought, have we parents crossed this line and have begun "overparenting" our kids. By washing, cooking, buying, transporting, thinking and, sometimes, even talking for them, we are likely robbing them of opportunities they need to experience.

What are your thoughts on this important issue?

1 comment:

Susannah Fox said...

I remember having an "open campus" in 4th grade (in 1979) which meant that I could either walk home for lunch with my mom or choose to go out for lunch with my friends. It was pretty cool to have $2 in my pocket and the world as my oyster (or my pizza, as I generally chose). I wonder if that elementary school has the same policies today.