Overprotecting Our Children

Overprotecting our children: How to strike a balance between being a caring parent and giving the necessary space to a young person to grow and experience life firsthand

Every child or young person has a right to be safe and receive care that helps them to grow and to live a happy and healthy life. But what if overprotection keeps teenagers off from becoming emotionally mature individuals? What if overprotection is an obstacle in harmonious development of a healthy mindset to combat life’s challenges? That has been the matter for investigation of Gary Hickey in the recent issue of Boarding School magazine [please see pp. 30-37], and food for thought for educators like Cherwell College Oxford. 

A great emphasis is placed on safeguarding and child protection in the UK education system. But once children reach their teen years, the ‘overprotective’ approach might do them more harm than good. Recent research shows that by overly treating children as if they are too fragile to cope with all that life presents we are not only preventing the children’s emotional immune systems from developing strength and resilience, but also doing so to the detriment of future growth and wellbeing generally. 

Children, as well as adults, need friends and reliable role models, and intermittent instances of normal stress are essential. Stress inoculation is a kind of immunity against later stressors, that could be compared to the vaccine-inducing immunity against the virus. 

Modern young people quickly embraced the internet, social media and now all-pervasive swipe culture. Their devices became their shields from real life, and the life in the net became more real than the real life itself. Many young people experience symptoms of anxiety and depression following common life events such as exams, relationship breakdowns, losses, grief and any kind of change. Anxiety and sadness are normal adaptive emotional reactions to certain events. Accepting life’s ups and downs, and knowing that some days will be better than others, and that if at first, you don’t succeed, then that is absolutely okay and you are not an abject failure as a result. In order for children to cope and subsequently thrive, they need to be able to recover from mistakes, because mistakes will happen. They need to be able to deal with the challenges that life will throw at them, and the misfortunes and failings that may happen. Which means they need to fail along the way in order to succeed. 

What the caring parent and a great education institution have to do from their side is to help young people become EMOTIONALLY prepared to face life’s challenges. This includes not only talking and encouraging children to discuss their feelings (though, undoubtedly, it is an important part), but also giving them space to act, respond to the situation, encourage them to think of others and consider other perspectives, and in the same time encourage them to think what they are going to do about that situation. We need to help young generations build emotional resilience, with a considerable emphasis on normalising difficult emotions, to prepare them for adult life beyond parental home and school walls.