The protective bubble

No parent wants to deliberately inhibit their child's freedom. Why then, do parents become overprotective?

Parenting is a life-changing experience. A parent’s outlook towards life changes when an infant comes into their life. Perhaps, for the first time, they learn to love someone unconditionally. And this love for their child only deepens with time. And that is why parents often find it hard to let go of their children even after they have grown up.

It is natural for parents to be protective of their children. But a parent could easily go overboard and become overprotective. Take the movie College Road Trip for instance. The protagonist James Porter (played by Martin Lawrence) is over-protective of his daughter Melanie Porter (portrayed by Raven-Symoné). Even though Melanie is a smart and intelligent girl, James feels uneasy when she expresses her desire to study in a college far away. He still sees her as his little girl and insists on enrolling her in a college closer to home.

Of course, no parent wants to deliberately inhibit their child’s freedom. Why then, do parents become overprotective? An overprotective nature, many a time, stems from worries. Graphic designer and mother of a six-year-old, Nayana PV, constantly worries about her daughter, even when she is at school. “The media often projects the world as a dangerous place and it worries me that even schools are not completely safe anymore. I know I should not worry too much, but I can’t help it,” she shares.

The ‘big-bad-world out there’ is just one of the many reasons why parents become anxious and therefore, overprotective. Child neuropsychologist Akila Sadasivan explains there are many other causes for this nature. She says, “If a couple feels insecure in their relationship because of marital discord, then they are likely to make their children the centre of attention. Such parents could become overprotective. Overprotectiveness could also stem from a parent’s worries about their child’s health condition.”

Parenting certainly seems to be a balancing act. On one hand, a parent ought to give children love and protection. On the other hand, they cannot afford to go overboard either.

While some parents do have a genuine need to be fiercely protective of their children, some might inadvertently take it too far because of their unfounded worries. Photographer Arvind Sridhar, a 28-year-old, relates to this all too well. He constantly updates his mother regarding his whereabouts, so that she doesn’t get anxious. If, for some reason, he forgets to do so, she ends up frantically calling him and his friends. Because of this, Arvind has seldom had sleepovers at a friend’s place or taken road trips on his own. He hasn’t had the chance to socialise much either. “It is only now that I have gotten to a place where I am comfortable talking to strangers. Sometimes, when I see confident children, I realise I am not even nearly there. But I am learning to be more confident now,” he shares.

No parent would want to raise children who are not self-assured. But over-protective parenting can unintentionally result in just that. According to Dr Joy Banerjee, a clinical psychologist, such parents inadvertently rub their worries off on their children. He says, “Fearful and nervous, they become averse to taking risks. These children are often unable to take decisions or resolve issues on their own. They may develop poor self-esteem. Protected and shielded from bad experiences, these children often grow up to be gullible adults.”

Then again, these very children can–as adults–learn to be confident and independent at any point of time in life. But isn’t it better to raise self-assured children in the first place? Mary Chelladurai, a family and child welfare counsellor, has a couple of pointers on how to do that. She recommends that parents introspect and identify their own anxieties and fears. That way, they can prevent their worries from becoming stumbling blocks on their child’s path to self-development. She also advises that parents encourage their children to make choices, face life experiences–good and bad–and overcome struggles on their own. That way, children learn from their mistakes and face the world with confidence, she says.

It might hurt to see children get hurt or make bad choices. Yet, it is necessary to allow them to make mistakes now and then, so that they can learn to live wisely. Parenting certainly seems to be a balancing act. On one hand, a parent ought to give children love and protection. On the other hand, they cannot afford to go overboard either. But as celebrity advice columnist Ann Landers once rightly wrote: “It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.”




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