By Saving, Do We Condemn Our Children?

Kay Wyma’s recent talks to EDS parents and faculty were on an old topic but with a startling new revelation. She wove delightfully familiar parenting stories that were alternatingly affirming and provocative.  Wyma has found an endearing style to deliver fairly straight talk to parents about how to work against the contemporary culture of entitlement.  Although this is not a new topic, especially in the independent school world, Mrs. Wyma delivered one piece of information that stopped me cold in my tracks.

Over the past decade and a half, I’ve attended many similarly themed workshops and have worked with the likes of Stephen Glenn (author of How to Raise Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World) and Wendy Mogel (author of Blessings of a Skinned Knee), whose books I recommend along with Mrs. Wyma’s Cleaning House: A Mom’s 12-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement. Each of these experts in his or her own way has made a compelling case that parents today overprotect children.  We all are familiar with clever terms such as helicopter  parenting, bubble-wrap parenting, and smothering.  However, until Mrs. Wyma quoted some important research, I did not realize the potentially dire consequences of this parenting style.

It turns out we risk far more than merely raising spoiled, entitled young people.  Overprotective over-parenting has been linked to increases in anxiety and depression among young people.  The very issues that lead many to over-involvement in their children’s lives—wanting to protect them from the damaging effects of conflict, disappointment, struggle, and failure—are actually exacerbated by our well-intentioned efforts.  The cure is spreading the disease.

This is counter-intuitive for most of us.  I think parents often justify the trade-off in ways that go something like this, “I will risk spoiling my child a little bit (they’re just precious children after all) in order to protect them from becoming hurt, anxious, depressed, or disillusioned with school or life.”  Others like Glenn and Mogel have questioned whether that’s a good trade-off, but Wyma brings to light research that reveals it’s no trade-off at all.  This is not a question of parenting styles and choices, it’s a matter of consequences.  Quite simply, over-protection is a terribly misleading term, it leads to increases in anxiety, depression, and diminished success in life.

The lesson is clear.  We need to love our children, believe in our children, trust our children, and let them struggle with the challenges that life presents them.  They will be stronger, wiser, and happier as a result.