What do most parents want for their children? High on their list generally are: happiness, success in school, to have friends, and to be healthy. In order to reach these goals, our children need inner strength to deal competently with the many challenges and demands they encounter. We call this capacity to cope and feel competent – Resilience.
Resilient children are hopeful and possess high self esteem. They feel special and appreciated. They have learned to set realistic goals and expectations. They have developed the ability to problem solve and make decisions and thus are more likely to view mistakes, hardships and obstacles as challenges to confront rather than as stressors to avoid. Resilient children have greater ability to ‘bounce back’ from disappointments or negative events quickly and with minimal adverse effects.
Last month it was reported by the Australian Early Development Census that school-starters in 2015 were performing at a higher level with physical health, language and cognitive skills, computation skills and general knowledge than five-year-olds were back in 2012. However, the census data also recorded a backward slide in the number of children on track with emotional maturity. This means there were more children in 2015 showing behaviours such as aggression or disobedience, refusing to help others and being inattentive and distracted, than in 2012. Social competence was the other area where children in 2015 fell behind compared to 2012. This relates to behaviours such as getting along with other kids, accepting responsibility and following rules. Therefore, it seems our children are becoming less resourceful, less resilient and less able to cope with everyday stressors. Experts are hypothesising the possible explanation for this decline in emotional maturity and overall resiliency may be the increase in ‘helicopter parenting’.
Helicopter parenting is a term first coined in the 1970’s to describe a parent who takes an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child or children. It was officially added to the dictionary in 2011 and is becoming a commonly held phrase amongst professionals and parents alike. However, one can argue that this term is unhelpful for parents as it conjures feelings of shame and is often used in a demeaning way to describe parenting.
Haven’t we all had a helicopter moment? Perhaps it was a note to a teacher protesting a grade, or a call to a coach insisting our teenager gets to play in next week’s game. Maybe it was helping too much with a school assignment or wrangling an invitation to a party for your upset 8 year-old. Whatever the reason, we stepped in and did for our children/teenager what they could – and probably should – have handled on their own.
Occasional moments like these are part of being a parent. We love our children and want the best for them. But when intervention happens too often, and we find ourselves handling life’s challenges for our children and teenagers week after week – or day after day – then we may be hurting more than helping.
In order for our children to grow into successful adults, they must learn to handle challenges on their own. This becomes more true as our children develop into teenagers. This doesn’t mean that we let our teenagers go their own way no matter what they’re up against, but it does mean that, more often than not, we must let them take the lead.
In other words, when teenagers deal with a challenge, they learn how to deal with a challenge. When they, and not their parents, talk to the coach about playing in next week’s football game or to the teacher about a poor grade, then the next time a similar situation arises, they will have built the skills to do so.
But, when a parent swoops in and takes charge, these skills won’t develop.
Then, there’s the tendency of some parents to rescue their teenagers from the consequences of their actions. For example, the parent who calls to complain about a grade her teenager “deserved” is not helping her teenager at all. Why study next time if Mum or Dad can fix it for you?
What are the Outcomes of Overprotective Parenting?
What’s at stake? A lot. If parents don’t allow teenagers to take charge of their lives – and experience the positive and negative consequences of their actions – they will grow into adults who lack confidence, and perhaps even the competence, to successfully make their way in the world. Recent studies into ‘over-parenting’ in the US by Chris Segrin and colleagues from the University of Arizona reported that over-parenting young adults breeds narcissism and poor coping skills. Therefore, as parents we need to stop hovering and start empowering our children and teenagers to be resilient and depend on themselves.
So How do We Find a Balance and Promote Resiliency in our Children and Teenagers?
We often try to reinforce responsibility simply by giving children chores to do at home. However, almost every child from a very young age appears motivated to help others. Children need opportunities to make a positive difference in their world. Involving them in a charitable work, such as walks for hunger or food drives, fosters self-esteem and a social conscience.
This means being consistent, but not rigid; knowing your children’s capabilities and not pushing them for unrealistic expectations, relying when possible on natural, logical consequences rather than arbitrary, punitive measures; and remembering that positive feedback and encouragement are often the most powerful form of discipline.
Resilient children tend to view mistakes as opportunities for learning while those who are not hopeful often experience mistakes as an indication that they are failures. Parents need to set and evaluate realistic expectations; emphasize that mistakes are not only accepted, but also expected; communicate that their children are accepted and loved even when they make mistakes; and serve as models for dealing with mistakes and setbacks.
When your teenager comes to you with a problem, instead of providing a solution, just listen – and be curious. Ask your child or teenager what are their ideas to solve the problem? Encourage them to identify the pros and cons of each suggestion. Resist the temptation to simply provide the answer – this can be a vital social learning opportunity for your child or teenager.
Teaching our teenagers to rely on themselves means allowing them to make their own choices and experience the consequences of those choices. For most parents, it can be difficult to watch teenagers stumble, perhaps even fall, which is exactly what they’ve been trying to prevent with their hovering.
When our children and teenagers were toddlers, just learning to walk, we were happy to let them teeter, totter, and tumble and explore their world because we understood that this is how children learn to walk – and eventually run. Our children and teenagers are not so different: They will wobble; they will trip; they will most certainly fall. But, if we let them do it enough, they will also fly. It is our job as parents to teach them to fly.
Our clinic address is: Shop 5, 2770 Logan Road, Underwood, 4119.
Our clinic is located in Underwood Village, on the corner of Logan Road & Underwood Road.
There is free parking and close public transport to ensure easy access by our clients.
Our clinic provides a child and adolescent friendly environment that supports differing modalities of intervention. The clinic provides for wheelchair access.