The Effect of Over-Protective Parenting on Child PotentialPear Tree Education
Pear Tree Education
12th Apr, 2016

The Effect of Over-Protective Parenting on Child Potential

The notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ parenting are controversial issues.

What each of us considers ‘normal parenting’ is due in large part to our personal experiences; in other words, we learn particular parenting styles when we are children through the process of socialisation.

Our approach to parenting is likely to be influenced by that used by our parents.

In Diana Baumrind’s 1991 study, she identified 4 x parenting styles:authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and rejecting/neglecting.

While it is arguable that there is no such thing as ‘perfect parenting’, research suggests that certain parenting practices and styles have negative impacts upon a child’s life chances.

In addition to Baumrind’s study, Darling and Steinberg sought to distinguish between parenting styles and parenting practices – with the parenting styles relating to the emotional context, and parenting practice to parents’ actions and behaviours.

Parenting approaches, therefore, are a combination of parental expectations and involvement.

While it is arguable that there is no such thing as ‘perfect parenting’, research suggests that certain parenting practices and styles have negative impacts upon a child’s life chances.

In particular, the concept of over-protective parenting, popularly known as ‘helicopter parenting’, negatively affects children’s academic and socio-emotional potential.

What is ‘Over-Protective Parenting’?

Defining ‘over-protective parenting’ is a quite a challenge, because it can manifest itself in various forms and combinations of parenting practices and styles.

From the perspective of Baumrind’s parenting styles, over-protectiveness could be related to both authoritarianism and permissiveness.

Baumrind’s definition of permissive parenting is of a parent who is responsive to their child’s needs, but has low expectations of their performance.

Imagine a mother taking her son to a summer camp. Upon arrival, the boy is disrespectful to his mother and the camp operators, and refuses to participate in the camp. Rather than see the situation as symptomatic of separation anxiety and as a socioemotional challenge that both mother and child need to overcome, the mother defends the child’s decision as the right one, blames the camp operators for the situation, and leaves. In other words, the mother protects her child from a situation that all other children at the camp have likely faced.

Baumrind’s definition of authoritarian parenting is of a parent who loves their child, but exerts control over every aspect of the child’s life.

Such parents do the thinking, speaking, and acting on behalf of their children.

From the perspective of an over-protective parent, an example of this would be a father that refuses to allow his daughter to attend a sleepover at the house of the daughter’s friend. By asserting his dominance, the father is trying to protect his daughter from presumed risks associated with the other family, such as potential poor parenting practices (e.g. unhealthy food habits or inappropriate language), or even the risk of sexual abuse. Through the father’s control over his daughter’s choices, he attempts to protect her from any potential risks.

Defining over-protective parenting from the perspective of emotional context is more challenging aspect, because it is difficult to separate parenting styles from parenting practices.

Darling and Steinberg define parenting practices as “constructs [that] include parental involvement; parental monitoring; and parental goals, values, and aspirations” (cited in Spera, 2005, p. 127).

Although researchers largely view parental involvement and monitoring as having very positive effects on a child’s education, the problem with over-protective parents is the tendency to hover around their children at all times, ready to protect them from any perceived challenge.

Consequently, such parents do the thinking, speaking, and acting on behalf of their children.

Studies show that a parent’s involvement in their child’s education has an impact on their academic performance, more so even than the child’s school.

An example of this would be a mother that wishes to stay with her child in the classroom each day. Long after all of the other parents have left, the mother sits at the back of the class anticipating any confusion or anxiety that her child may be experiencing, and perhaps even brings this to the attention of the teacher in case the teacher was not aware.

Another example would be the parents who make weekly or daily appointments to see their son’s teacher in order to protect him from any risk of academic failure, or to constantly mediate his friendship conflicts.

Learning to Fail: The Academic Consequences of Over-Protective Parenting

Over-protective parenting can negatively affect children’s academic performance in 4 x ways.

While parents have tremendous potential to increase their child’s academic success, they have equal potential to cause their academic failure

Firstly, over-protective parents will increase the risk of their child failing academically. Studies show that a parent’s involvement in their child’s education has an impact on their academic performance, more so even than the child’s school.

Therefore, while parents have tremendous potential to increase their child’s academic success, they have equal potential to cause their academic failure. For example, when children are assigned homework, over-protective parents will feel the need to either check that their child’s work is correct, or they will even resort to doing the homework for them.

Such actions prevent the child from learning from the homework practice or from making mistakes.

Furthermore, as the homework was completed by the parent, the child’s teacher may be oblivious to the fact that the child has not, in fact, achieved the learning outcomes.

Secondly, over-protective parents protect their children from experiencing healthy amounts of confusion, stress, or challenges. While parents may feel that stress or confusion are always bad, studies show that creating learning situations which involve challenging and confusing problem-solving and critical thinking scenarios leads to better academic performance and transfer to new learning situations.

However, such learning approaches are designed for students “who want to be challenged with difficult tasks, are willing to risk failure, and who manage negative emotions when they occur” (University of Notre Dame, 2012).

As such, if parents protect their children from experiencing challenges, failure, risks, or negative emotions, their children will be less likely to reach higher academic levels.

Thirdly, children of over-protective parents will not learn to complete goals or tasks. A study by Brigham Young University (2012) reveals that parents, particular fathers, play a vital role in developing determination and perseverance in their children.

Such attributes are learned behaviours first learned at home.

Therefore, parents who protect their children from the healthy challenges and developed habits of goal completion are jeopardizing their child’s life chances.

Studies have shown that after-school education programs lead not only to higher academic grades, but also to a greater sense of self-efficacy.

In fact, by protecting their children from the stress of being accountable for task completion, over-protective parents increase the likelihood of children experiencing stress throughout their life.

Finally, over-protective parents negatively affect their child’s academic performance by avoiding registering their children for any after-school education programs for fear of overloading their child.

Studies have shown that after-school education programs lead not only to higher academic grades, but also to a greater sense of self-efficacy.

The same applies with academic camps during the spring and summer breaks.

For every year that a parent prevents their child from attending academic camps during the long summer break, they will cause their child to suffer from increasingly lower academic competitiveness than peers that do attend such camps.

Children of over-protective parents are at greater risk of being bullied, or becoming a bully.

Effects on Socio-Emotional Potential

Aside from academic performance, over-protective parenting can negatively affect children socio-emotionally.

Firstly, children of over-protective parents are at greater risk of being bullied, or becoming a bully.

While parents may want to protect their children from conflict or negative situations, children should be allowed to experience some peer conflict without constant adult interference, in order to develop the socioemotional tools to deal with such situations.

One socioemotional tool is assertiveness. Without this, the child will be unable to use their words to deal with hurtful behaviour non-violently and confidently.

Likewise, without learning autonomy, the child is at higher risk of becoming the perpetrator of bullying by being influenced by others.

Interestingly, teaching a child to have the socioemotional strength to persevere and complete task also reduces the risk of delinquency, thus highlighting how interconnected socioemotional causes and effects can be.

Secondly, over-protective parenting can lead to children developing ‘negative emotionality’. Shannon Lipscomb, assistant professor of human development and family sciences at OSU Cascades, states that a parent’s “ability to regulate themselves and to remain firm, confident and not overreact is a key way they can help their children to modify their behavior” (Oregon State University, 2012).

Overreacting includes not only getting angry, but also being overprotective, such interfering in situations that the child is capable to dealing with independently.

Returning to the summer camp scenario from earlier, by not encouraging her son to overcome his separation anxiety or to experience new social situations, the mother is encouraging him to further develop his negative emotionality and to avoid having to change his behaviour.

You Say ‘Tomato’, I Say ‘Tomato’

As with any socially-constructed notion, the concept of over-protective parenting is a subjective one.

It is possible for parents to find a healthy balance

A school may argue that a parent is being over-protective regarding peer conflict, while the mother or father may think that they are being caring a parent.

With the sleepover example, the father may consider his decision to be the lesser of two evils. While he is depriving his daughter of fun and playtime with her friend by not allowing her to sleepover at the friend’s house, he is protecting her from the risk of sexual abuse. In both situations, it is arguable that it is better to be over-protective than negligent.

Despite these points of view, it is possible for parents to find a healthy balance.

As established above, over-protective parents affect their child’s life chances, both academically and socio-emotionally. As Professor Dieter Wolke of the University of Warwick indicates, “parents cannot sit on the school bench with their children” (University of Warwick, 2013); in other words, parents cannot be with their children at all times.

As such, it is essential that all children develop the necessary socioemotional skills to cope with life’s multitude of challenges.

This cannot be achieved, however, if parents constantly prevent their children from ever having those opportunities to develop those skills, or even modelling those behaviours for them.

How will a child develop academic proficiency or the necessary higher-order thinking skills to make sensible decision if parents shield their children from academic challenges or extra-curricular opportunities?

In conclusion, over-protective parenting is not a single notion, but is combination of varying parental styles and practices.

Regardless, over-protective parenting, in whatever form, has multiple negative consequences to a child’s academic and socioemotional potential, including lower academic performance than peers, weak goal completion abilities, unhealthy socioemotional traits, and reduced life chances.

While the majority of educators strive to help children reach their full potential by challenging them, parents often fail to realise that they have greater influence over their child’s potential than schools do.

Consequently, parents should consider the ironic fact that by over-protecting their children, they create greater risks of their child suffering from unhappiness, delinquency and learned helplessness.

 

References

Brigham Young University. (2012). Persistence is learned from fathers, study suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120615103529.htm

North Carolina State University. (2012). Parenting more important than schools to academic achievement, study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121010112540.htm

Oregon State University. (2012). Over-reactive parenting linked to negative emotions and problem behavior in toddlers. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120620103233.htm

Southern Methodist University. (2012). Academic achievement improved among students active in structured after-school programs. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121009121745.htm

Spera, C. (2005). A Review of the Relationship Among Parenting Practices, Parenting Styles, and Adolescent School Achievement. Educational Psychology Review, 17(2), 125–146. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-005-3950-1

University of Notre Dame. (2012). Confusion can be beneficial for learning.ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120620103233.htm

University of Warwick. (2013). Poor parenting — including overprotection — increases bullying risk. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130425214005.htm

Woolfolk, A., Winne, P. H., & Perry, N. E. (2016). Educational Psychology, Sixth Canadian Edition, 6/E (SFU). Pearson. Retrieved from http://catalogue.pearsoned.ca/educator/product/Educational-Psychology-Sixth-Canadian-Edition-6E/9780134283609.page

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