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Overprotective Parents Causing Impaired Social Development in Children


Overprotective parents generally want to protect their children from harm, from hurt and pain, from unhappiness, bad experiences and rejection, from hurt feelings, failure and disappointments. However, hovering helicopter parents who restrict their kids’ unstructured play may actually harm, rather than help, children according to the latest issue of the American Journal of Play

“Remarkably, over the last 50 years, opportunities for children to play freely have declined continuously and dramatically in the United States and other developed nations; and that decline continues, with serious negative consequences for children’s physical, mental, and social development,” said Guest EditorPeter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College. “This special issue of the American Journal of Playreviews the evidence for the crucial roles of play in children’s development and proposes ways we may create a world in which play—especially free outdoor play with other children—is once again a normative part of childhood.”

What many overprotective parents fail to see is that their own fears from childhood are now being lived out through their children, thus creating a new generation of the same fear filled life that was theirs.

It is difficult for overprotective parents to admit the reality of their fears for their children.

These fears feel very real and are made obvious through statements that often include watch out and /or be careful.

"Watch out - you'll fall", when at a playground, or "Be careful, you'll have an accident", while riding their bicycles.

Overprotective parents envision fear in most situations and by putting this fear on their children, they are creating fear filled, anxious, emotionally immature children.

Over protective parents create continuous situations from which their children struggle to escape, until eventually there is no escape as the fears have become part of the patterned response for their child's way of thinking.

This type of parenting or smothering rather than mothering, is ineffective and fails to instil virtues and values such as responsibility,courage, self esteem, self respect, confidence in your child.

Included in the issue American Journal of Play are two articles by Gray, one presenting research that shows a correlation between the decline of free play and the rise of depression, suicide and narcissism in children and teens, and the other highlighting the importance of age-mixed play.

“The Decline of Play and the Rise of Psychopathology in Children and Adults”: Gray presents a review of research showing a correlation between the decline of free play in developed nations and the rise of depression, suicide, feelings of helplessness, and narcissism in children, teens, and young adults.

“The Special Value of Children’s Age-Mixed Play” :Gray notes that the modern segregation of kids into same-age groups, common in today’s classrooms and school yards, may not be optimal for child development. He says that during age-mixed play, older, more skilled participants “provide scaffolds that raise the level of the younger participants’ play” and stretch their abilities to higher levels. He cites other studies in which older children were observed exposing younger children to more complex concepts of literacy, math, and sociability. By interacting with younger children, older students develop increased capacities to nurture, lead, and learn by teaching.

Other highlights in the journal are:

“Why Parents Should Stop Overprotecting Kids and Let them Play”, aninterview with Lenore Skenazy, author ofFree-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children, and Hara Estroff Marano, formerPsychology Today editor in chief and author of A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting : Skenazy and Marano point accusing fingers at over-protective parents, over-organized sports, overblown media hype about stranger danger, and the allure of electronic games and social media, which have combined to decrease the amount of free play among today’s children. Without free outdoor play, they say, kids are prone to obesity, poor physical health, and an inability to develop social skills.

“Evolutionary Functions of Social Play: Life Histories, Sex Differences, and Emotional Regulation”by Peter LaFreniere, Professor of Psychology at the University of Maine:LaFreniere reviews research about free play from an evolutionary biologist perspective and asserts that evolved patterns of play help children develop strong bones and muscles, promote cardiovascular fitness, and help hone skills of communication, perspective taking, and emotion regulation.

“Marbles and Machiavelli: The Role of Game Play in Children’s Social Development” by David F. Lancy, Professor of Anthropology at Utah State University, and M. Annette Grove:The authors review several case studies of children engaged in rule-governed play and conclude that the process of learning rules—and of breaking them and making new ones—promotes gamesmanship, which is theoretically linked to the evolution of human intelligence.

Bottom Line: Encourage Your Children

Encouraging them to explore, conquer, climb, and master new activities provides the means for tremendous growth and learning both for them and for us as parents.

In order to become responsible, confident, assertive, independent adults, children need opportunities to explore their environment both physically and emotionally without continuous interference from their parents.

We can often feel fearful watching our children playing on play ground equipment, climbing, or learning to swim or skate, but this needn't be translated into fear for them.

Let Go......

Let go and allow your children to fall, make mistakes, experience rejection, feel jealousy and suffer defeat.

Let go and watch them grow in confidence, skill, responsibility and emotional intelligence as they learn from all life has to offer them.

Let go your attachment to be an overprotective parent and find constructive ways to release yourself from your fears before you give them to your children.


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