Benign Neglect Is Good for Kids
Parents who hover relentlessly provoke eye rolls from developmental experts and teachers alike. You can see these parents sprinting to the swings to right a playground injustice or e-mailing schools incessantly.
“There’s a huge distrust in society’s institutions that pushes people to overparent,” says Hara Estroff Marano, author of A Nation of Wimps. “Parents also lack trust in children’s desire to be competent and don’t accept that nature will influence the course of development,” she says. The compulsion to intervene becomes stronger if parents view kids as surrogates for the fulfillment of their own dreams, says retired Tufts University child psychologist David Elkind, author of The Power of Play.
But regularly stepping in to protect kids from stress may hurt them in the long run. Michelle Givertz, assistant professor of communication studies at California State University, Chico, has studied hundreds of parent–young adult pairs and found that overparenting leads to depression-prone, aimless kids (and ultimately, adults) who lack the ability to achieve goals.
Parental overinvolvement is also associated with entitlement, Givertz says. Kids who are used to getting everything they need without exerting any effort may think, I’m entitled to everything, but I don’t have the abilities to achieve what I want.
It’s better to let kids live with occasional disappointment and resolve their own problems as much as possible, while assuring them that their feelings are heard (even if you’re the one saying no) and that you’re available for moral support. Trust in their capability to tackle obstacles. “Our job as parents is to help kids become self-sufficient,” Givertz says.