Fear of overparenting should not be an excuse for doing nothing

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There has been a recent onslaught of articles in the news about the dangers of overparenting. Should these warnings be taken seriously? Absolutely. Are there parents who have allowed the competitive college admissions process to push them to do crazy things like enroll their children in expensive community service projects in third world countries, argue grades with teachers and micromanage every hour of their student's time outside of school? You bet. However, those extreme examples should not be cause for parents to misinterpret the warnings and think that the other extreme is beneficial either. Are middle school or high school students really better off when parents are not interested, involved, and supportive of what is going on in their lives?

I think the right approach is to apply some common sense. It’s not detrimental for a parent to thoroughly support and cheer for their child who is participating in sports, or know what classes they are taking, what their teachers are like, who their classmates are, and how they are doing in each subject. Giving children thoughtful advice about how to handle a bad grade or situation with a teacher or other classmate is good parenting, and is especially effective if the discussion is problem-solving oriented and gives the child as much opportunity as possible to develop potential solutions and self-advocate. Can this cross the line into overparenting? Sure, if:

  • your cheering from the sidelines becomes yelling instructions and undermining the coach.

  • your interest in their classes becomes a battle between their interests and passions and your obsession with what you think will build a better resume.

  • your interest in their friends says more about your concern for their (and, by proxy, your) social status than their happiness.

For those parents who want some bright-line rules about overparenting, here are some guidelines I suggest following:

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  1. It is the student, not the parent, who should be the first contact with a teacher or coach when a problem or issue arises. The parent can offer suggestions for ways the student can talk to the teacher or coach, but the student needs to learn how to be their own advocate. Only in extreme situations should the parent step in and make contact.

  2. Students should be doing their own papers and projects. Parents can help brainstorm ideas and offer editing assistance when asked by the student. Of course, if a student is struggling in a class, the parent should be offering to help, or helping the student figure out strategies to improve such as going to the teacher, forming a study group, getting a student tutor, or finding external tutoring resources.

  3. Your child is more than their academic outcomes. While it is great to praise your child for their effort and results, and offer coaching and support, remember that they are an entire person like you with many dimensions. Expressing love, interest and support for them regardless of how they did on Monday’s math test is essential to building self-esteem and a positive parent-child relationship.

Parents – students thrive when they have a great support system. Feel confident when you help them find opportunities to grow, develop academic success strategies for school, cheer them on in sports, and are aware of what is going on in their lives. Don’t let reports of micromanaging tiger parents make you feel guilty for being involved with your kids. Just use common sense and a balanced approach.

Ellen