Is it possible to over-parent?



Research by Judith Locke from the School of Psychology and Counselling at Queensland University of Technology on the effects of being 'too good a parent' or over-parenting is telling. This was an investigation that challenged perceptions of good parenting. 

Ms Locke's research examines the idea that some parents overuse certain parenting actions such as protection and care at developmental stages where children should be increasing their independence. Her research, which has gained national and international attention, warns that over-parenting is helping to develop a generation of children lacking in resilience, life skills and responsibility. She states, 'These parental actions, ostensibly to make their children happy and building their confidence and quality of life, is speculated to result in the parent reducing the opportunities for the child to learn a sense of responsibility, independence and how to cope with uncomfortable feelings. This may result in some learned helplessness in the child or a belief that others should take the responsibility of making them happy or satisfied.'

I know that parents are typically doing the best job possible and this type of parenting is done with the best of intentions and love. However, the research shows that more effort doesn't necessarily produce a better child; there is likely to be a point at which effort can become harmful. 

As registered clinical psychologist and former teacher, Ms Locke surveyed 130 parenting professionals across Australia and found 93 per cent are encountering over-involved parents. Those surveyed described over-parenting actions in three main categories – being highly responsive to children, placing high demands on a child and placing low demands on a child. 

Very highly responsive parents placed extreme effort into the relationship with their child through friendship, constant contact, or always agreeing with the child. 

'High demand' parents placed high emphasis on their child's achievements in their school and social life and over schedule the child, while 'low demand' parents helped their child avoid an unpleasant life by catering to their requests.  This can be manifested in demanding the child's school alters its policies to suit their child to ensure they always experience success or happiness. 

Examples of excessive parenting cited in the study included a parent cutting up a 10-year old's food, forbidding a 17-year-old to catch a train to school and confronting other parents about why their child was not invited to a classmate's birthday party. 

Those surveyed indicated these over-parenting actions were associated with poor resilience, increased anxiety and a greater sense of entitlement in children. As a result, Locke found that the child's resilience and life skills were being reduced because they didn't face any difficulties independently. She also found that such practices can create a sense of entitlement in children. This is as a result of parents constantly making their child's life perfect and the child, in turn, expecting everybody to make life perfect for them. 

Ms Locke said the impact of over-parenting was becoming an increasing issue for schools, with teachers having to manage parent expectations as well as those of the child.  She states, 'These parents work incredibly hard to give their child the best start in life. It's ultimately well-intentioned parenting inadvertently becoming harmful for the child. It's incredibly difficult for these parents as they give up so much time to do what they believe is best for their children.'

Ms Locke has also surveyed over 500 parents of school-aged children to develop a measure of the beliefs associated with over-parenting.  She has used this scale with parents and students to investigate parenting actions and child wellbeing factors associated with over-parenting.  
By accessing this link you will see a short three-minute presentation by the School of Psychology and Counselling PhD researcher, Judith Locke on this topic of over-parenting. 

I concur with the statement that 'it takes a village to raise a child'. For our community of learners, Abbotsleigh is that village. I welcome the opportunities and privilege we have to work collaboratively, heeding the best of research such as this to ensure the best of outcomes for each of our girls.   





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