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being so worried about the safety or success of your children that you do too many things for them and prevent them from being independent
'Over-parenting is the curse of our time … Can you hear that low whirr above our school playgrounds? … the after-effects of Britain's helicopter parents, who hover over their kids, ready to swoop when any risk or stress or spontaneity strikes.'The Independent 4th February 2008
'But recently a new kind of parent has emerged who can be detrimental to the healthy development of their children. These are the parents who tend to over-parent their children … Parents who over-parent make all the decisions for their child … The over-parented child is a protected and spoiled child. He lacks real confidence and is unable to take risks or make decisions …'Natural News 9th April 2008
Are you the sort of parent who wouldn't dream of letting your kids play outside on the street? Do you drive them everywhere, anxious about the 'perils' of public transport? Is every minute of their free time taken up with 'enhancing' activities? Would you contact your child's teacher to query what you felt was an undeservedly low grade? If so, you may have, perhaps unwittingly, fallen into the trap of overparenting.
Mum or Dad might … insist on the necessary security of the mobile phone – the longest umbilical cord in history
Overparenting is the term now used to describe a situation of being so protective of our children, so desperate for them to succeed in life, that we will do everything in our power to help them on their way and avoid anything potentially unpleasant. Overparenting can start right from babyhood, with newborns nestling under protective buggy canopies to minimise their exposure to 'germs in the atmosphere', or not being allowed to taste certain foods lest they develop, god forbid, some kind of allergy. In childhood, they may be ferried to school by car and carefully taxied to every extracurricular activity, thus avoiding the perils of crossing the road or the suspicious character lurking near the school gates. Into teenage years, Mum or Dad might be the co-author of school projects, the procurer of part-time jobs, the defence counsel for disagreements with teachers and, at all times, insist on the necessary security of the mobile phone – the longest umbilical cord in history.
Among the reasons suggested for the growing tendency to overparent, is the fact that people are having fewer children, and waiting longer to do so. This gives parents a heightened sense of the 'preciousness' of their offspring and more money to spend on a cosseted upbringing. Today's parents may also, unwittingly or otherwise, be influenced by the media, who do a first-rate job of drawing their attention to dangerous or unpleasant situations – and thereby foster unnecessary fear about children's safety.
The term overparenting has been in mainstream use for the last decade or so, but has as yet no significant coverage in printed dictionaries. It is formed from a combination of over- a productive prefix meaning 'too much' (compare overeat, overestimate, overpopulated etc) and the gerund form of verb parent meaning 'act as mother or father'. Whilst gerund parenting is much more common than verb parent, verb overparent seems to pop up more readily, occurring in both transitive and intransitive use.
A range of metaphorically-inspired neologisms has sprung up for the description of the overzealous parents themselves. A popular expression in US English is helicopter parents, based on the idea that parents are said to 'hover' over their kids' every move. Then there's also the lawnmower parents, who smooth and mow down every obstacle in their child's path. In a similar vein, the same phenomenon in Scandinavia is referred to as curling parenthood, describing parents who 'sweep' away all difficulties.
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This article was first published on 16th September 2009.