July 9, 2021

My Parenting Dilemma

To Overprotect or Neglect

Every new parent has a decision to make. How much risk will they allow their child to take as they grow? There is a scale of parenting oversight that we all fall within. On one end, we have pure neglect and child abandonment. On the other end is hyper micro-management and protection of every moment of the child’s life. We all agree that neither extreme is good, but we all fall somewhere between the bookends.

There are many facets to this scale as well. How much risk will I allow my child to take Physically, Emotionally, Financially, Scholastically? These are all questions we have to ask ourselves as we are parenting our children. I have always said, “I will allow my children to do anything physically that will not send them to the hospital.” This can also be applied to emotional risks. As long as they are not permanently scarred, I will allow it. What this means is that sometimes they will cross a line and hurt themselves physically or emotionally. It is our job to intervene when we believe they have crossed that line. In the following article, I will outline why I believe this is important and why being too guarded with your children is detrimental.

Fail to Learn

Humans learn by doing. You can tell your child to it this way or that, but they won’t really learn how to do something until they have tried it themselves. Learning is a process of failing over and over again until you become competent. Learning to walk is one of the first lessons children have, and they will fail 100’s of times before taking those very first steps. There will be lots of crying and bumps are had along the way, but eventually, all the hard work pays off, and suddenly they gain physical independence. This lesson can be applied to all things children learn while growing. You can tell them how or what to do, but they have to do it themselves to master it.

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Physical Risk and Injury

Parenting is hard. Should I allow my child to hurt themselves to learn? That is a tough pill to swallow for many and sometimes too large of a barrier. In my opinion, it is unavoidable in the quest to raise independent and competent children. I will outline a few examples here. Wrestling and physical play is vital to a child’s development. They are learning important social and physical skills as well as improving brain connections and resilience. All mammals wrestle during their early years. It is literally in our DNA to do so. It is uncontroversial how positive it is for children to participate in this activity, yet so many parents do not allow it. Will they be hurt at times during this risky behavior? Absolutely they will, but the reward is well worth the risk.

Emotional Risk and Injury

Bullying is another very controversial topic here. It is such a charged word at this point that if you talk about it in a less than damming tone, you will be looked at like a crazy person. Never the less I will try. At the extreme end of the spectrum, bullying leads to suicide in young people. This is the worst-case scenario and every parent’s nightmare. I struggle with this one for sure. It is similar to the kidnapping scare of the 80’s. After that, nobody let their children go outside anymore. Parenting our children’s social relationships sometimes feels like navigating a minefield.

We have to allow our children to interact with others and even have arguments with very little interference from us. It’s not to say that you should allow your children to be bullied and harassed by others. However, navigating social conflict and learning coping strategies are literally practice for adult life. When our children are very young, we have the urge to micro-manage their interactions with peers. This is especially true around sharing, rough play, and social conflict. By intervening in these situations, we rob our children of valuable learning experiences along the way. The safer our parenting style is, equates with a decreased risk of harm, but this also comes with a less independent child.

Micro-Management Leads to Dependence

The urge to protect our children is baked into the cake and is counterintuitive to ignore purposefully. I believe it vital to do so unless the risk is not worth the reward. Ask yourself this question. Will my child’s activity lead to death or permanent harm? If the answer is no, it is most likely best to let them do it without interference. Intervening in something your child is doing is robbing them of learning and also keeping them more dependent upon you for that particular problem. The more a child does for themselves, the more competent they become.

I define my parenting just cause as “Get them to adulthood as independent/competent as possible without causing death or permanent harm”. In this way, I am trying to find the line between learning and harm. What is the largest amount of risk I can allow my child to take without causing permanent harm? I am committed to doing my very best, but I don’t always do it right. Where do you fall on the parenting scale of Protect and Neglect?

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