Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (July 13, 2013)
I was recently absolutely shocked to hear some true stories from people around me.
A primary school student was competing in a speech competition and when he didn’t get first place, his mother stormed up to the judge to verbally and physically express her discontent with the results.
A high school student was going for an admissions interview at a prestigious university and prior to the interview, the student’s mother called the university to ask for the dress code for her 18 year old son.
A medical graduate had just started working as an intern at a hospital and when a call was made to ask her to return to the hospital for work, the mother picked up the phone to say that her daughter wasn’t going to go back to work because she needed to sleep.
I’m sure all the parents in the cases above had good intentions for their children and acted out of love but there’s a difference between protective and overprotection.
Undoubtedly, one of the major roles of a parent is to protect. In a child’s infancy, the instinctive response to most situations is to protect the child physically. We want to make sure our child stays safe and isn’t harmed. Hence, we don’t allow young children to play in the kitchen where there’s fire or use sharp objects such as knives. As they grow older, we want to make sure they are protected emotionally. We don’t want to see them being bullied by others or have their hearts broken by disappointment.
However, there is a difference between protection and overprotection.
Protection = offering boundaries that ensure safety whilst giving age-appropriate opportunities to learn
Overprotection = setting boundaries that impede learning and development
The challenge in finding the difference between the two is that it changes at each person’s developmental stage. For example, not letting a 2 year old use a sharp knife is protection but not letting a 12 year old use a sharp knife would be overprotection. And the challenge lies in discovering where the line is at each stage.
However, I believe that children are more capable than we sometimes give them credit for. We shouldn’t be stopping them from doing certain things but rather, teaching them how to do things properly. I know that many people would choose to peel an orange for their child for the fear of them hurting themselves with a knife. But if children are given child-safe knives and taught to use them properly, then they are given an opportunity to learn whilst being in a safe environment.
Or take bullying as an example. Unfortunately, bullying happens more than anyone would ever want to see in schools nowadays and I do believe that parents, teachers and administrators have a role to play in creating a safe, bully-free environment but children also need to learn how to handle friendship/bullying issues. Overprotective parents would choose to take their child out of the environment or situation rather than be protective and teach their children how to handle the situation.
In choosing to overprotect a child, it leads to an over protected adult who doesn’t know how to take care of themselves, care for others, protect themselves or learn to handle new situations.
Instead of overprotecting, choose to protect whilst empowering young people. Don’t tell them what they can’t do; instead, tell them what they can do and help them along the way. Give them challenges, teach them how to tackle them, allow them to fail, encourage them to try again. Through all that, they will learn to be confident, capable and ready to face challenges ahead.