Psychologist reveals ‘overparenting’ is making kids weak and what parents can do instead - and #3 is a real dose of nostalgia

Overparenting could also contribute to poor mental health in teenage years

Mother holding to child while she rides her bicycle
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Adults are increasingly 'overparenting' their kids and a psychologist urges parents this can impact their teenage mental health and ability to cope with adult life - being overprotective is relatable, but there are ways to overcome it.

It's understandable that in a world seemingly presenting dangers at every turn, helicopter parents are on the rise - those who are hyper-vigilant over being involved in every aspect of their child's life. From playing to their education, some parents do everything they can to swoop in to prevent harm or failure. Plastic wrap parents exhibit similar behaviours, effectively wrapping their kids in metaphorical plastic, in the hope of halting unwanted situations upsetting their children.

Of the parenting styles available, our resident child development expert and research psychologist Dr. Amanda Gummer has warned that any eliciting 'overparenting,' can potentially damage children in later life. While such a parenting style is easily taken on and highly relatable, Gummer suggests hypervigilance from overparenting produces 'weak' children. With their ability to make decisions impacted, such children could struggle with their mental health during their teens, and find adult life difficult to cope with. 

Speaking on Radio 5, Dr. Gummer said "We are coddling children too much today, which harms them." She added that the subsequent inability of overparented kids to make decisions is "One of the biggest problems in the mental crisis we are seeing in teenagers today". The psychologist then highlighted what caregivers can do to prevent overly vigilant parenting from becoming an issue.

4 strategies to stop overparenting

  • Give children unsupervised free play. We understand completely how scary it can be to let go of the reigns and let kids play outside without your supervision - there are many factors impacting how easily this can be done. However, Dr. Gummer suggests that it's the one thing children lack the most in the modern world. Without it, a child's ability to undertake risk assessment, make their own decisions, perform conflict resolution and maintain friendships, can be impacted. Gummer is calling for children from the age of six to have safe but unsupervised access to local play areas, to allow these key skills to develop.
  • Stop worrying about what could go wrong. Again, this is a strategy that's easier said than done. Although there were high-profile kidnapping cases back in the days before social media, constant access to news online heightens these fears. Gummer said "In the 80s and 90s there were some kidnapping cases that caused a great stir, and parents have a very real fear that something bad could happen to their children." However, what parents are actually seeing are all the reported and suspected cases from around the world. This offers the illusion of life being more dangerous than it used to be, when it actually isn't.
  • Accidents are more likely to happen at home. Dr. Gummer points out that the focussing on huge events such as kidnapping is futile, as it's unlikely to happen. The reality is, that simple accidents are much more likely to happen at home. The psychologist suggests bruises and scraped knees are a normal part of childhood children will remember with fondness - who hasn't reminisced about their own scrapes, bumps and near misses? Children will only understand how to risk assess their surroundings to prevent accidents independently, if left alone to do so.
  • Let children make mistakes while consequences are small. Dr Gummer suggests that letting children make a series of little mistakes means when they're older and the consequences bigger, they'll be equipped to handle it. She adds that children left with the opportunity to resolve conflicts develop key skills including empathy and leadership, that make them more stable adults.

Overall, Gummer suggests the vital skills of risk assessment, decision-making and conflict resolution are lacking in today's children. She believes low prevalence of these vital skills disempowers children, leaving them with a poor sense of control over their lives. Feeling they have no freedom of choice into adulthood, can negatively affect their mental health.

While Dr. Gummer's insights are interesting, it can be difficult to change aspects of parenting that offer you and your child security - staying close and being involved in all aspects of your child's life might be something you feel strongly about. We suggest taking the time to reflect on expert findings, to find the best way for you to feel you're being the best parent you can be, while offering your children the space to develop key life skills - we absolutely acknowledge that finding this balance can be challenging in today's parenting landscape.

For more on parenting styles, we have the lowdown on authoritative parenting, gentle parenting and permissive parenting. Whatever your core values, there will be a parenting style that aligns with the outcomes you want for your children. 

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.