Parents told to stop the control and just let kids be kids

Melissa Clegg, of Aroona, holding son Billy, 3, allows elddest son Jimi, 15, to supervise daughter Ruby, 9, in their neighbourhood.
Melissa Clegg, of Aroona, holding son Billy, 3, allows elddest son Jimi, 15, to supervise daughter Ruby, 9, in their neighbourhood. Iain Curry

DESPITE our best intentions to raise children with a positive level of self-confidence, evidence suggests we are setting them up for failure by over-parenting.

A recent Queensland University of Technology study surveyed nearly 130 parenting professionals across Australia and found most had witnessed incidents of over-parenting.

Even when parents had the best intentions at heart, they could set their children up for failure as adults if they did not allow their offspring to experience failure as a child.

University of the Sunshine Coast psychology lecturer Rachael Sharman said failure was very important for instilling resilience in children.

"Failure feedback is absolutely vital," Dr Sharman said.

"It's vital for people to learn from their mistakes and I would share the concern with those professionals that we're not creating a very resilient society at the moment, particularly with children.

"We even have schools propping up with a 'no-fail' policy where your child will be valued for the skills that they bring and that's not helpful in the real world because that's where it all falls down - when they actually try and function in the real world."

The initial idea of "every child wins a prize" came about in the 1970s when a study was done with a correlation between self-esteem and success, but Dr Sharman said further studies suggested that this was not the case.

Having low demands on a child was another category outlined as over-parenting and in some instances this occurred when a parent expected a school to change its policy for their child.

"It's interesting because that's not how the world works and for them to believe that the world will adapt to that person, they're going to have major problems adapting in life," Dr Sharman said.

"We're seeing this in people that really think that workplaces should adapt to them."

The other concern in over-protecting our children is deciding when to nurture indolence and make children let go of the apron strings.

This covers mile-stones such as allowing them to walk to the corner store or travel to school on their own.

Dr Sharman said children under the age of 12 were not good at assessing risk.

"They might make some very strange decisions," she said.

"For example, they might not tell a parent that something happened that was really quite bad because they're worried that they might get in trouble.

"Around the age of 12 or 13, the brain undergoes fairly radical change and we start to see a radical change in the frontal lobe area.

"Children are then able to really weigh up the pros and cons of a situation.

"They can understand long-term consequences or that people might have nefarious motives.

"But prior to that, they're not very good at it so you do have to keep an eye on them."

Mother-of-four Melissa Clegg might have walked to the shops by herself when she was younger but would not let her nine-year-old daughter Ruby take that risk now.

"I will let my daughter Ruby walk to the shops with her brothers because they're 13 and 15 and I know they'll hold her hand and look after her," Mrs Clegg said.

"But I would never let her go on her own and being a girl is different - especially after all the things you hear.

"Most children get 'taken' 100 metres from their homes, so I won't let her go without her brothers."



Over-parenting can be classed into three categories:

Very high responsiveness

A parent tries to become best friends with the child, thinks their child is always right or is in constant contact with them.

Low demands on a child

A parent helps their child avoid an unpleasant life by driving them everywhere or catering to all of their requests, or a parent demands the child's school alter its policies in areas such as discipline to suit their child.

High demands on a child

A parent places high emphasis on their child's achievements in their school and social life, and over-schedules the child's time.

Source: QUT PhD researcher Judith Locke


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Topics:  children lifestyle parenting research

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