In Consultation

In Consultation

Too Much of a Good Thing?

By Michael Ungar

September/October 2008

Q: I'm seeing more parents who live in safe, middle-class communities and protect their children from every imaginable risk. Is this another form of enmeshment or are parents really acting in their children's best interest?

A: In my practice with "at-risk youth" and their families, I've been noticing a disturbing trend: delinquent youth, sexually promiscuous teens, and even street-involved young people who come from caring, stable, financially secure homes in middle-class communities. When I look closer, what I'm typically finding is parents who've bubble-wrapped their children, insisting on protecting them from exposure to any risk, responsibility, or adventure.

These families seem to offer a socially approved form of enmeshment, in which parents can overfunction and justify their control as necessary. Developmentally, however, risk-averse parents may actually be causing unintended harm to their child's psychosocial development when they protect him or her from normal developmental challenges, like sleepovers, riding a bicycle to school, operating tools, cooking, or playing sports that can cause injuries.

It's hard to blame them for their excessive concern, however. A barrage of media reports about a generation at risk has created the perception that there's a need for overprotection. This, despite abundant evidence from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Child Trends, and the Federal…

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