I’m sure Shyam wasn’t thinking about the harm she was causing her 8-year-old daughter, Marian, when she demanded her daughter’s school put an extra crossing guard closer to their home. Nor did she doubt herself when she insisted that children be barred from bringing oranges to school because Marian developed a minor rash every time she ate one. At home, Marian was closely monitored and never allowed to take risks: no sleepovers, no playing on the trampoline with friends, no walking to the corner store (less than a block away) by herself.
Shyam might sound extreme in her parenting, but among the families that come to therapy these days, she’s far from an outlier. While not all overprotective parents are as extreme in their behaviors as Shyam (indeed, few experience themselves as being obsessive at all), many middle-class families are struggling to decide how much protection is the right amount, even when their children are showing signs of anxiety and rebellion as a result. Whether these families are my clients or my neighbors, overprotective parenting appears to have become the rule, rather than the exception, in today’s world.
I’ll be the first to admit that I found it difficult not to roll my eyes and tell Shyam to lighten up. I wanted to share stories about my own upbringing, which included healthy doses of benign neglect by a mother who told me to go outside and play and not come back until I was hungry, or badly injured.
Or I could’ve explained to…