Spoiling vs Overparenting

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I'm frequently asked: What's the difference between what is now called overparenting and helicopter parenting, on the one hand, and what used to be called spoiling, on the other. And indeed, a lengthy review of A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting that appeared in The New Yorker (November 17, 2008) assumed the two are synonymous. But I don't quite see it that way.

Spoiling is driven by the demands of the child. For any number of reasons, a parent gives in to a child's demand for something--say, a toy. A child gets his or her way.

Overparenting is driven by the demands of the adult. And it isn't necessarily focused on things (like toys) or on rules. A parent consumed by anxiety for a child's achievement calls a teacher to protest a grade given to the student. Or sends a kid off to ballet camp with an eye to developing an array of extracurricular skills that will ultimately impress college admissions officers. It isn't necessarily something the child has asked for. It is something that soothes the parental anxiety. It may have the effect of spoiling a child, giving a child a sense that any demand will be met, but that is not preordained, and it has many other negative effects as well.

Up against overparenting, spoiling seems almost benign and certainly quaint. What a simple concept spoiling is: the failure of parents to enforce limits or the provision of excess material things. A spoiled child may be self-centered, throw frequent temper tantrums, have a low tolerance for frustration, and grow up having problems controlling anger.

Overparented kids wind up without a sense of self. They grow up overly compliant. They lack coping skills because everything has been done for them by anxious parents. They're weak from within, and it's a pervasive weakness. The grow up risk-averse and unable to make decisions on their own. They, too, have a low tolerance for frustration.

Spoiling is an occasional problem, not a pervasive problem. Unfortunately, overparenting is the mark of the current generation. It remains to be seen whether a generation of overparented kids, the leading edge of which is now 20-something, will stumble on their own and ultimately self-correct--which I hope--or march through their adult years crippled by the anxieties directly transmitted to them.



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Urban Baby weighed in today with a great review of A Nation of Wimps. After running some items from the Wimps Checklist, this is what UB had to say:

"Wake up!" says author Hara Estroff Marano, editor-at-large at Psychology Today and mother of two. Her compelling new book, A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting, investigates how helicopter parenting has hit the mainstream - with adverse effects. (By now everyone has heard stories of parents who go on job interviews with their twenty-something offspring - then call HR to negotiate a raise.)

After delving into the what and how of the issue (parental over-involvement, even with the best intentions, hinders a child's development, socially and emotionally), Marano offers guidance on how to be supportive without being overprotective - and how to prepare kids for the real world.

Don't wimp out.

Available online at amazon.com.


Ohmygod, I Forgot the Highlighter!!!

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The book hasn't been out 24 hours, and these wonderful words were sent to me by KL in Denver:

"I am in the process of reading your book, and I think it is really well written and your information has already helped me become better at parenting.  I thank you for that, and so do my kids.  

"I think the book should come with a highlighter, since there are so many poignant pieces of information."  


The Value of Play

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images.jpegChildren's play has an image problem. People think it's...kid's play. But the importance of play is entirely counterintuitive. Play LOOKS LIKE a waste of time, because it is not goal-directed. And we adults are goal- directed. So we trivialize kids' play. It gets in the way of other things on the way to achievement, a goal we very much want for our kids and are very worried about these days--counterproductively, I believe.