Well this is a surprise:
Children whose parents are over-controlling “helicopter parents” when they are toddlers, are less able to control their emotions and impulses as they get older apparently leading to more problems with school, new research suggests.
The study looked at to what degree mothers of toddlers dominated playtime and showed their child what to do, and then studied how their children behaved over the following eight years, revealing that controlling parenting is linked to a number of problems as a child grows up.
Something which always amuses me about many modern parents is their casual dismissal of two thousand years of experience by their forebears. Parents having time to play with their children, let alone micromanage the activities, is something very, very new. I’ve asked around and few people my age (41) had their parents play with them when they were toddlers, and absolutely none of my father’s generation did. Children were expected to play with their siblings, with other children, or by themselves – as quietly as possible. Parents would read to their kids, or help them with a particular task (“ask a grown-up to help you” often appeared in the instructions in children’s play-sets), but they were never seen as a play partner. The reason for this was parents were too busy and it wasn’t really their job. Now it appears some mothers not only want to join in their childrens’ playtime, they want to take it over. Unsurprisingly, this is having an effect on their development.
“Parents who are over-controlling are most often very well-intentioned and are trying to support and be there for their children,” said Dr Nicole Perry of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, who co-authored the research.
“However, to foster emotional and behavioural skills parents should allow children to experience a range of emotions and give them space to practice and try managing these emotions independently and then guide and assist children when [or] if the task becomes too great.”
If the role of a parent is to raise a child to become a functional adult, they ought to be able to stand by and watch their offspring struggle and overcome small problems. But I suspect many mothers are more interested in the “unconditional love” they keep telling me about, and hence can’t bear to see their child undergoing any sort of difficulty. I’ve said this before, but I think some may have been better off getting a dog.
“The problem here really is that if you don’t learn skills to self-regulate, how can you self-regulate when you leave the home, like [when] you go to school or you go to university? In a way it is a form of abusiveness – taking this opportunity away from children,” he said, although he noted over-controlling parenting was usually done with the best of intentions.
But Dr Janet Goodall from the University of Bath urged caution, noting that it is difficult to say how much parental control is “too much”, and that cultural factors such how dangerous a child’s environment is should be considered when looking at parental behaviour.
What’s interesting about this is it echoes with what I was on about in yesterday’s post. Modern parenting seems to be an odd mix of over-controlling combined with ultra-permissiveness. Several mothers I’ve observed try to micromanage every aspect of a child’s life and environment, sometimes demanding the entire world be changed for the benefit of her brat, yet at the same time let him or her dominate the household. Mothers will campaign for diesel cars to be banned in cities “for the sake of the children” yet allow her toddler to dictate when he is eating, what he is eating, and where he’ll be sat while doing so. There are few households now where young children are forbidden from interrupting adults when they’re talking; most are permitted to barge in for the most trivial reasons and the mother will give them their full attention for as long as required. As a side observation, I’ve found French children are a lot better behaved in the home and in restaurants than their British counterparts; for all their reputation of being liberals, the French are a conservative lot.
For whatever reason, the study mentioned above only looked at the degree of parental control not permissiveness, and I think they may be missing a large piece of the puzzle. By way of example, have a look at this tweet, which to be fair is quite funny:
My 3yr old has been crying for 2 hours because she ate all of her dinner but didn’t get ice cream…We’re all out of ice cream.
She won’t shut up…
It’s 9:25pm and I’m driving to pick up ice cream…
For those of you out there thinking about having unprotected sex tonight…
— Will Rodgers (@WilliamRodgers) June 16, 2018
You can be damned sure it was the kid’s mother who caved in and ordered her husband to drive around town looking for ice cream. Now I’m going to go out on a limb here and speculate that perhaps this sort of parenting is not going to produce a generation of adults able to deal with the world at large. Here’s a question for my readers: how many of you would have got away with that at three years old, or any age? More importantly, how many of your children would today?