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Are You Stunting Your Kid's Emotional Growth?

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In today's helicopter-mommy world, we may be harming our kids more than we know.

woman following teenage daughter

Dr. Wendy Walsh: When I was in sixth grade, my BFF and I would routinely board a city bus, ride a few stops to the downtown Woolworth's department store and buy ourselves a malted milk in the cafeteria. After browsing the retail aisles, dreaming about the day we could get a part-time job and actually buy some cool stuff, we'd ride the bus home in time to help Mom with dinner. We didn't carry a cell phone. We knew to sit up front near the driver in case we had any questions. I don't remember feeling particularly independent. We just felt like every other sixth grader.

Fast-forward to today. This past Christmas, my sixth grader wanted to go shopping for a Christmas present for her dear mother without Mom's presence spoiling the surprise. Since times are a little different these days and kids are less free-range, I came up with an idea that I felt was a safer version of my sixth-grade experience: I proposed to drive my daughter and a friend to an indoor mall. I would also do some shopping in the same mall, though we would separate for about an hour, with each of us carrying cell phones in case there were any problems. I proposed this plan to about a half-dozen mothers in an attempt to book a playdate. Their responses shocked me. You would have thought I was asking if the girls could be dropped off to backpack in Cambodian sex-slave country. Every mother turned me down.

Granted, today we live in a different time. It may one day be called the media-fear-frenzy era, because if you pay attention to the likes of CNN's Nancy Grace, you'd think crimes against children were commonplace. In fact -- according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire -- since 1990, crimes against children and teens have decreased dramatically. Aggravated assault is down 69 percent, and sexual abuse is down by 53 percent. So, statistically speaking, my bus ride in the 1970s was far more dangerous than a similar one today.

That's one of the points made by authors Joseph Allen, Ph.D., and Claudia Worrell Allen, Ph.D., in their book, "Escaping the Endless Adolescence: How We Can Help Our Teenagers Grow Up Before They Grow Old." In the book, the researchers suggest that 25 is the new 15, and that parents disable teens and hurt their young-adult lives by stunting emotional growth. Overprotecting adolescents and catering to their needs sends the message that they are incompetent to go out in life alone. Thus, we have the crazy world where kids are moving back in with parents after college.

Some tips that the Doctors Allen suggest to help your child grow include:

• Turn your "consumer kid" into a contributor through the right kind of employment or volunteer activity.

• Feed them with fair feedback. Shielding them from criticism -- constructive or otherwise -- will only leave them unequipped to deal with it when they get to the "real world."

• Provide adult connections. They might deny it, but teens need to interact with adults (including parents) on a more mature level -- and this interaction will help them blossom.

• Stretch the teen envelope. Do fewer things for teens that they can do for themselves, and give them tasks just beyond their current level of competence and comfort.

Today's teens are starved for the lost fundamentals they need to really grow -- adult connections and the adult rewards of autonomy, competence and mastery. Restoring these will help them unlearn their adolescent helplessness and grow into adults who can make you -- and themselves -- proud!

next: Sex Offender Found with 'Huge, Staggering Stash' of Child Porn
10 comments so far | Post a comment now
Stephanie March 28, 2010, 8:17 AM

Well said! I completely agree.

mom of two March 28, 2010, 9:51 AM

I also agree, I let my 8 year old go off on his own to look at toys when we go to walmart or target I don’t c anything wrong with it. He knows what to do if by some chance a stranger tried to do anything I think they need there own independence there own life experiences to know what to do we can’t shelter them forever

Mother Nature March 28, 2010, 9:54 AM

I agree that kids need to be given more responsibility. Kids these days are coddled to the point of retarding them when it comes time to be an adult and doing simple things for themselves. My only disagreements are this. We can teach our children to be fair and respectful of one another and encourage that behavior by giving the offenders (iow bullies) consequences more often. Today kids are allowed to torment one another with out so much of a threat to lose play time, game time, tv time, etc. This is where parents are failing. I also disagree with the statistics provided. As someone who has volunteered in such groups as children’s safety and domestic violence, these numbers are ONLY accurate when reported n a uniform fashion. Which they are not. Violence is on the rise not only against women but children as well. Children as well are becoming more violent against one another, committing not only crimes of physical and emotional abuse, but sexual abuse as well. Should we bubble wrap our kids? No. What we should do is start imposing stiffer penalties for offenders of violence, emotional and psychological violence included, and show our kids there ARE consequences for bad behavior.

janetlansbury March 28, 2010, 2:48 PM

Yes, helicoptering can harm, and it begins infancy when we are afraid to let our babies experience the slightest discomfort or frustration as they are learning new self-initiated tasks, like rolling from back to tummy. Children do not see frustration and failure as negative unless we condition them to do so. Gifted, talented, intelligent children can end up lacking self-confidence if they are not given opportunities to struggle and make mistakes. Many of us relate to this issue because we recognize the problem in ourselves. I’ve recently posted 2 articles about this: Praising Children/Risking Failure and A Hovering Parent’s Successful Landing.

Anonymous March 28, 2010, 2:59 PM

Lots of helicopter moms out there.

Michele March 28, 2010, 6:57 PM

Maybe assault and abuse are down so much today because we don’t let our pre-teens and teens do what we did back in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s like walk the mall alone? Better safe than kidnapped.

Anonymous March 29, 2010, 3:36 PM

I hear the blades spinning.

Hannah April 7, 2010, 1:21 PM

Better a helicopter parent than a neglectful one. I’d MUCH rather see an overprotective parent than most of the parents we see today who just let their kids do what they want. I read an article about how this psychologist let her 9 YEAR OLD son take the subway around new york city by HIMSELF! She shouldn’t be surprised if her kid comes up dead. And she should put the blame on herself if something does happen. Better “overprotective” than dead. If you ask me we are way under protecting our kids. When i was growing up my parents didn’t let us go off with less than 2 of us in a group until we were about 15. I didn’t resent it. I’m thankful I’d rather them have those rules than me be being held captive or dead somewhere. Not that im saying all kidnappings are the parents fault but it certainly doesnt help if you let them go off by themselves somewhere. That’s practically saying “please take my child.”

Lindsey May 5, 2010, 11:55 AM

Way underprotecting our kids? REALLY? Wow, I completely disagree with that. We need to stop being so fearful as parents and learn to think rationally. I let my 4 year old outside by himself - gasp! I let my 4-year old go on short hikes with his much older cousins - gasp! I cannot bind him with fear. What is he going to do in 15 years when he is leaving the house and has absolutely zero idea on how to face the real world? He won’t know the real world, only mom’s bosom because she has held him to it so tightly out of fear.

observant mom May 22, 2010, 9:57 AM

I sometimes shop the toy isles without the kids for future holiday/birthdays. I have seen grown men wandering these isles. And they weren’t scanning for toys. At least you could be looking at merchandise in the adjacent section to the one where your child is.

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