Can being an overprotective parent be harmful to your kids?

There's nothing wrong with being cautious and protective of our kids, but where do parents draw the line? Find out more here!

With the induction of words and terms to the parenting dictionary (like, "Helicopter parenting"), never has being an overprotective been more scrutinized and debated. In fact, many parents, netizens, and critics of helicopter parenting go as far as to call such traits obnoxious.

That said, in spite of the scrutiny and debate surrounding being overly protective of our children, the trend continues to grow exponentially each and every year.

With things like the "cult of kiddie danger", as reported by Vox, on the rise, it seems like parents have lost their collective minds. Some parents and government officials are beginning to make absurd claims that swings (as in the playground attraction) are now considered too dangerous for some playgrounds. On the other side of the spectrum, many other parents are left rolling their eyes and claiming the current generation is being raised "too soft".

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While "old-school" parents may not agree with being overly cautious with today's children, is there any harm in being overly protective? Are there any true detriments to protecting our kids from situations and environments that are proven to be dangerous--even if previous generations disagree?

Despite the good intentions of modern parents, is it possible that being overprotective of our children can be causing its own unique type of harm to our children? Possibly.

To fully understand what I mean by "harm to our children", we must first understand the two different types of stress: Short-term/acute stress, and sustained/chronic stress. Nathan H. Lents, Ph.D., a Professor of molecular biology at John Jay College, of the City University of New York, explains these two types and their effect on children best:

"Everyone agrees that chronic stress is very bad. In children, chronic stress comes from things like abuse, neglect, sensory deprivation, excessive worry, regular exposure to violence, and so forth. A great deal of research confirms that a chronically stressful childhood often lead to an adult with anxiety, depression, and other mood and adjustment disorders. Or worse. Everyone agrees that children should be protected from chronic stress."

"Acute stress, on the other hand, is the response to a frightening, competitive, or dangerous stimulus that is completely resolved within seconds or minutes. It's a short burst of stress, then it's done. Many forms of play, especially physical play, involve some level of acute stress. Sports, video games, and other competitions and contests are strong inducers of acute stress. That's part of why we enjoy them. Evidence is mounting that acute stress is not just fun, but beneficial, even necessary for childhood development."
Learn more about how these types of stress can affect your kids, and if being overprotective is positive or negative! Visit page two for more!

In an attempt to better understand the believed benefits of acute stress, a recent study used rats to prove said benefits. In the study, rats regularly subjected to acute minor stress had more neurons, neural stem cells, and connections in their hippocampus, the brain area noted for its role in converting short-term memory to long-term memory.

In a counter study, rats that were denied the ability to engage in the normal rough and tumble play-fighting as juveniles showed serious social problems as adults. These stress-deprived rats grew up to be hyper-aggressive and even anti-social.

Moreover, the rats that were deprived of playful stress grew into adults that completely froze when faced with stressful situations. Rats conditioned for stress during childhood, on the other hand, gained the ability to navigate stressful situations without locking up.

In conclusion, light exposure to acute stress yielded subjects (rats) that learned proper fear response as adults, better memory, and improved social interaction. 

overprotective parent

 Of course, these studies aren't exclusive to rats. As Dr. Nathan Lents claims, "Stress has been studied in a variety of animals and the general conclusion is that acute mild stress is beneficial for brain development, social skills and behaviors, and even intelligence. It has even been shown that acute stress, unlike chronic stress, is good for the immune system!"
Parents, there's nothing wrong with being cautious and protective of your parents. Obviously, it's part of your parental duty, and even your parental instincts. However, there is a line that needs to be drawn, and parents who go overboard aren't doing their offspring any favors.
"While we should all strive to protect children from chronic stress, depriving them of healthy forms of safe stress may leave them unable to deal with stress as adults," says Dr. Lents.
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