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Katie van Schaijik

Over-protection cripples children

Feb. 20 at 5:03am

I'm reading a book about a young woman's escape from the Jehovah's Witnesses when she was 18. Her mother had been a fanatical devotee for ten years, blighting her youth with excessive control. It's not a very good book; I don't recommend it. But it has its insights. I'm thinking about this one today:

My parents had failed to follow through on the most important obligation they had as parents. They had failed to create autonomy in me by letting me experience life— good and bad— providing guidance and emotional support when I needed it.

I think there's a lot to this, though, speaking as a parent (soon to be grandparent!), living in a society aggressively hostile to the values I most cherish and strive to instill in my children, it's a really hard one to live by. The overwhelming urge (at least for someone like me) it to try to protect the child from evil influences and from his own bad choices. Call it fear-based parenting.

I can see that it backfires. We succeed in protecting our children from harm only at the cost of preventing them from achieving the autonmy they need to be confident, mature, self-standing adults. Their sense of themselves and their place in the world is shot-through with unreality. We set them up for bitter disillusionment.

Challenging as the point is, I think it's true that fostering our childrens' personal autonomy by letting them experience their freedom and responsibility as individuals is high on the list of parents' most important duties.


 

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