A lot has been written lately about the problems with oversheltered, overprotected young adult “kids.” There are tales of parents showing up with twenty-something’s at job interviews, or even asking for report cards from employers. When parents are running the lives of adult children, those adult children are not learning to solve life’s problems themselves. Kids whose parents have hovered and oversheltered them ultimately end up unprepared for life.
But how did we end up with such an overprotective crop of parents? Perhaps parents have decided their primary job description is to provide protection for children, and maybe that’s an incomplete view of the role. Of course we protect babies and small children, but as they grow through stages of development, it becomes clear that protection is just one piece of the puzzle. So what else, besides keeping kids safe, do parents do?
From the beginning, maybe we are doing more than just safety patrol. Babies arrive in the world ready to acquire language, a wide range of skills, and culture. We hold them. We soothe them. We feed them. How we do each of these things depends on where we live in the world, what resources we have at our disposal, and our beliefs about what’s best for them. Essentially, while meeting their basic needs, we teach children how to keep calm and simultaneously show them how our world works, so they can function within it.
And then they grow bigger, and we teach them academic skills. We teach them an alphabet, mathematics concepts, science and history. Perhaps we emphasize reading stories. Maybe we use the reading of stories as a bedtime routine, to help them wind down for sleep, since we have been told that reading before falling asleep is good for developing brains.
Likewise, we teach them to sit still and be quiet, shake hands, say “please” and “thank you” and “I’m sorry.”
And by the time kids reach middle childhood, they speak and write language fluently, they can add, subtract, multiply, and divide. They can communicate with family and friends in a polite manner. They can make a peanut butter sandwich. They can soothe themselves by wrapping in a blanket, a practice they probably adopted because it was how they were soothed as infants. They can read books to re-regulate.
In other words, their experiences are shaping them all along. That’s what parents do. We provide children, teens, and young adults with information and experiences, thus shaping them for the responsibilities they will take on when they gain independence.
So here is a question for parents: What are you shaping your kids for?
If you are hovering over them, micromanaging every decision, what kinds of adults will they be? Or if you’re placating them with the distraction of video games and TV for hours each day, just to keep them happy? What kinds of adults will they become then? When you begin to think of your parenting role as “shaping” for your child’s future life, will it change the decisions you make today?