We all want what is best for our children. The best education, the best nutrition, quality entertainment, expert supervision, five star safety and so much more. These are all wonderful things to want and far more excelsior to provide, if that is even an option with the cost of just one or two these things. Why do we want the best for our children? What does the best even look like? Is it possible to even be overprotective?
We live in an age where we can google anything and know “everything”. It’s great, right? I can figure out why my remote won’t turn my TV on, how to change the oil in my car, why my muffins keep deflating out of the oven and basically how to be ahead of the latest plague. I say that facetiously because it seems like there is always an article that spirals out of control and parents rush to begin covering everything in hand sanitizer. Danger should not be a trending thing. We cannot predict bad things that might happen. Should we be prepared? Sure, but if we begin to funnel our focus into a preventative state, we begin actively seeking negative value in things that, while might pose small dangers, really are less dangerous than the title given. Actively seeking negative things, being anxious of them, and their effects on us or our loved ones could be called hypochondria (or at least a form of it). To make matters worse it has evolved.
Cyberchondria! Aside from sounding like a robot villain, this is in essence...Having a hunch about something, looking up the symptoms online and finding what is usually the worst case scenario. As I said earlier, we can google anything and know “everything”. This is inaccurate. The internet is not a university where we can become scholars on subjects based on reading a few articles. If that was the case, I would have been able to avoid student loans. Cyberchondria is a growing concern for doctors because not only are they having to treat a patient physically, they are having to dispel misinformation the patient has accelerated into a self-inflicted full blown epidemic. Doctors spend a long time in school learning how to properly diagnose and treat illnesses or injuries. Overriding their authority is not only disrespectful, it is foolish, dangerous, and frankly very arrogant. The internet and other bite sized pieces of information we obtain DO NOT make us experts and this is where the trouble of overprotection begins to become deadly.
I have worked with many students, all ages, different situations, environments and so on that proves my level of knowledge on the subject. When a parent expresses a concern, I try to understand their reasoning. Having questions or feeling apprehensive about new things for your child is a very normal part of parenting. It also opens up the door for parent to have conversations with the instructor like why they are doing specific exercises or what things they can work on at home. I see over-protection manifest in three ways.
1) The parent whose first instinct is to panic.
2) The omniscient parent that clearly knows more than the instructor.
3) The coddling parent.
The first instance seems to begin when a parent does not understand the situation and channels their misunderstanding into a fearful or angry response. While a parent may think they are acting in a way that is beneficial to the wellbeing of their child, they are actually doing the opposite. This response communicates to the child that their protector has deemed the current setting unsafe and/or the authority figure as incapable. Many instructors struggle to build trust with fearful students. They perform different exercises to show they are capable of supporting or protecting the student. A parent’s overreaction can undo months of progress in a matter of seconds. The greater tragedy is that parents either remove the student from the consistency of the instructor they have been building a bond with, or they remove their student from lessons entirely. Thus, leaving the student both fearful of water as well as removing them from further exposure.
The second form of overprotection comes when a parent undermines the judgement of the instructor. An instructor is someone who has been designated to teach a specific skill because of their background knowledge and experience on that subject. They are in that position for a reason. A doctor has the authority to write prescriptions for his patients because he has observed the issue and is knowledgeable on how to treat it. Instructors have been trained on how to diagnose issues their students are struggling with and communicate beneficial information to promote learning. Once this authority has been removed the student has no reason to learn from the instructor because they are receiving conflicting information. Children will gravitate towards their parent’s opinion naturally because they are their primary figure of authority. One of the most common occurrences of this is with floaties. I discourage using floatation devices because they create a dependency rather than encouraging the child to float on their own. Whether it is a convenience factor for offering less supervision or simply to silence a child who refuses to enter the water without them, parents begin to undo their child's success.
The final form that I have seen is coddling. The moment any discomfort or unwillingness occurs, parents are quick to comfort their child and justify the child's fear or disobedience. This affects progress on three levels. The first being, it never allows the child to bond with their instructor. Preventing the instructor from being viewed as someone safe isolates the trust of the child. The second is it allows the student to pick and choose only the things they want to do, naturally they will never choose what they see as uncomfortable, which is where progress is usually achieved. And thirdly, it encourages disobedience. This inhibits progress in anything and frankly, is just bad parenting. You as the parent are in control. When you let your child call the shots, the child will not listen to anyone.
When a child is able to do as they please, they do not see a point in rules, authority figures or structure. When we remove these things, we expose our children to danger. Playing in the street is dangerous, touching a hot stove is dangerous, the list goes on. This is the very thing we were trying to avoid from the very beginning; danger.
The saying “Smooth seas don’t make good sailors” carries a lot of merit in regards to coddling our children. Whether it is fear, thinking we know best, or trying to shield our children from hardship, we must come to a point where as parents we admit, this simply isn’t possible. Our children will have to face difficulties; they will need to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. This is part of the growing process, not just for your children, but also for you. If you can never let go, you and your child will drag each other through life. Encourage them, love them, build them into strong characters and know that a few scrapes and bruises won’t stop them from reaching their full potential.