Overprotective parents are parents who display too much control over their child’s behaviors and actions.

Most overprotective parents are overprotective because they want to safeguard their children from harm and protect them from damaging influences. Still, overprotective parenting can negatively impact the child’s physical and mental health and damage the parent-child relationship.

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What is overprotective parenting?

Overprotective parents often experience deep anxiety about their child’s welfare, safety, and well-being. They may counteract this anxiety by exerting too much control over their child’s life to try and protect them from external dangers.

They may try and protect them from physical harm, for example, by enforcing rules that prevent their child from being in potentially dangerous situations. Or they may control who their child spends time with or makes friends with to protect them from harmful influences. They may worry that their child can’t handle difficult situations by themselves and try to remove obstacles for them.

While all of these actions are taken with good intentions, the result is that children of overprotective parents may feel suffocated. It can also hamper development and prevents children from learning to be independent and confident.

How to identify an overprotective parent

Overprotective parenting is identifiable by the number of control parents exert over a child’s life. Overprotective parents often exert an amount of control that is not age-appropriate or does not fully consider their children’s preferences and feelings. Some common signs of overprotective parents include:

  • Taking over children’s homework and schoolwork to help them achieve a good grade
  • Deciding who their child can be friends with
  • Doing a child’s chores or taking over other responsibilities for them
  • Constantly warning their child about dangers and hazards
  • Checking in on their child too often when spending time apart
  • Preventing their child from taking reasonable risks
  • Invading their child’s privacy or not allowing their child to set their boundaries
  • Fostering a sense of dependency in their child
  • Planning and controlling all of their child’s social activities

All parents demonstrate some of these behaviors occasionally, but overprotective parents demonstrate them more regularly and consistently.

What causes overprotective parents?

There are lots of potential triggers that may cause parents to become too protective of their children. Sometimes, parents with generalized anxiety direct this toward their children and become overly worried about the welfare of their children. Overprotectiveness may also partially be caused by sensationalist media reports about dangers their children might face. Parents who have suffered past trauma, such as the loss of a child or miscarriage, may also be more likely to become overprotective parents because they feel a heightened need to protect their children.

How does overprotecting parenting impact health?

Overprotective parenting can significantly impact a child’s physical and mental development. When children aren’t able to make decisions for themselves or if they feel continuous pressure to excel, this can negatively impact their sense of self and even become the root cause of health concerns in later life.

Impacts of overprotective parenting on mental health

Overprotective parenting can affect growing children in several ways. Children’s pressure and lack of freedom when overprotective parents raise them can lead to mental health issues in later life, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse.

Children must learn to differentiate themselves from their parents and caretakers as they grow and develop. Most children do this by learning independent life skills as they get older and applying these as they progress through life. Children of overprotective parents don’t have the opportunity to learn these skills in the normal course of childhood because their parents are always protecting them from risks and doing things for them.

This can also result in changes to a child’s temperament and personality. For example, children of overprotective parents sometimes become irresponsible and reckless because they’ve been protected from the dangers and risks of daily life.

Impacts of overprotective parenting on physical health

Overprotective parents can also impact the physical health of their children. Children in authoritative households often have more positive attitudes toward good nutrition and healthy eating. However, it’s not conclusive whether this means they choose these values or feel pressured to adopt a healthy lifestyle by their parents.

They may also experience other physical symptoms caused by stress and anxiety. Chronic stress can lead to physical health issues such as high blood pressure, fatigue, chronic pain, heart disease, and obesity. All of these can significantly impact a person’s long-term physical health.

Is overprotective parenting effective?

Many overprotective parents think their parenting style is the best way to protect their children from the dangers of the real world. They also think they know what’s best for their child, which is why they exert so much control over their lives. But this style of parenting usually does more harm than good. It can often prompt children to rebel against their parents or cause resentment as they age.

Many children who grow up with overprotective parents don’t develop the skills they need to succeed. They may not know how to carry out basic household chores or how to resolve conflicts and disputes in their professional and personal lives.

Some studies show that high parental involvement correlates with higher grades and better academic performance. This may be because overprotective parents are more likely to push their children to work harder and help them with their schoolwork, but it could come at the cost of mental health and well-being in later life.

Examples of overprotective parenting

Suppose you’re struggling to distinguish between regular parental protectiveness and overprotective parenting. Considering examples of overprotective behavior and how these might affect a child’s development can be useful. Some examples of overprotective parenting at all stages of a child’s life are listed below.

Preventing a child from taking part in regular social activities

Many overprotective parents prevent their children from participating in regular social activities like spending time with friends, attending parties, and joining clubs and groups. They may only allow their children to participate in activities and clubs that they consider most appropriate or beneficial, regardless of the child’s wishes. This prevents children from making new friends and finding hobbies that they enjoy. Children unable to explore their interests may rebel against their parents later or miss out on opportunities to make friends and become part of a community.

Hovering around small children during play

Overprotective parents are likelier to stay very close to young children when they’re playing, especially when out of the house or with friends. They may monitor their child’s play closely to ensure that other children aren’t rough with their child or to catch their child if they trip or fall. While it’s natural to want to protect your child from harm, young children need to experience mild dangers like these to learn how to manage risk and resolve conflicts with their peers.

Logging into a child’s social media accounts

All parents want to ensure their children stay safe online, but most parents respect their children’s privacy and boundaries. Parents who need to log into their children’s social media accounts to read messages and comments don’t trust their children to keep themselves safe and make good decisions when using the web. It’s also very intrusive and may result in children learning new ways to avoid detection online by clearing their browser history or using different usernames.

Checking in with children too much when they’re out with friends

It’s normal to want to check in with your children sometimes when they’re out with their friends, but overprotective parents may call and text their children constantly when they’re with their friends. They might also contact the parents of their children’s friends if their children are on playdates. This demonstrates that parents don’t trust their older children to keep themselves safe. It also prevents children from becoming independent and learning to take care of themselves when spending time with peers. Children who feel like their parents are too controlling may sneak around more or hide more things from their parents.

Preventing children from taking minor risks

All parents stop their children from taking part in some high-risk activities, such as taking drugs, drinking large amounts of alcohol, and driving without a license. Overprotective parents go one step further to prevent their children from participating in activities with more minor risks. For example, they may stop their children from joining sports teams because they fear they will get injured or they might not let their children attend any parties in case they’re offered drugs.

How therapy can help people impacted by overprotective parents

Children of overprotective parents often seek therapy of some kind later in life. Often, this might be for diagnosed disorders like depression and anxiety or more general problems such as difficulties maintaining relationships or high-stress levels. Therapists can also help overprotective parents to work on their anxieties to prevent these from impacting their children’s lives.

Young people and young adults may seek individual therapy to help them learn how to manage their relationships with overprotective parents. Many overprotective parents remain heavily involved in their children’s lives into adulthood, which can significantly strain the parent-child relationship. Therapists can help the children of overprotective parents to understand how they can manage their relationships with their parents effectively by creating and maintaining boundaries and identifying how their upbringing may have affected their development and thought processes.

Group therapy is another type that some children of overprotective parents may benefit from. Group therapy involves gathering with other people with similar experiences to share your stories and feelings. Meeting with children of overprotective parents can help people understand and see similarities between their experiences and others and gain a deeper understanding of how their early years have affected them throughout their lives.