Bursting the bubble

We've all seen them. You might be one yourself.


She's the germophobe mom who restricts everything her child does, from making mud pies to touching doorknobs without the trusty antibacterial wipe or hand sanitizer.

He's the overprogrammer dad who has made a schedule for his child, not just for afternoon play dates, hobbies and school work but also a life plan projected through age 25, when Junior graduates law school at the top of his class.

They're the helicopter parents who hover over their kids, swooping down whenever they see a problem - even if it is the Little Princess missing one too many classes in college - and solving it for them.

The parents are well-intentioned, but their actions sometimes disrupt the everyday operations of class, and their overinvolvement might also hinder their child's development.

Jan Faull, is a parenting columnist for the Seattle Times and the author of Unplugging Power Struggles, a book that looks at how parents and their young kids navigate control issues. She said several parenting ills are symptoms of one flaw.

"It's what I call overparenting," she said in a telephone interview. "They (parents) don't understand. They have all good intentions but they don't respect the child's developing mind. Children can learn to operate in a variety of environments fairly efficiently, when given the opportunity."

Some parents, however, never give them the opportunity.

Andrew Hendrix, the director of admissions at the University of South Carolina Aiken, said the school is seeing more and more parents involved in the admissions process and college search.

"For the most part, that is a positive thing," he said. "Today's generation of students actively seek their parents' input in this choice. But there are some parents who go overboard, and for whatever reason. ... And that's when it becomes an issue for the student and the college."

It could be a lack of trust in their child, Mr. Hendrix said, or just a misplaced need to make sure their child is protected in the college environment.

Though the university urges and seeks parental involvement, Mr. Hendrix said there is a real push to have students be more independent: It's going to help them acclimate to college life and it's necessary to be successful in the world.

"When the student is in college, it's much more important for the student to fend for him- or herself," he said. "If a parent picks the school for them or spoon-feeds them through that, then that's a recipe for disaster."

Essentially, what is at stake in overparenting is the development of the child.

"There are so many good ways to hamper good development," said Wendy Trudeau, a licensed independent social worker and therapist at the Center for Care and Counseling in North Augusta. "If you're doing things for them, or keeping them from things all the time, then how can a child be able to make choices for who is good for me, who is bad for me, what is good for me, what is bad for me?"

EDGEFIELD, S.C., RESIDENT Ruthann McCann says she can see she has indulged in some overparenting with her children, Andrew, 20, and Tiffany, 17.

She provides Tiffany with rides to jobs, internships and events. She gets Tiffany a different outfit for every interview she conducts as a freelance reporter and correspondent for regional music and national teen publications.

"I do a lot of things for her that other parents wouldn't, but she wouldn't do the stuff she does without me. I feel like I have to give her that opportunity," Mrs. McCann said. "I get her hair, nails, makeup, clothing. She doesn't like to wear the same outfits when she's on her interviews."

Given all she does for Tiffany, who has said she's grateful for her mother's support, Mrs. McCann said that's only the beginning. She's done as much, or more, for her son.

"It has backfired with Andrew," she admitted. "I did everything for Andrew."

Now that he's a student at Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C., he's still depending heavily and, she says, taking advantage of Mom and Dad.

A few weeks ago during spring break, Andrew brought his Jeep home that they had purchased for him and made some demands:

"He says, 'I need four new tires, a battery and a change of oil. I'll pick it up when I get back.' The car was loaded with stuff and his dad says, 'What am I to do with it?' and he says, 'Put it in my room.'"

Taken aback by her son's recent behavior, Mrs. McCann canceled the credit cards she put in his name, but has since reinstated them.

"After doing and doing it, they expect it," she said. "He's going to be 21 years old. He needs to grow up. I didn't intend it, no. But it definitely does bite you in the butt."

It's not that Mrs. McCann said she intends to spoil her kids. In some ways, she sees what she has been doing as a way to give them more chances, to make sure they have a supporter as they pursue their goals.

Also, she said, the world has changed so much since she was a child.

"It's really harder, harder now than it was for my parents because there is so much more out there," she said. "It falls back to us because we do want better for our children - and I didn't have a bad childhood."

That's how things are today, Mrs. Faull said. In a society that has hype from the media about abductions, stranger danger, germs, diseases and the need to prepare early for success, there's pressure on parents to feel they have to do a lot to be a good parent. Because of that, the reaction is to rein in the children and dictate their experiences rather than let them go free.

"Parents need to teach their children how to learn to manage themselves independently so they can be successful when they leave (home)," Mrs. Faull said. "Children want to be independent. They want to develop competencies; that's what their brain allows them to do. If we as parents prevent them from doing this, we diminish the child."

That's easier said than done: Parenting is different in every household, and there are no rule books.

"Parents need to come up with a new plan ...," Mrs. Faull said. "There needs to be a safety net in place so kids can be safe, but to put the child in a bubble doesn't serve the child well."

A better way would be to look out for a chance to teach life skills inherent in everyday situations and to resist the urge to step in too far or too often.

"It's a hard balance," Mrs. Trudeau said. "And the hardest thing is that it requires us to constantly evaluate ourselves as parents in order to be involved in the process of personal growth and development.

"You know, I say one of the things that makes you evaluate yourself is becoming a parent. We just have to look at ourselves."

Reach Kamille Bostick at (706) 823-3223 or kamille.bostick@augustachronicle.com.


Worried you might be overparenting? Watch for "aha" moments, Jan Faull says.

"Sometimes it just hits a parent. When they go off to college or something and it hits you that 'My child is a certain age and he's not cleaning the bedroom, or she's a certain age and she can't sort laundry,' and you just think I needed to teach my child how to do this, it's an important life skill."

When you get that message in your head, be persistent and insistent on teaching your child that skill.

Talk with other parents and gauge where your parenting practices fall on the scale of being too protective versus too lenient.

Keep an open mind and resist the urge to do everything for your child. Children need to learn on their own.

Practice letting go. It can be hard to stop doing everything for a child or keep him (or her) from everything, but give him the chance to test and try the things you've told him.

Don't think you can't be a parent to a child. He stills need your protection and guidance, just don't put him in a bubble.

Sources: Jan Faull and Wendy Trudeau



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