Modern Parenting Styles – 3 Types of Overparenting That Can Negatively Affect Kids

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It’s clear to many of us raising kids these days that philosophies around parenting have undergone a profound shift since our childhoods in the 80s or 90s. Gone are the days of the free-range neighborhood pack of kids, roaming from yard to yard for hours on end without so much as a check-in before dinner time. For a number of reasons—from concerns about safety and to the ubiquity of cell phones—most kids now have significantly less freedom over where and how to spend their time.  

Some might argue that this is a good thing—a sign of more involved and attentive parents. While it’s true that involved and nurturing parenting has a positive impact on childhood development, it’s also important to avoid overparenting, which manifests in various ways as attempts to tightly control your child’s life. The recent college admissions scandal is proof that overparenting has risen to new heights.

Overparenting mostly comes from a good place—it’s a way of trying to minimize harm and maximize positive outcomes for their children in the face of what can feel like an increasingly troubled political and economic world. However, the research on child development is clear about the fact that kids need to face some hardships and learn to solve their own problems in order to develop autonomy, self-reliance, and independence.

In this article, we’ll explain the following 3 types of overparenting, how they manifest, and things to be aware of if you find yourself leaning towards overparenting in these ways.

  • Tiger parent

  • Helicopter parent

  • Bulldozer parent

  1. The Tiger Parent

What is tiger parenting? The tiger parent pushes her child to succeed. She emphasizes achievement in academics and extra-curricular activities.

Yale law professor Amy Chua popularized the idea of the tiger parent in her 2011 book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Chua describes tiger parenting as a typical “Chinese” style—strict and focused on excellence. She contrasts this with Western parenting practices, which she describes as more lax and focused on the child’ self-esteem.

How to tell if this is you? You don’t let your kid have a lot of free play. You want him to focus on school work to improve his chances of being successful. You may find yourself leaning towards a more authoritarian style of parenting.

Pros: Raising children in this way can result in them being more productive, motivated and responsible. Many of these outcomes are culturally dependent, however.

Cons: This approach can lead to poor mental health, as children struggle to achieve overly demanding goals. This may lead to depression, anxiety and poor social skills.

2. The Helicopter Parent

What is helicopter parenting? The helicopter parent is always around and aware of everything her child is doing. She wants to save her child from any of life’s pain or frustration.

Psychologist Foster Cline and education consultant Jim Fay developed the idea of the helicopter parent in their book Parenting with Love and Logic. Like the tiger parent, the helicopter parent is worried about what the future holds for her child and seeks to influence all aspects of a child’s life in an effort to bring about the best outcomes. Since the book’s release in 1990, the idea of the helicopter parent has been popularized in various media—represented most commonly as the meddling, overprotective, control-freak mom.

How to tell if this is you? You follow your kid around at the park watching her every move. Your intentions are good—you don’t want her to fall off the monkey bars and break a bone or eat strange things she finds on the ground.

Pros: This type of vigilance may, in fact, prevent your child from experiencing trouble or hardship that he might otherwise encounter without your involvement.

Cons: Children can have a hard time developing emotional resilience and independence if a parent is always interceding on their behalf. Children of helicopter parents may also become resentful of their parent’s disregard for their autonomy.

3. The Bulldozer Parent

What is bulldozer parenting? The bulldozer parent is a helicopter parent on steroids. Not only does she monitor her kid’s every move, but she’ll sweep in to clear any obstacle at any expense.

How to tell if this is you: Your kid has a school project—maybe he’s tasked with creating a historical figure out of a 2-liter bottle as part of their biography book report. Instead of risking the chance that the project will turn out sloppy and he’ll get a bad grade, you do 95% of the work. Or your child fails a test, so you set up a conference with the teacher to convince her she’s graded wrong.

Pros: Similar to the pros of the helicopter parenting style, you may indeed prevent some of your child’s suffering. Your child may feel secure knowing you are on her side and ready to intervene if any challenges come her way.

Cons: Again, these are similar to the cons of helicopter parenting. Additionally, bulldozer parenting may encourage narcissism or entitlement in children, as they begin to believe that the world revolves around them.

Facing and overcoming obstacles in childhood allows people to develop independence, self-reliance, and resiliency in adulthood. While we may believe that helping our kids avoid embarrassment and failure builds confidence, it actually can have the opposite effect.

How to Parent Without Overparenting

Numerous studies suggest that the most well-adjusted children are reared by parents who find a way to combine warmth and sensitivity with clear behavioral expectations. Parents may find the Four C’s to be a helpful acronym:

  1. Care (showing acceptance and affection)

  2. Consistency (maintaining a stable environment)

  3. Choices (allowing the child to develop autonomy)

  4. Consequences (applying repercussions of choices, whether positive or negative).

Keeping these benefits in mind can help you temper your overparenting instincts when they emerge.

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