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Are You an Overly Involved Parent?

— NYU Child Study Center
Updated on Jul 9, 2010

"Hyperparenting," a term referring to parents who are overly involved with their children, has recently been the subject of news reports. We read or hear about parents who get into fights at their children's soccer games, coach their kids for their nursery school admissions interviews, write their kids college entry essays, organize their kids' play dates. To explore this phenomenon further, AboutOurKids spoke with Dr. Alexandra Barzvi, Clinical Director of the Anxiety and Mood Disorders Institute at the NYU Child Study Center.

Q: What's meant by hyperparenting or overparenting?
Dr. B: Hyperparenting means being overly involved, overly controlling, and overly stimulating. Overly involved parents usually hover over their children and make day-to-day decisions for them: what to eat, what to wear, what to do after school, who to play with.

Q: What's going on? Is this something new or is it an old phenomenon discovered by the media?
Dr. B: I think there have always been overly concerned parents. Today, however, with the increased stress of daily life, the tendency to overparent is increased. Many parents feel pressured to be successful in every area of their lives, including their achievements, their activities, their careers, and their parenting.

Q: What's the difference between concerned parenting and hyperparenting?
Dr. B: I think hyperparenting starts out as good parenting. These parents really want to create a perfect world for their child and to meet their child's every need. They don't want their child to experience frustration or to feel pain. They are determined to do everything that can for their child, which is certainly a conscientious and commendable goal. But some parents become too involved, micromanaging every moment of their children's lives—social, academic, athletic.

Q: Isn't this a good thing?
Dr. B: It may sound like the ultimate in parental devotion, but there is a real downside. By trying to make the child happy, they don't give the child a chance to learn to make herself happy. Overly involved parents don't give their children a chance to develop their own capabilities -- to calm down by themselves or to entertain themselves, or even to just play by themselves or with other kids. Parents need to appreciate the power of play; through play children develop their imagination and learn about their world.

Q: We hear a lot about overscheduling children. Isn't it a good idea for kids to have enriched experiences after school, especially if their parents are working?
Dr. B: It's certainly important for parents to know that their kids are busy and active after school. But sometimes scheduling arrangements are carried too far. Many kids are part of team sports, have music and art lessons, extra tutoring, religious instruction. Although each of these experiences is certainly valuable, their meaning gets lost when there's a surplus. Children who are overscheduled become overstimulated and can't really benefit from so hectic a program.

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