Why Parents Can Be Overprotective

This article was written by Youth Advisory Board member Talia Ginsburg with contributions by fellow member Maria Marungo.

Understanding Why Parents Can Be Overprotective

Our parents’ primary role is to protect us. They baby-proofed the house and stopped us from running into the street when we were three. When we tried out our two wheeler for the first time, they ran beside us. But this kind of protection may start to feel suffocating once we become teens. After all, we need space to breathe and we need room to start making decisions on our own.

We need to think about the motivations behind our parents’ behavior. They don’t want to keep us from living our lives. Quite the opposite. They want to prevent us from being hurt. When we hurt, they hurt too.

Leaving the safe home environment our parents created for us as a child is part of becoming independent. But our parents are adjusting to our growing self-sufficiency and may need guidance on when it’s okay to worry and when to trust that we’ve got it.

I’m Not a Kid Anymore!

As we start to grow up, it can be a hard reality for parents to let go of some control and let us make decisions (and mistakes) on our own. Our parents’ overprotectiveness comes from a place of love and concern about our well-being. But it can be extremely frustrating as a teen to have parents try to manage and control every move we make. Communicating these feelings and showing (through action) that we can handle increasing responsibilities is an important way to show we are capable.

When We Actually Need Guidance

One of the greatest challenges of adolescence is trying to figure out the extent to which we want to rely on our parents. One day we may want their help working through a problem. The next day we might not want them influencing our choices. This is totally normal, but can be confusing, even hard, for parents to interpret.

It’s okay to need parents sometimes, but not others. They are there to guide us as we learn how to manage on our own. But they aren’t mind readers! Help them understand when we may actually want their help or guidance. Let them know when we’ve got it. Building a relationship in which we ask for assistance will allow our parents to trust us to seek them out when we need them. They will feel comfortable taking a step back and allowing us to learn by trial and error on our own.

Balancing Protection and Trust

Sometimes our parents’ overprotective actions leave us feeling like they doubt our ability to navigate the world successfully. But remember that they’ve likely been raising us from infancy. As babies and children, we were completely reliant on their ability to care for us. As we mature into young adults we become self sufficient and crave independence.

It is not only a transitional time for us, but also for them. Help parents find the right balance between protection and trust. Work together to strategize about safety plans, and to agree on fair and reasonable boundaries.

Show Them You Can be Trusted

One of the best ways to show you don’t have to be overprotected is pretty obvious. It’s to show you need less protection —  that’s about being responsible and making good choices. You’ll find your parents are noticing that you can handle more and more on your own. But be careful only to push the limits as far as you really can handle. If you reach too far, and worry your parents, it can make them feel overprotective. You can make it easier for them, and better for you, if you stay out of trouble when you’re trying new things.

Reach Out for Help

Everyone finds themselves in trouble sometimes. This brings up another strategy — prove to parents they don’t have to worry by reaching out to them if you ever feel like you’re in danger.

Try setting up a “code word” as a way to alert your parents when you need them. Agree upon a “safety” word or phrase that may be used as an alert if you find yourself in a compromising or uncomfortable situation. Such signals may be as simple as a text stating, “I’m sorry I forgot to walk the dog earlier.” (The code word here is “dog”). In a social setting, this will appear neutral and natural. To your parents, it will signal your need for their help in exiting the situation (i.e. to be picked up, to call and tell you you’re needed at home, etc.).

Develop  greater understanding between you and your parents about your decision-making process. They may be less likely to overprotect you. Be open about feelings and thoughts to show you’re trustworthy and responsible. You want your parents to be confident in your ability to think critically and in your willingness to remove yourself from unsafe environments. Then they may offer increased freedom and begin to trust that you can handle yourself in a variety of situations.

Help your parents to find the right balance between protection and trust. Work together to strategize about safety plans, and to agree on fair and reasonable boundaries.

An Expression of Love

Sometimes, your parents might seem overprotective, but that is probably because they love you. As you begin to expand your abilities, the relationship also needs to adapt. Continuing to demonstrate open communication and mutual respect and trust will build over time.

Recognize and be grateful for the safety net that parents try to provide. You want to walk on your own, but your parents can offer a fall back, if you need it.

If you want to get this conversation started with your parents, share this piece with them!

Thoughts From Members of the Youth Advisory Board

Maria, 18

“When I took Algebra 2, I got the lowest scores of my high school career and it was a blow to my self confidence. I remember coming to my mom in tears, ready to plead my case about why I needed to drop the class. Looking back, I wanted my mom to be overprotective in not allowing me to have to handle an academic challenge on my own. I wished for her to just pick up the pieces and shield me from my failures. However, by the end of the conversation, she let me know that that was not going to be the case. By not allowing me to drop the class, she let me take responsibility for my actions and be more independent. Had she taken over the situation, she would have prevented me from learning how to pick myself up after a failure and make the best of the situation.”

About Center for Parent and Teen Communication

CPTC is fortunate to receive editorial contributions from a range of multi-disciplinary experts, journalists, youth, and more.

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