Spoiling vs Overparenting

  | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)
I'm frequently asked: What's the difference between what is now called overparenting and helicopter parenting, on the one hand, and what used to be called spoiling, on the other. And indeed, a lengthy review of A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting that appeared in The New Yorker (November 17, 2008) assumed the two are synonymous. But I don't quite see it that way.

Spoiling is driven by the demands of the child. For any number of reasons, a parent gives in to a child's demand for something--say, a toy. A child gets his or her way.

Overparenting is driven by the demands of the adult. And it isn't necessarily focused on things (like toys) or on rules. A parent consumed by anxiety for a child's achievement calls a teacher to protest a grade given to the student. Or sends a kid off to ballet camp with an eye to developing an array of extracurricular skills that will ultimately impress college admissions officers. It isn't necessarily something the child has asked for. It is something that soothes the parental anxiety. It may have the effect of spoiling a child, giving a child a sense that any demand will be met, but that is not preordained, and it has many other negative effects as well.

Up against overparenting, spoiling seems almost benign and certainly quaint. What a simple concept spoiling is: the failure of parents to enforce limits or the provision of excess material things. A spoiled child may be self-centered, throw frequent temper tantrums, have a low tolerance for frustration, and grow up having problems controlling anger.

Overparented kids wind up without a sense of self. They grow up overly compliant. They lack coping skills because everything has been done for them by anxious parents. They're weak from within, and it's a pervasive weakness. The grow up risk-averse and unable to make decisions on their own. They, too, have a low tolerance for frustration.

Spoiling is an occasional problem, not a pervasive problem. Unfortunately, overparenting is the mark of the current generation. It remains to be seen whether a generation of overparented kids, the leading edge of which is now 20-something, will stumble on their own and ultimately self-correct--which I hope--or march through their adult years crippled by the anxieties directly transmitted to them.

Leave a comment