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Tell us your Wimp Stories Do you have personal stories or observations to share about overinvolved parents or overprotected or overmanaged children or their place in today's society? Perhaps you know of instances of other parents behaving in ways that are likely to psychologically cripple their children (living their own lives through their children, engineering their children's lives, expecting perfection, etc.). Or perhaps you think it is desirable to handle children this way.

Feel free to leave your story in the comments section below. While we will be unable to publish all stories to our website know that we do read all of them and will reply if necessary.

15 Comments

Ms. Marano,

I am eagerly awaiting the release of your book, "A Nation of Wimps", having read notice in today's Parade magazine of its impending release next month. I am a university faculty member, and have served in higher education for the last 15 years. During that time, I have become increasingly alarmed by the number of students who seem to have difficulty engaging in higher order thinking, problem solving, or conflict resolution. Concurrently, I have seen an extreme increase in the numbers of contacts to me, my departmental colleagues, my chair, the dean, the provost, or sometimes even directly the university president (not infrequently leapfrogging over the "lower echelon" and going straight to the senior university official), fueled with anger toward some perceived injustice to the student. What is most alarming is that these contacts do not come from the students, but rather from the parents. In other words, parents are descending upon universities, stepping in to "kick some butt" when we dare to do something amazingly heinous like require their young adults to adhere to syllabus, departmental, college, and/or university requirements, policies, and procedures. When I hear a parent say, "What would it hurt to bend the rules a bit?", I hear echoes of years of that parent engineering environments to smooth the road for his/her child, rather than expecting the child to be accountable to the demands of that same environment. When I hear a parent say, "You obviously didn't advise him/her correctly" (when I know I had), I detect a pattern of parents listening raptly to the laments of a child and not bothering to seek the whole story from the other side before sanctioning the manipulation.

I take comfort in knowing that these on-site, up-close-and-personal "helicopter" situations are very much in the minority of the students I encounter, thankfully. My alarm stems from the fact that the situations happen at all, at this stage of a student's life when he/she is legally an adult, and that they seem to be happening with significantly more frequency. And, of course, it seems that even if parents are not hovering at our doors, there is still that pesky, and equally alarming, problem of their young adults not being able to think critically, problem solve, etc. -- somehow I attribute this to that same "non-accountability" mindset -- even if the parents are not hovering in person, their influence or lack of it still is, and I see that evidence almost every day.

My colleagues and I have discussed this very issue at some length. Your publicity on your upcoming book seems to suggest that helicopter parenting at the younger years seems to result in, e.g., self-destructive behavior at the college level. I hope you have looked beyond that to identifying behaviors at the university level that not only demonstrate those types of behaviors, but also behaviors that bring into question the ability to move successfully into independent adult roles.

Again, I look forward to the publication of your book.

Unfortunately my boyfriend's youngest son is a victim of overparenting. His mother does not allow the child to be disappointed and pretty much allows him to do as he wishes. At 10 years old, the child cannot deal with anything negative. A few weekends ago, due to inclement weather, he had 2 baseball games cancelled. He proceeded to start bawling as he went to his room. When his brother asked him what was wrong, he proceeded to punch his brother. Not the kind of reaction you should have when someone is expressing concern.

I'm an elementary school teacher whose students include a large group identified as Gifted and Talented. Their parents invariably approach me at the beginning of the school year to tell me how bright their kids are, how bored they've been in school up to this point, and how they really need to be challenged.

So I challenge them. And the kids, because they're not used to working very hard, don't work very hard at first, and their test grades suffer. And then their parents panic. "We don't want her self-esteem to suffer!" "If he's suddenly getting Cs instead of As, then this work must be too hard for him!"

So we look at the child's work together, and every single time I can show the parents that it's clear that the kid understands the concepts, but isn't proofreading, or checking the math, or reading the directions carefully, and once he/she starts to do that, the grades will go up. And the parents agonize. Can they afford to wait a month or so to see if their little darling can get with the program? Or should they just go for the sure-thing A grade by pulling their child out of the gifted program? I've had parents sharing stories of sleepless nights because of a single D on a third-grade math test.

These parents want their kids to be "challenged," but they want me to make sure everything's still easy for their kids. It's hard to get them to understand that a challenge isn't easy--that's what makes it a challenge.

Get this one! At a parent conference the 1st thing the parent reminded us (her daughter was failing almost everything and is an only child) was that she and her husband were divorced and her daughter had to split her time between her and her ex's house. DUH--more than half of the nation is divorced! Try having divorced parents in the early 70's when it wasn't the norm--I couldn't use the old--"my parents are divorced and my stepmom is mean to me" excuse. Then on top of that she says, "If my daughter turns in a blank sheet of paper with her name on it--you're going to grade it." I looked at our administrator and said, "you have to be kidding". He said nothing and I just shook my head.

I was home schooled from second grade through high school. My father became disabled and unemployed when I was two years old, and my mother was a homemaker. So, both of my parents were home with me at all times. I grew up in a very secluded, rural county where each neighbor is a matter of several acres apart from each other, and there were no children my age on our block, anyway. I was raised a Jehovah's Witness until I was thirteen years old, so any friends that I might have made from gymnastics or dance class I was not allowed to associate with outside of class because they were "worldly" people and any contact with extended family had been severed over twenty years prior to even my birth, when my parents had first joined the religion. When I graduated high school at seventeen, I began to attend a local community college, taking classes with my mother at my father's request. After a few semesters, my mother began working for the community college and father enrolled so that he could be closer to both of us. He would scrutinize and disapprove of any friends I'd happen to make, and I was never allowed to do things with my friends without my mother present, nor was I allowed to go anywhere as mundane as the grocery store without her. I certainly was never allowed to date, either. When I moved out of their home and into the dorms of another college, or "ran away from home" as my father still likes to say, he'd panic if I didn't call at least three times a day. That was until he found out through my brother that I had a boyfriend I never told him about. After that, we didn't speak to each other for over six months (those were possibly the happiest days of my life!) We're on speaking terms now, but he still - over two years later - tries to convince me to move back in with him and my mother even though I'm very happily living with my loving fiance, and is still incredibly controlling and invasive with his opinions, like how we should hold our wedding at city hall the way he and my mother did, to the point of becoming irate when his opinions are denied.
All in all, I will never know how I become half as well-adjusted as I am today. I still have some work to do, though.

Great book! I thought I was a slacker mom! I've been a parent for 23 years. My youngest is 11. There is a large difference between the parents of my 23 year old daughters friends, and the parents of kids my 11 year old's age. When my oldest was little, we let coaches coach and enjoyed watching the games. We let teachers teach, went to parent teacher conferences, and the Christmas play. With my younger kids,parents coach, are the scout leader, room mother,tutor and lunch lady. I was always made to feel like I wasn't pulling my weight if I didn't want to build gingerbread houses, or go to every kids sports practice. Practice! I always felt like my kids don't want me there every time they turn around. And frankly, I don't always want to be there. Parenting is a not very stimulating sometimes mind numbing adventure. Also when I'm around, sometimes my daughter turns into my whiny kid instead of the confident 6th grader she is. I want to thank you for writing this book. I was starting to question myself. Because my daughter is the baby, I was tending to micromanage her. This book reminded my of what I knew already, of how things used to be. My children are not stupid, incapable or incompetent. I shouldn't treat them like they are. Lisa

Recently we produced a show at our professional theatre for young audiences. It was aimed at children aged 3-8. Based on a German children's story, it is tale of a man who promises to protect some tiny birds by housing them under his hat. He does so because he discovers their singing gives him "a clear mind". But the man runs up against the rules of the land, which require everyone to tip their hat when they meet another citizen. He refuses in order to protect his birds and ends up an outcast. The man is eventually threatened with hanging when he refuses to tip his to the Queen. But she has a secret something under her crown too and, in a surprise ending, she marries him and saves his life.

A number of parents complained that the show was not appropriate for young children. Their reasons included:
1. The man uses the term "shut up" when he first meets the noisy birds. Later the birds tell him to shut up when he begins singing badly.
2. The word of divorce is mentioned when the man's nasty wife throws him out for refusing to take off his hat for supper.
3. The concept of death is mentioned too often, such as when the birds fret that they might die from the winter cold if the man doesn't put them under his hat.
3. The threat of hanging is too upsetting for children. (One parent said the show might only be appropriate for teenagers.)
4. The black, white, and grey set and costumes were too somber for young children, making the story too dark.

Your article has given me some comfort. Complete agreement is probably never possible when it comes to determining what is appropraite for various ages of children. But what is certain to me, is that children need opportunities to witness a wide range of behaviours - and to engage in some of them - in order to develop their own sense of right and wrong. Plays and stories that featured only good behaviour would be unwatchably BORING and utterly pointless!

Children who merely ape the rules their parents set out for them are bound for trouble. One needs a deep connection to their beliefs in order to make good choices in an unanticipated, complex, or extreme situation. For me, one of the purposes of children's stories is to explore dangerous territory. Within a story, the child can safely experience risk. This might help develop a child's comprehension of their feelings, values, and comfort zones.

I don't think there is much research to prove my hypothesis but, as an artist, it is one of my deepest hunches that theatre has this kind of power for children. And children need some "spaces" that aren't bubble-wrapped, sanitized, and over-simplified so that they can learn about the real world.

Hi,
Wonderful to see these ideas out in the US. I wrote a similar book titled "Too Safe For Their Own Good: How Risk and Responsibility Help Teens Thrive" which did very well in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and France. Happy to send you a copy if you would like to see it. As a research professor, author, and family therapist, I see first hand the results of bubble-wrapping children. My website, www.michaelungar.com (see the media link), has some material on the book. Great to know these ideas are finding currency around the world. My travels throughout the US, and frequent presentations, have certainly convinced me a change is needed in our approach to parenting.
The very best with the book,
Michael Ungar

This will be a best seller but I think it will also be ignored by those who read it. The "helicopter" prents that read this, will not recognize themselves in it and use it as a way to find new ways to "protect" thier children.

The most disgusting form of "protection" that I have heard about was when some schools decided to change thier physical education program. They now offer "Stacking" a game that stacks cups on top of one another, challenging for speed and little chance at injury. They do not allow games like "tag" and leapfrog because they may injure the kids or damage thier egos... What happens if Johnny gets picked as IT all the time, what happens if he never gets picked to be it. don't even mention Marbles.. someone may choose to stick that up thier nose and then the horror would really start!

The overparenting revolution, I feel, was brought on by younger parents that lost thier oppertunity to be children by early pregnacy and the loss of thier own childhood. They, as a whole, are trying to re-live thier childhood and not allow thier kids to make the mistakes that they made. This is not limited to young inage, but young in experience as well.

By all means, take some of the danger out of the enviroment, but children living a sanitized life, can not function well once outside the bubble that this can cause.

Great book! Best wishes in the future!

When I was a kid I had a small pocket knife. My dad would always say "never cut towards yourself". Sage advice indeed. Failing to heed this advice I proceeded to to gash my finger. Eventually this healed but I never forgot the important lesson I had learned. About one month ago my 8 year old son, who now has his own small pocket knife was sharpening a stick for roasting hot-dogs. I offered the same advice I had been given. "Yeah, Yeah, O.K. dad" was the response along with some eye rolling. Perhaps two minutes later along comes my son holding his finger. I did my best to be "the concerned dad", but part of me struggled to hold back a smile. I know experience is the best teacher, and I know he will never do that again!!!

Let kids do what kids do, that's why casts and stitches were invented!

To Hara Estroff Marano,

Love the book! I have been devouring parenting books since I had my first child and have gone through Meg Meeker's books and have taken apart the entire Love and Logic series. Meg's books do a wonder for the spiritual side of parenting, Love and Logic does a great job giving technique, but what I love about this book is that it takes everything else I have read and done the clinical studies to back them up. I have slowly realized that my parents helicopter approach has affected my adult life and have also seen a glimpse of how my wife and I were raised watching our parents with my children. It is a wonder either of us had a coping skill to choose from. I remember my mother making the normal excuses for me when I was younger - not being challenged enough, or the teacher was being too hard on me. I will tell you that it took me until I was 30 years old to learn how to deal with having a boss! My wife and I vow to raise a generation of kids that are not focused merely on being happy. We refuse for them to go through the quarter life crisis that both my wife and I experienced with the transition from college to the working world. Your book has validated for me the direction I want to take as a parent, and I thank you for that!

Brian
KC, MO

I can't believe I'm only now hearing about this book! I can't wait to read it.
I grew up in an upper-middle class neighborhood with small children living in almost every house on the street. During the summer, my brother and I (who were ages 6-13 during this time period) would run and bike around the neighborhood, play in the nearby woods, and build forts with all the other kids. My mother's only request was that we come in for dinner. This was in the late 80s-early 90s. Now, 20 years later, the same street that used to be filled with energetic kids looks like a ghost town. There are still plenty of families with young children, but my parents tell me that they never see any of them playing outside, and when they do, it is with parental involvement. It makes me sad because those summer days spent inventing games, running from "ghosts" in the woods, and practicing riding a bike with no hands have provided me with some of the happiest memories of my life. I love that my knees still bear the scars from my childhood adventures. I want my (future) kids to have those kinds of adventures too.

Some of the things I see some parents do today amazes me. My son goes to boy scouts with a neighbor's son and my husband drives them to the meetings. The father walks his fourteen year old son to our door - two doors down. Another mother literally drives her SUV to pick up her children at the bus stop when it rains. Her house is about 75 feet away from the stop. God forbid her darlings get wet.

This weekend, I took my son to the Boston Museum of Science where we visited the lightning exhibit. I remember fondly visiting the lightning exhibit as a child myself. As I recall, I was about 9 years old. The man came out and yelled at us, "Who likes loud noises?" And we all yelled back, "I do! I do!" Then he asked, "Who wants to hear a really loud noise?" before turning on the jets which made lightning, complete with loud smacking and popping noises. It was so much fun!

Well, this weekend, the man came out (a different man, I assume, seeing as it was 30 years later). "Who's frightened of loud noises?" he asked. "I am, I am" cried all the 9 and 10 year olds, cowering next to their mothers. "Who's really, really scared?" Then he cautioned that 'maybe if you're too scared, you could leave with your mom or dad." After that, several children left. Then, the cautious man (that's how I like to think of him) told the children that "You'll probably want to put your fingers in your ears because some of these noises are really scary". The children all complied. Then, we were treated to a very abbreviated lightning show, during which several children had to be held, had to hover near the door for fear that they would be overwhelmed by loud noises -- and I couldn't help but think that the cautious man and the mommies were encouraging the frightened behavior.

After that, I paid 52 dollars for my son and I to visit an exhibit of Harry Potter artefacts -- where I again observed several families leaving this expensive treat early because their children were "too frightened" of Voldemort, the loud noises, the scary costumes.

all I can say, is no wonder we're losing in Iraq. A nation of wimps indeed.

My stepson is 10, an energetic fourth grader. Yesterday his pal came over after school, driven by his mom. I encouraged them to ride bikes to the schoolyard, two blocks away, since it was the first nice day in a while. They did, and returned in an hour. Unharmed.

Now, the friend's parents are angry because I let the boys go without adult supervision, and have canceled future "playdates."

Here's my stance, I can have no other: fourth grade is old enough to go out and play. Period.

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