What Happens When Overprotected Children Grow Up

Did you know that an overprotected child suffers from low confidence and self-esteem as an adult? Read on to know how an overprotective parenting style can adversely affect your child as he grows up.

By Amrita Gracias

What Happens When Overprotected Children Grow Up

As parents, we always want the best for our children. We want them to be happy and to be sheltered from the harsh realities of the world. But, in this endeavour, some of us go overboard and become overprotective parents, which does our children more harm than good. And, the adverse effects of our overbearing parenting style carry on not just into their adolescence but also into adulthood.

Why some parents are overprotective

Parents, in general, have a lot of concern for the safety and welfare of their children. Agreed that most parents have faith in their child’s ability to cope with age-appropriate challenges. However, some parents are unduly concerned and feel that it is entirely their responsibility to protect their child from all the dangers, challenges, hardships and disappointments that life may throw up at times. Such parents turn overprotective and tend to constantly monitor their child and take control of his life. In fact, there is even a moniker for moms who tend to be overbearing – ‘helicopter moms’. ‘Overprotective mother syndrome’ is another such term that depicts mothers who become hyper-anxious about their child’s well-being.

Common signs of overprotective parents

  • Do not give the child autonomy, keeping her under tight control
  • Make the child dependent by doing everything for her
  • Are always fearful that something unpleasant may happen to the child and transfer these fears to the child
  • Hold on to the child well into her adulthood to satisfy their own emotional needs

Signs of overprotected children

  • Are overly dependent on parents
  • Have low confidence and self-esteem
  • Feel challenged by hardships or conflict
  • Are unable to think independently or make decisions on their own
  • Are reluctant to take up responsibility or own up failure

What happens when an overprotected child grows up?

Studies have shown that overprotection is more detrimental than beneficial to a child, leading to unfavourable effects on his cognitive and social–emotional skills.

Let us look at how an overprotective parenting style affects the child as he moves into adolescence and then into adulthood.

During the teenage years

  • Cognitive skills: A child begins to assert his independence as he enters adolescence. During teenage, the brain undergoes several changes and this is the time that teens work towards establishing their identities. But, an overprotective parent doesn’t allow his adolescent to create his own space due to the fear of losing control over the child. The parent continues to foster dependency and, in the process, keeps the child away from having any significant learning experiences. Keeping the teen confined within a narrow boundary, affects his thinking and reasoning abilities, and prevents him from developing into a confident, responsible and resourceful individual.
  • Social–emotional skills: The overprotected teen lacks confidence and has low self-esteem. He believes that he is incapable of being independent and standing up for himself. As a result, the child becomes an easy target for bullies. Moreover, overprotective parents do not allow their teen to develop bonds of friendship. Thus he is deprived of an integral part of teenage. This lack of healthy social life can make him seek gratification in the relationship with his parents, thus making him even more dependent on them. On the other hand, there is also a chance for an overprotected teen to rebel against his parents, especially because of the restrictions imposed on him. Since the child longs for independence, he begins to test boundaries. This may lead to the child picking up some risky behaviours such as abusing alcohol or drugs.

During early adulthood

  • Cognitive skills: A young adult who is overprotected lacks the sense of responsibility and continues to remain dependent on her parents. If she does need to move away and live independently, she finds it extremely hard to cope with such a life as she doesn’t possess the necessary life skills – problem-solving, decision-making and so on. Since she is used to being cared for by her parents, she finds herself to be a misfit among her more independent peers. Her low confidence level suppresses her thinking and prevents her from using her skills as she doubts her abilities. She also holds back from expressing herself or sharing her creative abilities due to the fear of being judged.
  • Social–emotional skills: She is easily frustrated and struggles to deal with challenges relating to academics, work or relationships. As she continues to remain dependent, she is emotionally weak and finds it hard to relate to her peers. If her parents are unable to shelter her, she is unsure how to proceed ahead in life, as she hasn’t learnt to face challenges or hardships. She is oversensitive and avoids taking any risks as she fears failure. Studies also show that overprotected individuals are at a greater risk of suffering from anxiety disorders in adulthood as they are always stressed owing to their various fears.

During late adulthood

  • Cognitive skills: Even in late adulthood, an overprotected individual continues to find it hard to take responsibility for his actions. For, he has grown up without having to own up to any responsibility. His career suffers, as he is incapable of independent thinking, problem-solving or decision-making. He is unable to accept constructive criticism and tends to interpret situations negatively. Besides, he lacks the drive to move forward in his career due to his low confidence. A non-performer at work, he moves from one job to another as he is unable to face the challenges of his job.
  • Social–emotional skills: Owing to his emotional instability, he lacks appropriate social skills. A sense of overdependence makes him look out for someone to depend on. In a relationship, he is likely to remain passive and allows himself to be dominated by his partner. He might even stay in an abusive relationship as he fears he would lose the person he is dependent on. As a parent, the overdependent individual could also turn out to be overprotective of his children or may grant them excessive freedom.

While it is normal for parents to be concerned about their children, we must understand that there exists a fine line that differentiates protection from overprotection. There is no harm in allowing our children to learn from their mistakes and face the challenges that life throws their way.

About the expert:

Reviewed by Arundhati Swamy on 5 September 2019

Arundhati Swamy holds a Masters degree in Social Work with specialisation in Family and Child Welfare from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. She is currently a Counselor for a number of leading schools in the city.

About the author:

Written by Amrita Gracias on 17 April 2018; updated on 5 September 2019

Amrita Gracias holds a degree in English Literature from Stella Maris College, Chennai and a Post Graduate Diploma in Journalism (specialising in Print Media) from the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai. She takes to writing and editing when she isn’t answering to the duties of motherhood!

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