Overprotective Parents Don't Understand Probability

The way most helicopter parents behave, you'd think the daily chance of dying is equal to a coin flip.

A few days ago, I wrote about societal fear by way of a lovely article in The Washington Post comparing America's increasingly insular behavior to the symptoms of agoraphobia. Riding on a similar wave, Deborah Vlock has a nice piece over at Psychology Today about how the 24/7 news cycle fuels the irrational fears of overprotective parents:


"Our virtual bad-news bubbles scare us. We appear to be a nation—a world, really—perpetually looking over its shoulder.

I could get on that plane, and maybe I will. But what are my chances of being hijacked, underwear-bombed, or disappeared right off the face of the earth? 50/50?"

That's a funny line there, the hypothetical helicopter parent assuming any flight on which their child is a passenger has an automatic 50% destruction rate. It's so ridiculous, you'd almost expect to see it in a Nationwide Insurance Super Bowl commercial. Yet despite the hyperbole, Vlock isn't really that far from portraying the perception too many parents have about how fraught with existential risk their kids' lives are. A girl in New England gets kidnapped. The media makes it a national story. A mom or dad in Oregon assumes that kidnappings are a sort of national norm and clutches at their kid's leash a little tighter. Wash, rinse, repeat:

"The problem with letting this relentless, nightmare-inducing, revenue-boosting bad news take over our parenting and our lives, is that we end up teaching our kids they’re supposed to be scared, too."

Vlock draws upon her experience raising a child prone to anxiety and self-harm in writing her piece, the theme of which is "overparenting does not work." If anything, you want to convey strength and bravery to your children, not gullible spinelessness. A major component of this is understanding that your child isn't playing Russian Roulette every time they step outside or encounter a stranger or even engage in physical activity. Most of the stories you see in the media about kids being harmed by anomalous incidents are merely that—reports of anomalies. There's really no defense against randomness; it's part of life. Attempting to resist the cruelty of chance by way of helicopter parenting only opens up a Pandora's Box of other problems for your kid, most notably the inability to build the skills necessary to deal with adversity.  

In short: if you're an overprotective parent, stop worrying so much that your kid is in danger and maybe you'll stop putting them in it.

Read more at Psychology Today.

Photo credit: CREATISTA / Shutterstock

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