I read a stat recently that 1 in 7 millennials are bringing a parent to their job interview.

I don’t know how accurate that stat is, but I do have a friend who had to schedule a meeting with an employee due to lack of performance and the employee, in his late 30’s, asked if he could bring his mom to the meeting. I’m not kidding.

Recently, Kentucky changed the child booster seat laws, so children under 57 inches or shorter are required to sit in a booster seat. That’s almost 5 feet tall! I have an aunt who should still be sitting in a booster.

The other day while packing lunch for my four-year-old to take to her daycare, I tried to put a Little Debbie snack in her bag, when my wife informed me she is not allowed to bring any sweets in her lunch. She is required to have a fruit, a whole grain, a dairy, and a vegetable. Oatmeal cream pies are off limits.

Whether it’s booster seats, oatmeal pies, or job interviews, am I the only one who is noticing how our attempt to protect our children is doing more harm than good?

Every few months an article gets recycled on Facebook about how world renowned family counselor James Dobson says parents should stop allowing their children to participate in sleepovers, in his opinion, it’s just too dangerous.

In Dobson’s book, “Bringing Up Girls” he says,

“Sadly, the world has changed in the last few decades, and it is no longer a safe place for children. Pedophiles and child molesters are more pervasive than ever. That is why parents must be diligent to protect their kids every hour of the day and night. …

Until you have dealt with little victims as I had and seen the pain in their eyes, you might not fully appreciate the devastation inflicted by molestation. It casts a long shadow on everything that follows, including future marital relationships. Therefore, parents have to think the unthinkable in every situation. The threat can come from anywhere—including neighbors, uncles, stepfathers, grandfathers, Sunday school teachers, coaches, music instructors, Scout leaders, and babysitters. Even public bathrooms can be dangerous today…”

I understand his point, and I also understand that it seems as if more tragic things are happening with regularity. (I’m not sure if that’s backed up by data or if we have more access to news now.) Where I have to disagree is his statement that parents must be diligent to protect their children every hour of the day and night and always assume the unthinkable. As a dad of four kids, it’s ideas like this that make me feel a growing pressure to insulate my children, and I don’t like it.

You may be tempted to interpret my words with the tone of a grumpy old man who wonders how the world has gotten so soft. You might assume I’m going to tell you stories about how I never wore a seatbelt or a bicycle helmet and, “I turned out just fine!” But I’m not mad as much as I’m concerned. I’m concerned in our attempt to protect our children we are disabling them.

I coach my daughter’s soccer team, and as we start each season, it doesn’t take long to spot the kids who are afraid. I’m not talking about a baseline fear that all of us are born with; I’m talking about the kind of fear that comes from inexperienced living. Not every time, but many times, the parents of these kids hover close. For them, soccer is not an experience it’s a potential danger.

In a recent article from Psychology Today, written by Peter Gray, he was asked by a major university to help figure out a way to deal with the decline in student resilience. Research showed that “emergency” calls to university counselors had doubled over the last 5 years. According to Dr. Gray,

“we learned that emergency calls to Counseling had more than doubled over the past five years. Students are increasingly seeking help for, and apparently having emotional crises over, problems of everyday life. Recent examples mentioned included a student who felt traumatized because her roommate had called her a “&%$!&” and two students who had sought counseling because they had seen a mouse in their off-campus apartment. The latter two also called the police, who kindly arrived and set a mousetrap for them.”

One of Gray’s companions concluded,

“I have done a considerable amount of reading and research in recent months on the topic of resilience in college students. Our students are no different from what is being reported across the country on the state of late adolescence/early adulthood. There has been an increase in diagnosable mental health problems, but there has also been a decrease in the ability of many young people to manage the everyday bumps in the road of life.”

I don’t believe that is a coincidence. There is more than one reason for a nationwide trend, but I believe overprotective parenting is one of the biggest contributors. In an attempt to protect them we are debilitating them.

But what other choice do we have? What if something terrible happens?

There’s a chance the unthinkable could happen to one of my children, kidnapped, molested, hit by a car… Just typing that list made me sick to my stomach. Recently, in Kentucky, a 7-year-old girl was raped and killed after wandering away from her mom at a local football game. When I hear stories like that, I find myself again doubting the decency and depravity of human beings. The truth is none of us know how we would handle those moments until we were faced with them. The feeling of guilt I would feel as a parent would be overwhelming, knowing I could have possibly prevented tragedy from happening, but after countless counseling sessions with people who have faced some of life’s most difficult challenges here is what I’ve learned: Human beings are resilient. When life gets hard we always figure out a way to adapt and move forward. In my experience, it’s not the people who have faced life’s most painful experiences that are debilitated it’s the people who live in fear of life’s most painful moments, afraid that the worst-case scenario will happen. The power of fear is that most of the time the fear of the outcome is worse than the actual outcome and debilitates us for far longer.

It sounds silly to say we’re afraid of Little Debbie’s in lunch boxes or keeping score at soccer games, but without even being able to verbalize it, we are afraid. We’re afraid of cavities and health problems; we’re afraid of low self-esteem and defeat. The problem is without sickness you can never appreciate vitality. Without defeat, how would you know to savor victory?

In his book “David and Goliath,” Malcolm Gladwell talks about an idea called “Desirable Difficulties.” Gladwell sat down to talk to a dozen highly successful people who battled extreme forms of dyslexia including CEO’s, Hollywood producers, and lawyers. As they described the challenges they faced in childhood, each person agreed they did not succeed in spite of their challenges but because of them. The skills they developed to overcome their dyslexia such as listening, delegating, negotiation prepared them to excel.

“It is not always the case that if I make the task of learning something easier for you, your performance will improve.“ – Malcolm Gladwell

Now here is what is strange. When Gladwell asked each person if they would want their children to face the challenges they faced, and, as a result, experience the success they experienced, each man said unequivocally No! They would never wish those difficulties on anyone. That’s interesting. These men don’t want their children to face the challenges they credit with their development and success. I get it. As a parent, I don’t want my children to have to face unnecessary difficulty, but in my attempt to protect my kids, am I over protecting them?

I’m not advocating for carelessness. I’m not sending my kids out to play in the middle of the street or spend the night at a complete stranger’s house, but when is the last time they were allowed to play in the mud or had to face adversity without me coming to the rescue immediately. When is the last time the coach didn’t put them in the game, and instead of complaining I asked my child what things they thought they could improve to get more playing time? When’s the last time my “A list” babysitter option wasn’t available, but we chose someone else a little less qualified so my wife and I could go out together? When is the last time I left town with my spouse, separating myself from my child for 48 hours or the last time we “treated” them to ice cream at 10pm on a school night?

I refuse to live in fear. I understand bad things may happen, and I’m certain my kids will experience pain, fear, sadness, and low self-esteem (and a few cavities) throughout their childhood, but I’m also sure they will experience the thrill of exploration, experimentation, courage, joy, and confidence.

My job as a parent is not to get my kids to adulthood by the safest route possible; my job is to prepare them in age appropriate ways to be leaders and contributors in society. To shelter them is to limit them.

I can’t prove it, but I think most parents I know, including myself, make a lot of our decisions based on the pressure of judgment we feel from other parents. I think if we knew no one was watching and no one would have an opinion about our parenting, including our mother in law, we would parent differently. But that’s a pipe dream, for the time being, I’ll have to keep sneaking oatmeal cream pies in my daughter’s lunch and keep getting “those looks” from her teacher. If you can’t eat a Little Debbie in life, what’s the point?

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