Are we hurting our kids by overprotecting them?

March 16, 2024

Thomas Froese

Hannah (below) and Liz Froese in a 2020 photo. Writing about youth mental health, the writer notes, “If something will strengthen your child, then do it. If not, then don’t.”


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(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, March 16, 2024)

Here’s a story to get us thinking about health and happiness.

Boy has serious stomach pain. Mom brings to clinic. Boy checks out fine, but routine mental health screening asks him these questions.

“In the last few weeks have you wished you were dead? Have you thought you or your family would be better off with you dead? Have you thought of killing yourself? If so, how or when? Do you have thoughts of killing yourself now? If so, describe.”

The boy is 12. Gosh.

Here’s another story, this of an old woman. She was happiness personified to those who knew her. It’s interesting because her mom died birthing her. Then she lived poor, mistreated and stunted. At 16 she contracted polio, spending a year in an iron lung without human touch.

In time she recovered. Then college. Then marriage, three kids and night school. Then she became a lawyer, then a judge, among Maryland’s first female judges. She had foster kids. Finally, old and with joy, she watched her children’s children get on their own journey.

I’m imagining her old face, lined with life’s crevices, but still reflecting a girl’s innocence. My deep hope is that the faces of my own children – two are girls – reflect something like this in their own old age.

But what if that woman, while still a girl, was asked about killing herself? Would that have made her happier? And therapy? “You’ve experienced so much trauma, you know?”

It’s good to think about with International Happiness Day here, March 20. Yes, the UN has deemed that humankind has a fundamental right to happiness, an interesting story in itself.

It’s especially interesting considering youth in western nations, the world’s more privileged nations are, we’re told, strikingly unhappy. About 40 per cent of North American Gen-Zers have had therapy. Many are medicated and convinced they have a limiting mental disorder. Why?

One reason is because intervention itself has risks. Labels are harmful. And studies – one involved 8,000 British teens, two involved 3,500 Australian teens – show that some school-based therapy programs get youth more anxious and depressed than otherwise. Why so?

Because ruminating on your problems makes them grow. That’s why a coach doesn’t unify his team by asking Mikey how he’s feeling about his parents’ divorce. Instead, he gives Mikey a great task to make him a stronger person.

The mother of that 12-year-old boy, by the way, is Wall Street Journal writer Abigail Shrier. And that Maryland judge? She’s Shrier’s grandmother. Shrier, who’s also a lawyer, recently wrote “Bad Therapy: Why the kids aren’t growing up.” It’s a well-researched read that asks fair questions about how culture’s climate change that overprotects kids, hurts them.

Not that intervention is always harmful. Good therapy exists. Get cancer and get chemotherapy. It can save your life. Like a skilled therapist can save someone in crisis.

But the rule of thumb is this: If something will strengthen your child, do it. If not, then don’t. Because a strong child is a happy child. And what parent doesn’t want a happy child?

The paradox is that you never arrive at full happiness. It’s an ongoing journey. An outgrowth of a myriad of choices. Also, it involves four pillars: faith, family, friends and work. This, according to Arthur Brooks, a Harvard University happiness guru who studies both the neuroscience and social science of these matters. His most recent happiness book is co-authored with Oprah.

Everything else, including addictive social media or well-meaning but meddling adults, is too much. What kids everywhere want is trusting, supportive connections with loved ones, especially Mom and Dad. If extended loved ones join their journey, even better.

With warm weather near, it’s a good time to let the children discover more of this, that life, even when it knocks you around (especially when it knocks you around) is meant to be lived in a spirit of adventure and thanksgiving.

Teach anything less and the kids get ripped off. Or worse.

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March 16, 2024 • Posted in ,
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6 thoughts on “Are we hurting our kids by overprotecting them?”

  1. Eric Woollings

    Strength and growth are borne of adversity. Development requires a degree of discomfort. I once had a boss who would often remind me that his job, as it pertained to my development, was to keep me on the edge of uncomfortability. As a parent, it is necessary to make the difficult decision to let your child grow through failures and struggles. Just also provide the landing spot they’ll need to recover. And there are good therapies and good reasons to use them. One of my daughters experienced an event that was beyond my ability to support. Therapy helped her develop tools and skills to grow from it.

  2. Marshall Lawrence

    Thanks for your writings. This last one reminded me of my FB post last October. Here it is.
    All the best to you and Jean.


    A lesson from an African Violet.

    A granddaughter gave us a beautiful African Violet. It sat on the coffee table displaying clumps of blossoms in three pastel colours. Then the blossoms began to fall off. We gave it more water. The plant began to droop. We talked to it, watered it, and worried over it. No change. After some months of pampering, we discovered that African Violets don’t like to be pampered. We began to ignore it. Three months went by. It dried out. Then it came to life and began to bloom again!

    I wonder, just a thought mind you, if some of the people we love and care so much about, might be shrivelling up because we pamper them too much.

  3. For sure, it’s both promoting growth by letting life happen (what choice do we have, anyway?) and providing those landing spots when needed. Thanks for the reminder, Eric.

  4. I totally agree with you. When my daughter put the poster “It’s Ok to be not Ok” on her wall to help her mental health, I didn’t like that poster. It’s on the wall to always remind you “You are not ok.” I told her to just put “You are great. You can do it.” That’s more positive.

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