Editor's Note: How protective is overprotective?

I was asked the other day if I am an overprotective parent. The question probably would have taken me aback no matter what, but I had additional reason to pause because the person asking was my 7-year-old son.

Some of his friends, when he told them he had to go home when it got dark, had told him I was. He didn’t seem offended, just curious.

So I had to stop and think. Am I overprotective? I’m protective, certainly. He has rules and boundaries that are non-negotiable: wearing a bicycle helmet, wearing a seat belt, staying within earshot of the house if he’s outside, calling me or coming home to tell me before he goes to anyone’s house.

He has a curfew, though it varies depending on the next day’s planned activities. He is not allowed to play video games rated higher than E or watch movies with a stronger rating than PG, though my husband and I do give permission for the occasional pre-vetted PG-13.

He may be tall as a 10-year-old and talk like a 12-year-old, but he’s still only 7.

Does that make me overprotective? I’m not sure. Maybe a more important question is, is overprotective such a bad thing?

When I think back to my own childhood, and the families we classified as overprotective, their kids turned out fine. They didn’t burst out in the predicted rebellions:  didn’t drop out of school or turn into drunk party animals or cover themselves with tattoos. (There may be a few tattoos in there, but that hardly counts as rebellion these days.)

Actually, all of the ones I can think of are successful, educated, stable,  gainfully employed, raising families of their own and, to all outward appearances, happy, well-adjusted adults.

That also describes many former acquaintances whose families were not considered overprotective. As the theme song says, “What might be right for you, may not be right for some.”

Parenthood is a constant juggling act of freedoms and boundaries, of giving kids enough space to make their own decisions and mistakes, and of keeping them from danger. I don’t tell my son who to be friends with, but I do know who his friends are. And if I disapprove of someone’s words or behavior, I tell him so and I tell him why.

I try to keep him safe, but the 11 stitches he has had in his face – one set of seven, one set of four – would suggest I’m hardly wrapping him in bubble wrap before he heads out the door.

There is certainly a line at which parents are truly overprotective. I believe that line is when children are not allowed to do anything at which they might get slightly hurt or fail, or are shielded from the reality of the world we live in. It’s the line at which children are not given the tools to make their own mistakes or decisions.

I don’t think we’re there. One of my goals as a parent is to make him as independent as possible; right now we’re working on learning to cook and mentally mapping the neighborhood. I want him to be safe, but I know that, he will get hurt, both physically and emotionally; he will fail; he will mess up. And that’s good for him.

Some parents are reading this and thinking that I am indeed overprotective. Others are thinking I’m not being vigilant enough. Both are OK with me. Parenting is very personal, and it’s hard not to look for outside validation that you’re doing it “right.” But even in a single family, our rules might change by the time our younger son hits 7, because the two are so different. All we can do is the best we can.

Enjoy your MidWeek.

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