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The difference between over-protecting your child–and simply parenting them

I don’t know a single parent who doesn’t want their child to thrive. We’ve known these little wonders since before they were born.

Remember the first time you heard their heart beat? What about that first wobbly step—and fall? Do you remember that first day of school, or first boyfriend or girlfriend, or first question you didn’t know how to answer?

What about when they started to fly by themselves and you weren’t sure whether to feel proud… or nervous… or alone… or terrified?

No matter what your experience has been, I bet you want your child to thrive. In light of this shared goal, here’s a key question many of us share:

How do I know if I’m over-protecting my child?

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After all, good parenting surely helps our kids. But over-protecting probably hurts them.

To be honest, I’m writing this not only because this question has come up in conversations, but because someone once suggested I was over-protecting my children. The reason was because my wife and I limit the amount of technology and screen time they get. We’re also very particular about what activities they do. In so doing, we were somehow “shielding them from the real world.”

I hope what I’m about to say doesn’t come across as defensive. It’s not meant to. I’m a relatively calm person. But I write this because—like you—I want my kids to thrive, and I think we all benefit when we know the difference deliberate parenting makes.

So, what is good parenting and what’s over-protecting?

Parenting a child is preparing them to be a responsible adult who will make a positive difference in the real world.

In contrast, over-protecting a child is shielding them from experiences that will help them become a responsible adult who will make a positive difference in the real world.

Those definitions are essential. So let me say them again:

Parenting a child is preparing them to be a responsible adult who will make a positive difference in the real world.

In contrast, over-protecting a child is shielding them from experiences that will help them become a responsible adult who will make a positive difference in the real world.

Granted, people will inevitably have different ideas about what it means to make a “positive difference in the real world.” For example, in our family it means committing to and getting in on the ways Jesus is bringing heaven to earth. But no matter what your beliefs are, I think many of us can agree that raising children to be responsible adults who make a positive difference is a good thing.

So let’s go back to the suggestion that I was over-protecting my children. Upon closer examination, it turns out that I wasn’t shielding them at all—unless you think knowledge about the latest pop star, trendy new show, and social media hashtag are non-negotiables for the “real world.”

When I think about our own parenting, we’re definitely not perfect. But I think we know, for the most part, what need to do to prepare our children to be responsible adults who will make a positive difference in the real world.

For example, we have a policy to always be honest in an age appropriate way. As a result, my 8-year old daughter may not know the latest video games, but…

  • We’ve talked about the global issue of human trafficking
  • She knows not only about Jesus but about Satan
  • She knows where babies come from and how they are made
  • We’ve had the Santa talk (and the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy talk!)
  • And she knows that life isn’t about being happy all the time, but about honouring God and serving him and others

My point is this. When someone accuses you of “over-protecting” your child—or if you accuse someone else of it—dig a little deeper to find out what is actually being said. In my experience, what it often means is that someone simply disagrees with your priorities and has a different understanding about how a child should thrive.

Is a knowledge of pop culture necessary to be a responsible adult who makes the world a better place?

Is having a tolerance for violent images on TV necessary to be a responsible adult who makes the world a better place?

Is simply adopting the ever-changing values of our society necessary to be a responsible adult who makes the world a better place?

No they’re not.

That said, do I occasionally over-protect my kids? Maybe. But I’d rather make the occasional mistake with the right motives, than make a lot of mistakes without having thought about my motives at all.

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When it comes to parenting our children, encouraging the right kind of risks can be a good thing. So can helping them learn, grow, and become responsible–on purpose and for a purpose.

I want my children to thrive. I bet you do too. So let’s embrace the idea that parenting isn’t just a noun but a verb. It’s not only something we are, but something we do.

In our own imperfect ways, let’s parent our children to become responsible adults who make this world a better place.


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