Parental Hyper-vigilance: The Great Paradox of Parenting

Parents today are going to great lengths to take the struggles out of life for their children. Isn’t this what good, caring parents do? Unfortunately, parental hyper-vigilance tends to make children more fragile, rather than more equipped, which explains why many of today’s youth are increasingly incapable of managing demands of life.

This is the great paradox of parenting.  Well intended parents who want their children to be successful inadvertently shield them from the very lessons that will allow them to become successful.  No parent wants to see their child suffer and fail, but taking the discomfort, disappointment and struggle from their development only robs them of developing resilience and coping strategies.

Children of hyper-vigilant parents are left to manage few challenges all their own which leaves them unprepared for learning to manage the challenges that life will most assuredly provide. Over time, it stagnates a child’s development and makes them susceptible for depression, anxiety and lack of self-confidence. These mental health issues then create additional difficulties for the teen struggling to find his/her identity during the adolescent years.

Hyper-vigilant parents who attempt to solve every problem for their child and can’t fathom the thought of their child being uncomfortable are doing them no favors.  Too many of these parents self-deceive and believe they are engaged in good parenting.

Children of hyper-vigilant parents who have become accustomed to having the things they desire, often times, instantaneously, become entitled.  Over time, they develop a low frustration tolerance, a lack of patience, and a complete inability to deal with discomfort of any type on any level. 

The unfortunate reality for these children is that life is full of discomfort.  As these children go through their teen years they are unable to solve problems and deal with the daily dilemmas they encounter.  These seemingly small dilemmas become the genesis of the mental health issues including depression anxiety, substance use, technology and video game addictions.

There is a lesson in this for all parents.  Those who allow their kids to find a way to deal with life's day-to-day stresses by themselves are helping them develop resilience and coping strategies.  The goal of parenting is to raise an independent human being, capable of managing the demands of life.  At some point in their childhood, most kids will be forced to confront their own mediocrity.

A mistaken belief many parents possess is assuming that children can't handle difficult situations. Too often parents assume that if kids start getting into difficulty they need to rush in and do it for them, rather than let them flounder a bit and learn from it.   

What style of parenting is best for dealing with teens?

In our work with teens, this is a question we frequently are asked by parents who are struggling with how to best manage a difficult teen.  While there is not a “one size fits all” fits all approach to parenting teens, it is safe to state that most parenting experts agree that an Authoritative approach to parenting tends to be effective in most circumstances.  To help you understand authoritative parenting, we have listed the four most common categories of parenting below to refresh your memory about different parenting styles:

Authoritarian Parenting

In this style of parenting, children are expected to follow the strict rules established by the parents. Children’s unwilling to follow the rules usually results in some form of punishment.  Typically, authoritarian parents fail to explain the reasoning behind these rules. If asked to explain, the parent might simply state, "Because I said so." Or “Because I am the parent.”  Typically Authoritarian parents  have high expectations, but are not responsive to their children.

Authoritative Parenting

Like authoritarian parents, those with an authoritative parenting style establish rules and guidelines that their children are expected to follow. However, Authoritative parenting style is much more democratic. Authoritative parents are more responsive to their children and willing to entertain  questions and dialogue. When children fail to meet the expectations, these parents are more nurturing and forgiving rather than punishing.

Permissive Parenting

Permissive parents have very few demands to make of their children. These parents rarely discipline their children because they have relatively low expectations of maturity and self-control. Permissive parents tend to be more responsive than demanding. They tend to be lenient, do not require mature behavior, allow considerable autonomy and usually avoid confrontation.  Permissive parents tend to be nurturing and communicative with their children; however, they often make the damaging mistake of taking on the status of a friend more than that of a parent.

Uninvolved Parenting

An uninvolved parenting style is characterized by few demands, low responsiveness and little communication. While these parents fulfill the child's basic needs, they are generally detached from their teen's life.  As teens become independent and separate from their parents, uninvolved parents become even more detached. In extreme cases, these parents may even reject or neglect tOptionshe needs of their children.