Why is my dad so overprotective of me?
That's the question a child asked on Quora.com. He went on to explain, "I want to audition for something but my dad won't let me. My dad doesn't want me to because he believes that I am 'still young' and he doesn't want to let go of me. Everything he does besides that makes me feel like I'm trapped at home all the time and never get the chance to do anything. I hate it."
The question struck me because twice in the same week, I had had two parents complain about struggles with their kids, They said, "My child wants more independence than I am comfortable giving, and it is causing a lot of conflict."
Here is my advice to parents resisting giving their kids the independence they are asking for (I suggested to the child on Quora.com that maybe he could gently suggest some of this to his parents): A) look for areas that their kids can be independent and B) really figure out in some detail what they (the parents) would need in order to feel comfortable with their kids being independent in a certain way.
A) Look for Areas Your Kids Can Be Independent
In my experience, parents ask a lot less of their kids than they could. Kids like to be in charge of things and they like to contribute to the family. Particularly where kids are given some flexibility about how and when they do a task, they can get great satisfaction about being in charge of a whole variety of tasks—whether that is taking responsibility for the family dog or making sandwiches for everyone’s lunch. (Note, they must perceive that the distributions of responsibilities among family members is fair and appropriate. Also note, parents must teach their children in stages, not just drop their kids in the deep end and expect them to know how to do something) For ideas of what are appropriate chores at what ages, see my blog on that topic HERE.
B) Figure Out What You Need in Order for You to Feel Comfortable with Your Kid Taking Action X.
Somewhere between our job as parents to protect our kids and getting caught up in unreasonable fears is an appropriate level of caution. The trick is to be willing to really dig deep into yourself to check which camp you are in. A good way to do that is to answer the question, What would I need to know or believe to feel comfortable with my child taking this action? If your child can answer more or less satisfactorily (keeping in mind there are no guarantees in life), and you still want to say no, then it might be time to dig really deep and figure out what this is really about (It could be as simple as your own lost opportunity when you were young and you subconsciously denying your child what you yourself were denied.)
For example, if my teenage daughter, a bass player, wanted to audition for a band that performed all over the city, these are some of the things I would need to know:
Who are the other people in the band?
Are they the kind of people who will look out for her best interests? Will they respect her limits when it comes to drugs, drinking and physical intimacy?
How well organized are they and how well do they communicate their expectations?
Where does the band rehearse and how often? Is it safe? What is safe about it? What steps could be taken to make it safe?
Where does the band perform and how often? Is it safe? What is safe about it? What steps could be taken to make it safe?
How much time will her being in the band take away from other responsibilities like school?
How much will her being in the band take her away from time spent with family?
How much flexibility is there if she cannot make a performance or gig?
How much will her being in the band require my time, effort or money? (rides to and fro, staying up worrying about her, parking fees/gas, etc)
Could she have a similar experience somehow else that would be easy to say yes to?
What value or dream would being in the band fulfill? On a scale of one to ten, how important a piece is being in the band to her greater dreams and vision of herself?
Coming to an Answer
Chances are, by the time you have worked through all these questions, either it will become clear to you that you should give your permission or it will become clear to your daughter that your concerns fall in the “appropriate level of caution” category. In any case, your child should know that you want to say yes, you want her to fulfill her dreams—and at the same time it has to work in to the needs and expectations of the family as a whole. Taking the time to really investigate all these questions will assure, as much as possible, your child's safety, and at the same time let your child know her needs, wants and desires have been seriously considered.
Do You Need Help Having Conversations Like These with Your Kids?
One of the hardest aspects of parenting a tween or teen is making the shift from "I am clearly the person best suited to make an appropriate decision for my child" to "My child is an individual with her own views and her own ambitions for her future." At some point, obviously, you have to let go. At the same time, you have a much greater appreciation for the dangers and pitfalls of any given choice. For that reason, I advise making the transition a slow and smooth one.
If you would like help with that, sign up for a complimentary Getting to Know You Call.