The Price of Coddling

Are these efforts truly nurturing our children or are they instead hindering their ability to cope with the real world’s unpredic-tability?

Are our well-meaning efforts to protect and nurture our children ultimately stifling their growth and independence? How can we balance the deep need for love and security with the equally crucial need for resilience and self-reliance? And in an ever-evolving global landscape, are we preparing our youth for the real world or merely sheltering them from its inevitable challenges?

Amidst the rapidly changing global environment, where traditional values intersect with modern aspirations, a significant transformation is unfolding within families worldwide. Beneath the well-intentioned canopy of caregiving, over-parenting – a philosophy driven by love but loaded with unintended consequences – may be moulding a generation shielded from the very experiences that foster resilience and independence. A suffocating shelter that prevents children from experiencing even the slightest adversity or frustration, completely overlooking its cruciality for their growth and learning; leaving a watermark on their development and, more importantly, on their worldview, marking their behaviors and judgment with an enduring sense of entitlement and dependency.

Such overprotection is crafted from a deep-rooted desire to shield children from failures and hardships. But as we peel back the layers of these good intentions, critical questions emerge: Are these efforts truly nurturing our children or are they instead hindering their ability to cope with the real world’s unpredictability?

The delicate balance between safeguarding and granting independence has significantly tilted towards what’s often referred to as helicopter parenting. This approach involves parents hovering over every aspect of their children’s lives, planning every interaction, and smoothing over every potential obstacle. While these actions stem from a place of love, they paradoxically rob them of agency and set a stage not for the act of living but for an extended performance of dependency and immaturity. It fosters a generation well-versed in rights but poorly equipped in responsibilities, “they know the lines, but they don’t know the play”. The implications are severe: Young adults drift through life expecting external resolutions to their personal challenges, manifesting what could be termed “emotional hemophilia,” where trivial conflicts trigger disproportionate emotional upheaval.

“Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.” Victor Frankl

True psychological growth, as explained by experts, occurs when individuals confront life’s inherent challenges and uncertainties. Yet, in a landscape dominated by endearing yet burdensome titles like ‘Papa ki princess’ and ‘Mama ka Sher,’ we observe an alternative narrative unfolding. These affectionate labels often bestow children with undue authority and expectations, causing a mismatch between societal expectations and personal maturity as they age. This problem is even more pronounced for urban Pakistani youth, who, unlike their Western counterparts, have an abundance of domestic help, who are tasked with doing anything and everything, carrying the school bags of otherwise quasi-Marxist, visibly socially conscious and virtue-signaling high-schoolers/adolescents, while still being called “bachey”. When inquired about their contributions to household chores, (something I have observed consistently in my work with clients and students both) the adolescents typically respond with puzzled looks, an air of nescience and head shakes.

Adding to this is the commodified landscape of private education, institutions increasingly treat students as customers, prioritizing satisfaction over discipline, lest a poor review should scare off potential clientele. Teachers tiptoe around rules, spooked by the dread of parent-teacher showdowns, while parents – sometimes in their role as investors – clamor not for rigorous education but for pleasing report cards, unwittingly trading their children’s long-term capability for short-term accolades. Admittedly, scrutiny of teachers can enhance accountability and is imperative for maintaining high educational standards. However, when taken to extremes, it fosters an environment of fear and compliance rather than genuine learning, ultimately stifling both teacher creativity and student development.

Interestingly, previous generations saw the opposite extreme, where children were often parentified—given responsibilities beyond their years. Now, we find ourselves at the other end of the spectrum, where adults have been infantilized, unprepared for the demands of a mature, independent life, navigating a world where everything is someone else’s fault. We are at a cultural juncture, where there is a compelling drive to prepare children to excel on global platforms—equipping them with technological fluency, communication skills, and a broad understanding of success. Simultaneously, there’s a pervasive reluctance to expose them to life’s intrinsic trials, inadvertently preparing a cohort that is ill-equipped for the challenges they are expected to master. Makes one think about Iqbal’s notion of “khudi,” ever emphasizing the importance of independence and self-actualization—qualities increasingly scarce in today’s overly sanitized developmental pathways.

Standing at this cultural crossroads, it’s imperative to initiate and sustain dialogues that not only scrutinize contemporary parenting techniques but also explore effective strategies for instilling resilience, independence, and adaptability in our youth. These conversations should extend beyond local contexts, engaging global societies at every level—from family discussions to global forums.

By fostering open and informed dialogues, we can recalibrate our approaches to parenting, ensuring that future generations can navigate their paths with wisdom, courage, and an enduring sense of responsibility. The road ahead is daunting, but with thoughtful guidance, the future holds immense potential.

As a disclaimer; this essay does not criticize loving, legitimate parenting or advocate stringency. It calls for balance, recognizing the essential need for love in raising secure, healthy children, while acknowledging these views may not apply universally.

Muniza Zafar
The writer is a psycho-therapist, visual artist, art therapist, and soft skills trainer. She is also an Assistant Professor and has taught at NUST, NDU, and NCA.

Muniza Zafar
The writer is a psycho-therapist, visual artist, art therapist, and soft skills trainer. She is also an Assistant Professor and has taught at NUST, NDU, and NCA.

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