Why Kids of Overprotective Parents Are Targets for Bullies

Learn how giving your kids some freedom can help them deal with bullies


Are you a helicopter parent? You know, the parent that is worried about her child’s safety and well-being in almost every area of their life – the epitome of the overprotective parent? If so, do you know that you are hurting your child more than you are protecting him?

Whether you forbid social media use for your teens, limit friendships and play-dates or help with homework so much that you practically do it for them, you are hurting your child’s growth and development.

Not only do kids of overprotective parents have more anxiety than most kids, they also struggle with self-esteem issues and often fail to develop autonomy. They cannot make decisions on their own and often look to their parents for feedback when they should be doing things for themselves.

Overprotective parents also work to eliminate frustration in their kids’ lives. They protect them from any perceived threat, trusting little in other people or activities that are outside the parent’s comfort zone. But this parenting style makes kids dependent with little tolerance for frustration.

And lastly, overprotective parents unwittingly are setting their kids up to become targets for bullies. Keep in mind, bullies are looking for easy targets. And if your child is fearful, indecisive and lacks a solid self-esteem, he may become a victim of bullying.

For parents who err on the side of protectiveness, this concept can seem counterintuitive.

After all, you have done everything you can to protect your child from harm and to keep him safe. How could it possibly be that he is still targeted by bullies?

What the Research Says

While all kids need some level of supervision and protection from parents, there is the possibility that parents take it too far.

In fact, according to researchers, when parents try to shield their children from bad situations, they are also preventing their kids from learning ways to deal with difficult situations and people.

This means when bullies confront them, they have no idea what to do and that makes them more vulnerable. Children of overprotective parents also may lack autonomy and assertiveness and can therefore be easily threatened.

Meanwhile, parents who develop rules regarding behavior, who are supportive of their kids and allow them to make decisions and fail are the least bullied. What’s more, when parents allow their kids to have mild conflicts with peers, they learn how to solve problems on their own with little intervention needed from the parents.

And even though bullying is a problem that frequently occurs at school, parents need to realize that they play a role in its prevention. Aside from taking steps to talk to their kids about bullying and helping them develop skills for standing up to bullies, overprotective parents need to take a look at their parenting style and make a few changes, especially if they want to help prevent bullying in their children’s lives.

How to Become Less Overprotective and More Balanced

Step back and calm down. That powerful instinct you have to protect your kids, while completely normal, is only part of your role as a parent. Keep in mind that protecting your kids does not have to be the only thing you think about when you are making parenting decisions. Remember, good parenting requires a balance.

Sometimes it is completely appropriate to be protective of your kids. Other times though, it is appropriate to hold back and allow your child to learn on his own. Holding back may mean that your child will take risks, make mistakes, get things wrong and even get hurt. But these experiences, while painful for a parent to watch, are part of the learning process for kids. And it is okay. Your child will grow into a strong, mature adult if you allow him to experience some bumps along the way.

Analyze your fears. What is it that causes you to be so overprotective? What many overprotective parents do not realize is that their own fears from childhood are now being lived out through their children. When this happens, parents are creating a generation of kids with the same fear-filled life that was theirs.

Every time you start to say no or set a boundary, ask yourself “why am I doing this” and “what am I afraid of?” Are you worried more about the “what ifs” or is there a tangible reason for saying no such as the activity is not age-appropriate? If you answer those questions honestly, you will know whether you should be protective or whether you should allow your child some freedom.

Trust your child. When you trust your child to handle a few things on their own or to make age-appropriate decisions, you are demonstrating that you have confidence in him. And this simple action builds your child’s self-confidence and independence. Be sure you also respect your child’s decisions and let him learn from his mistakes.

Remember, failing at something or feeling disappointment are important experiences for your child. These experiences help build resilience and perseverance in your kids and are important life skills.

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