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Hyper Parents & Coddled Kids

Did you catch this CBC documentary yesterday?

I got a heads-up from Ann Douglas’ blog at that it was coming and I was intrigued. In her review, Douglas concludes that this “hyper-parenting” phenomenon is largely a thing of the past:

The documentary is worth watching, if only as a reminder of where we’ve been and how far we’ve come in rejecting the consumerist parenting style that views parents as manufacturers and kids as products to be paraded before the neighbors and the relatives.

I’m not so sure, though. I think hyper-parenting is still highly pervasive in one form or another.

As example, I know a college professor who refuses to take calls from the parents of students — he finds it utterly ludicrous that he would need to speak to the parent of an adult. But apparently a lot of the parents don’t think so, because it keeps happening year after year.

I also know a senior high-school teacher who, although he loves his job, does admit to the frustration of dealing with “enabled” students and their parents. If a student, as example, does not hand-in their assignment and as a result is not allowed to progress to the next task, he can expect a parent call. And when the parent doesn’t get what they want from speaking to the teacher, they’ll move on up to the vice-principal. In a school system that barely allows students to be held accountable for their actions, parents like this only seem to compound the issue.

How these same young people will ever live as independent adults is anyone’s guess. Which is why the documentary was particularly fascinating when it focused on young adults that were not long out of the nest. Some were university students hobbled by anxiety. And then there was one young woman who seemed to epitomize the issue perfectly. She was bright, but seemingly clueless when it came to “real life” smarts. She cited being let go from a number of jobs due to attitude, lateness and disrespect for senior colleagues.

At the point when the documentary catches her, she’d chosen to leave a job that paid 90,000/year to start her own business. The business never took off and we see her prancing into an office to discuss bankruptcy with a designer bag, takeaway coffee and iPhone phone in hand. And what will happen to this helpless creature? Oh, mommy and daddy will surely take her back in. They’ve already been subsidizing her rent, after all.

Perhaps when Douglas suggests that hyper-parenting is no longer a common practice, she’s referring more to the over-indulgence of consumer goods upon children — the latest toys, video games and designer clothes — as grossly demonstrated in the documentary’s coverage of a $4,000 birthday party for a one-year-old. But even in this regard, I’m not so sure it’s a done deal either.

The documentary notes that hyper-parenting is found in the middle- to upper-classes. I live in a middle- to upper-class neighbourhood and I can attest that consumerism is still rampant in this neck of the woods! Kids wearing Lululemon, toting Nintendo DS players, heading out to multiple extra-curricular activities a week and returning home to their McMansions. Sure, it’s not everyone, but there’s enough to safely say that it exists.    

So, if this hyper-parenting does in fact exist in strong numbers, am I one of them? I don’t think so. But sometimes I actually have this irrational urge to be one.

What do I mean by that? Well, the documentary points to two driving factors behind hyper-parenting: fear (as suggested by the author Carl Honore) and peer pressure (as suggested by one of the parents).

Like all parents, I’m vulnerable to any suggestions of harm to my children. This innate desire to protect our children is used to sell newspapers, magazines, products and services everyday.

How? Okay, here’s one example: headlines shouting out that a child has been abducted by a stranger. It’s not that the media shouldn’t report on this — it is news, after all. It’s just that my intense desire to protect my child can overshadow the hard facts that stranger abductions are exceedingly rare. This parental fear is why few children ever walk to school or their bus stop unsupervised.

And despite my best efforts to shed this fear, I am one of those parents whose children are rarely unsupervised. So what’s the harm in this? The documentary draws a few interesting connections. The first is that when one isn’t allowed unsupervised play, then one ends up with structured play — like a team sport. Honore points out that team sports take all the control away from the child because the rules are made for them, the referree decides who is playing by the rules, etc. The documentary also points out that once you’ve been hovering around your child long enough, it starts to seem natural. Both parents and child get used to always having each other around and a co-dependence develops which makes eventual independence less likely.

The other driving factor that I mentioned above was peer pressure. As much as I hate to admit it, I feel the weight of peer pressure … that so-and-so is taking this class, perhaps my child should too? I actually feel embarrassed to admit that my children are enrolled in exactly zero extra-curricular activities at the moment. Rationally, I know that my children are getting exercise and stimulation through the more unstructured things we do as a family. But I still have this irrational response to the peer pressure to conform to what others are doing. I guess when it comes right down to it, this peer pressure brings me back in a circular swing to fear. The fear that maybe so-and-so is doing the best thing for their child and that I am depriving my child of something very important.

So what have I got to conclude from all of this? I guess:
1. That hyper-parenting is harmful to children
2. That hyper-parenting is a form of parental instinct, but magnified to excess
3. That I am vulnerable to fear and peer pressure

Nothing too ground-breaking in that list, is there? But still, the issue is deeply fascinating to me.

It really got me thinking about a lot of things — especially how much I dislike the use of fear-mongering to sell products and services to parents. It’s used to sell everything from books, to “green” products, to electronics and technology. (It also got Andrea Tomkins thinking about a lot of things too, which you can read here.)

And it really got me wondering if I have the potential to be a hyper-parent. I’ve concluded that I probably have the potential, but I’m just too darn tired to bother!

If you missed this documentary, you can read about it and view video clips here.


  1. As usual, a very thoughtful and well written opinion Jules. I think it is still too early for me to tell whether or not I fall into the hyper-parent category, after all, I’m not supposed to leave my 19-month old unsupervised at this point. But I’d like to think that I won’t fall into some of the traps that lay waiting for my growing girl and our family. At the same time, kids can be crippled by bullying and the need to conform due to peer pressure. Ultimately, what’s worse – trying to get your child to embrace their individuality at the cost of ridicule, or giving them what they feel they need to fit in, at least until they are old and wise enough to embrace their individuality at the potential expense of popularity?


  2. Hi Richochay –

    Thanks for the visit! I’ve still been thinking about this and kind of feeling like re-writing my post. But I don’t think that’s “allowed”? I just can’t stop thinking about this documentary! (And another I saw on the same vein where a father attached a GPS tracker to his child every morning before they went out to the bus stop, as well as a woman considering implanting a GSP chip under her child’s skin so she could always know she was safe and not abducted.)

    I wanted to add that I think overindulgence to young children probably does no harm whatsoever — like the baby who had the $4k birthday party … the baby doesn’t care or will likely remember it … so what’s the harm?

    And I hear you on the bullying front. My DD has already had to deal with this lately. It breaks my heart and if one designer shirt is going to help her fit in … what harm, right? But really, one shirt is not going to help her fit in. Kids can sniff out someone who is more vulnerable or a bit “different” I think. Must be an instictual thing left over from the tribal days!

    I guess though it’s when this kind of ultra-focus on one little being continues throughout a lifetime, the child grows up feeling entitled as well as unable to cope without all of that parenting shine focusing down on them.

    Maybe this next generation (our toddlers!) will have less coddling. Like Douglas notes, many parents are rejecting this hyper-parenting (I know my hubby, as example, has no hyper-parenting tendencies whatsoever). I do still see it around in parents of my age. These are nice kids and nice parents — but, like Douglas suggests, they are parenting their child as if the child is a project to succeeed at, not a person.

    Another thing that I’ve been thinking about is the demographics around this hyper-parenting. The doc mentions middle- to upper-class. But it also featured mothers who had left their employment to be stay-at-home mothers … perhaps hyper-parenting requires, at minimum, one stay-at-home parent who has the time to focus on the child so much!

    I’m sure I will continue to think about this …


  3. Ah, one of my favourite topics. I’ve written about this a few times, too. I’m very protective of my daughter in that I’m careful what I let her do and where I let her go. I’m trying to maintain a balance between letting her run wild and free and keeping her caged up. I think I’ve done okay so far. I do buy her things to help her fit in socially – again, not everything so she’s able to tap into her own individuality, but enough so she’s not a social pariah — which is a fine line in school. And for the most part I let her fight her own battles. I’ll only step in if she wants me to and she doesn’t often want or need me to, but when she does, I’m there with sharpened teeth. Just like adults sometimes need a lawyer or accountant or other professional to fight their battles for them, kids sometimes need an advocate – or at least need to know there’s someone who’s got their back no matter what. So, I guess what I’m saying is that it doesn’t have to be and either/or thing. The world is very competitive these days and it almost behooves us to give our kids any edge we can to help them succeed – whether that’s extra-curricular activities or a good computer or the right clothes — but especially we have to make sure they also develop their own coping tools.

  4. This is where a single parent has some advantages!! I cannot physically watch my boys (7 and 9)- and nor should I – every waking minute. Somteimes I let them play in our backyard (completely fenced) while I am inside. Ok, the window is open and I make frequent trips to my room to peek out or say hi, but I feel a sense of guilt. When I was 7 and 9, I ran all day, returning when I was hungry. And I am alive and well. As for those parents who refuse to give their children any responsibility – I plead the fifth as a teacher. My kids feel they have WAY too much responsibility. Last time I asked them to clean the dishwasher (I refuse to raise boys with no house skills) they asked why they had to do eveything and I did nothing? LOL. Thanks for a thought provoking and dare I say reassuring post???

  5. Heather Ann says:


    Yo! I found you through Andrea’s blog and while I was going to comment on hers, I’m not going to comment there now because I only have a few minutes and I want to say, “Wow! Glad you’re back! Glad you are writing here! Missed you, and we should really do COFFEE!”
    Um, must have taken too many of my cat’s uppers, huh?
    Guess what we have? A baby! Rachel – born Oct. 7th. I will muddle around here and see all your news. Mine is that everything is much better.

    Big Hugs,
    Heather Ann
    P.S. – Will almost has two front teeth. Any front teeth happening at your house?

    • Heather Ann! WOW! How fantastic to connect. We still miss Riley so dearly … but all is good here too. I am so happy to hear your news about new baby — can’t wait to meet her! :))) Oh, these are the kinds of connections that make me LOVE the internet! Email me via the contact button, k? We MUST do coffee!!

  6. Julie – don’t be embarrassed that your kids are not enrolled in activities . . . mine are not either! I have blogged a couple times before about how we relish in our ability to be enrolled in nothing . . . and I am done feeling guilty about it. I can see how overscheduling and too many activities really takes a toll on a family – driving everywhere, stressing about meals and getting places on time. I’m definitely not against letting my children join activities when they want to do something they love, but I’m not enrolling them in a bunch of stuff just because the Jones’ are doing it. (And that’s not to say they’ve never done anything, we did swimming last fall but like to take the winter months off to just have fun.)

    I have not yet seen the documentary and am trying desperately to see if I can download the full version somewhere. I’m looking forward to watching it, it’s a very interesting topic and one I am also very fascinated in.

    And I can relate to Stefanie – I am also a teacher and find myself expecting a lot of my kids. I taught them how to put on their own snowsuits and boots long before they could read or print their names. As a teacher it drives me nuts when kids stand there in kindergarten waiting for you to put their snowsuits and boots on for them – just assuming you will do it b/c it is done for them at home. Children need to be taught independence at a young age – it is crucial for their personal development.

    Great commentary!!

  7. I wish I had seen the documentary – I will try to find it online. I really think I am more laid back than most parents. We like to hang out at home a lot, and I really am not one to hover and think up ways to occupy my girls’ day. Lucky for me my two daughters like to play together and I spend a lot of time reading and drinking coffee.
    I know someone who is totally a hyper parent though, but I doubt she would ever recognize it in herself. So I wonder if any one of us would recognize this behaviour in ourselves, or is it always someone else’s problem.
    As my husband and I like to say, isn’t it nice to be such perfect parents?

  8. Great post! We need to find a balance between protecting our kids and helping them grow. Free play is very important – time is a major issue – too much ‘scheduled’ time isn’t good. Conversely, giving our kids the opportunities to develop interests etc. is important.

  9. I am loving all these great insights!

    It really is hard to decide what the right balance is, isnt’ it? Between providing enough exposure to generate an interest or develop a certain level of skill to just plain killing ourselves with a hectic schedule.

    If you’ve got a family with three children and each child only does one activity — that is still a ton of scheduling! My parents had four children and to this day I have no idea how they afforded it, let alone managed to schedule it all!

    Special thanks to the insights from teachers! I do recall wondering about the poor JK teachers who only had the kids for 1/2 day but must have spent at least 1/2 of that time helping them in and out of snowsuits!

  10. I wish I’d seen this documentary that everyone’s talking about! I get the gist of it, though. Very interesting!

    My husband teaches at a college, and one student’s parents are threatening to sue the school over her failing grade. From what I’ve heard of the school’s side of the story, they’re way out of line and she deserved the failing grade — but the mother in me relates to that fierce need to protect her cub and I can see how it might come to that. (A $4000 birthday party? Not so much.)

  11. I liked your article and your take on it.
    I tend to agree with you that, while this sort of parenting may be on the downturn in some statistical way, it is not by any means done for good.

    I also agree with some of the commenters that hyper-parenting is necessary to some degree, especially in early childhood, and in fact simply unavoidable. To that I would add that if parents indulge in hyper-parenting behaviour into high school, they are in for some serious backlashes from the very people they are trying to help/protect. the story about the parent meddling in high school or university is ridiculous – have you seen ‘a serious man’? It’s got quite a scene there on what happens when a south korean gets a failing grade in college (and fairly accurate I can assure you).

    another area in contemporary society in which we see hyper-parenting and peer pressure running rampant is sports. you find success stories around but more failures. parents pushing their kids to become these little super-humans by age 8. Competitive hockey dads and soccer moms abound, and it can’t be too great for the kids.

    Anyways, interesting read.

  12. So enjoyed this post. Was just able to watch the documentary a few days ago and had mixed feelings myself. However, like you, I agree that the age of “hyper-parenting” is not over. I witness it myself among several of my friends. Intense is our desire of parents to provide the best for our children, but when taken to excess one rules out the other I believe. I’ll admit that I fall prey to the whole guilt thing too. My children are still very young so it’s less about the activities that I enrol them in a this point, but stems more from a pressure I feel to ensure that every situation is a learning opportunity. As parents I don’t believe we can be everything to our children, where does that leave them when we’re gone. As you say, there is so much to think about and explore on this topic. I hope you’ll write more!

  13. Found this on MSN and I’m happy I did. Well written web.


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