A few weeks ago, I read an interesting article in Time magazine that criticized “overparenting”—or extreme parenting–which has been a growing trend in the United States.
I have to admit that even after having lived in the United States for several years, the excesses that I sometimes see in America never cease to amaze me. The style of parenting described in the Time article is almost a caricature, but it probably does fit certain segments in America (and in our society). The article described a disproportionate lifestyle where parents both overprotect and overstimulate their children in a way that seems irrational. They are motivated by–even obsessed with—their children’s success. Thus for them, fatherhood or motherhood becomes a productive process in which results must be achieved efficiently. However, critics of this parenting style suggest that the results leave much to be desired. The children of such parents are exposed to constant stress, due to the pressure put upon them from early childhood. Plus, they do not learn how to solve problems or handle real-life challenges because their parents always protect them from such things.
The article resonated with me because every day I work with people and programs in Latin America and the Caribbean that seek—among other things—to improve basic childcare quality for children in the region. Some of these programs include interventions aimed at changing child-rearing practices, particularly those of the region’s poorest and least educated fathers and mothers. These programs teach fathers and mothers why it is so important to interact, talk, play and sing with their children on a frequent basis.
However after further reflection, I realized that the excesses described in the Time article and the shortcomings that we face in our region have something in common: in both cases, adults have failed to consider their children’s best interests. Extreme parents who are obsessed with over-protecting and over-stimulating their children forget to think about their children’s true needs; while parents on the other end of the spectrum don’t understand how valuable parent-child interactions are for children.
Parents aren’t the only ones who are failing at the task of considering children’s true best interests. Policymakers who are charged with ensuring access to high quality comprehensive childcare during the first few years of life are facing the same challenge. As Patricia Jara wrote in this blog a few weeks ago: ” …so what is the challenge? It’s transforming the uncoordinated, unorganized, and uni-dimensional programs and services in the field, into a truly coordinated network of service providers…and above all… establishing efficient mechanisms for truly supporting children along their pathway of development.”