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They are Just too Overprotective

Practitioners who work with children and their families are familiar with circumstances where a young person who is labelled as ‘anxious’ is subject to the excessive worry and overparenting by the adults which is clearly exacerbating the difficulties in a tight vicious cycle. This is concerning as research has demonstrated that this parenting style puts young people at risk for social anxiety, depressive symptoms, and more internalizing and externalizing problems. We are tempted to resort to a simple explanation ‘they are just too overprotective’ and locate the problem in the parent-child dyad which reinforces ‘an implicit rhetoric where either the child or the parent (and the mother, in particular) is to blame for the child’s psychosocial and developmental difficulties.’ Authors, Van Petegem conducted a study to locate this within a broader, systemic framework to explore characteristics of the co-parenting relationship and the way parents relate to each other as associated with overprotectiveness during adolescence. Questionnaires were completed by 179 adolescents between 16 and 19 years which assessed their perceptions of their parents’ relationship and specifically cooperation, conflict, and triangulation, overprotective parenting, and their own symptoms of anxiety. Their responses showed that triangulation, ‘was uniquely related to higher levels of overprotective parenting’, which predicted more anxiety symptoms in adolescents. The authors suggest that by triangulating the child, conflicts and tensions within the parental and marital subsystem may be diffused. This attests to the value of broadening our view to include the whole family rather than being locked into a perspective which overfocuses on the symptom bearer or the obviously over-engaged parent.

Petegem, S., Sznitman, G., Joëlle Darwiche,J., Zimmermann,G. Putting parental overprotection into a family systems context: Relations of overprotective parenting with perceived coparenting and adolescent anxiety Family Process. 2021; 00:1–16.

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