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The Dangers of Overprotective Parenting

How to escape from the golden cage?

Padraic Gibson, PhD

Padraic Gibson is a psychologist, family therapist and supervisor. He works in Ireland, Italy, France and Malta. He is a Senior Research Associate and Lecturer at LACT, Dublin City University and Clinical Director of La Clinique des TOC / The OCD Clinic®.


The overprotective family model,
what is it?

Modern life is marked by an increasing degree of narcissism and paranoia fueled by social media, which has poisoned our mental health. It may also be partly because so many young people fear that admitting their vulnerability will affect their jobs or their relationships, at a time when their future is already far less secure or predictable than that of their parents. Independence, the reduction of family orientation and the search for personal fulfillment have led to an increase in unhappiness. Other changes include:

  • The evolution of family structure has seen the disappearance of the extended family, the increase in separations and divorces, the increase in working hours for parents and the decrease in the time that parents spend with their children.
  • The family way of life - there has been an increase in mobility, a decrease in "grounded" communities and an increasing pursuit of individual gratification.
  • People's lifestyles have seen a decrease in physical exercise leading to an increase in indoor activities such as the computer, television, virtual socializing through Facebook and other forms of social media .)
  • The marketing of everyday life - the increase in targeted marketing of consumer goods and the creation of new business opportunities, including marketing of children. 
  • Changes in the education system - the ideology of modern teaching is rooted in methods such as continuous assessment and socially oriented worksheets which some believe favor girls' learning style over boys (e.g. Burman, 2005; Timimi; 2010).
The overprotective family model, what is it?
  • Greater access to new, multiple and unfortunately contradictory solutions for psychological and behavioral problems.
  • Greater focus on self and individualism.
  • An excessive increase in the prescription of psychiatric drugs.
  • Rational approaches to solving human problems - including the use of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
  • Changing roles - such as the renegotiation of gender and family roles.
  • Self-expectations - we expect more from ourselves and from life than before.
  • Overprotective environments - parental role models, as we will see later, had a detrimental effect on young people.
  • Social media - use and misuse of these means of communication with the world.

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The consequences of parental overprotection on the construction of the child

The systemicist Padraic Gibson sheds light on the consequences of parental overprotection on the construction of the child. Padraic Gibson is a family therapist and supervisor. He works in Ireland, Italy and Malta. He is a Senior Research Associate and Lecturer at Dublin City University and Clinical Director of The OCD Clinic®.

We all gain a sense of our "self" through the values, beliefs, and practices of our society and culture. We come to "know" ourselves through these contexts, as well as the language given to us by professionals about mental health and illness and how it is described. These images and the language we use are usually widely propagated by mass media or medical companies. It is also important to emphasize that we are not just victims of our society or our family, we can think, act and feel on a personal level. We have a personal responsibility and a personal agenda to make our own decisions and we can create a better future and mold effective lifestyles ourselves. The increase in the number of working hours, increased income inequality, greater job insecurity and the breakdown of social contacts with the extended family, combined with a society that values ​​a cultural impulse towards individual aspirations and consumerism, also have a direct impact on the mental health of all citizens.  

Society and parental overprotection

Society and parental overprotection

A self-centered or narcissistic society means that we must continue to care for number one and feel that our personal needs, wishes, and desires must be met, even sometimes at all costs. On a personal psychological level, this increasingly egocentric society places us in a psychological vacuum. We have become preoccupied with our own survival, lacking the sense of emotional security that comes from feeling valued as people and not as consumers, and from the belief that we have an enduring sense of belonging to others in our world. When we don't learn to give pleasure, it can have painful and damaging effects on our personal lives. The rise of narcissism in society has largely contributed to the increase in behavioral and emotional problems among young people, but that's not all.  

Social changes have accelerated recently, particularly with regard to the development of family formations. Children in the Western world today are born into smaller families, with more resources and more focus on the needs of their children. There is less competition for parental and caregiver attention in small groups and our personal needs are more likely to be fully met in these highly protective settings. In these contexts, the adult who cares for the child continually strives to avoid any inconvenience to their children, often seeking to substitute for them if a difficult or potentially stressful situation arises. This can inadvertently harm the child's image of himself and his abilities.


In these situations, parenting is characterized by gentle and warm communication, with protection and love being at the heart of these interactions. These parents find themselves continually talking and connecting with their children to forestall any potential difficulties. Most often, if the child refuses to accept the protection and love offered to him, he feels guilty and ashamed.  


The trap of parental overprotection

The effects of this style of education are disastrous and trap children in a complex contradiction. Children are forced to see themselves as having high self-esteem, when many of them have not faced many practical real-world problems and overcome them on their own to win. this self-esteem. These young people, when they are overparented, often have a great mistrust of those around them and of their own abilities. How many children are told that they can become whatever they want, even president of their country, while at the same time their parents do everything and solve all the problems for them? In this interaction, a dangerous double message is created, because every time parents step in and solve problems for their children, they are actually telling their children, "I'm doing this because I love you. . but I really do it because you are unable to do it yourself". This double bind undermines the child's sense of competence and ability in very subtle ways, and the relationship patterns described below reinforce this dynamic.  

In this diagram we can see that:

  • The message that the child also receives from his parents is that the child does not have to do too much and that he does not have to face the frightening consequences of failure.
  • Parents or grandparents can step in and fix everything.
  • The rewards are not based on what they do or the results they achieve, they are received because they are special and things are rightfully theirs. 
  • It is not necessary to exert effort to obtain most things, which leads the child to an unrealistic view of the world.

LACT training to deal with the problem of parental overprotection with the systemic approach

The treatment of phobias and panic disorders by the systemic approach is taught in the third year of the LACT course of the Clinician of the Relationship and in the clinical master of Giorgio Nardone .

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