(Over)Protective Parents: Helpful or Harmful?

Are Some Parents Too Overprotective? What do you think?

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

My mom and I were speaking on the phone yesterday about a recent New York Times article on overprotective “helicopter parents,” their children and overnight camps. Did you see it?

Parents are “bombarding the camp with calls: one wanted help arranging private guitar lessons for her daughter, another did not like the sound of her child’s voice during a recent conversation, and a third needed to know — preferably today — which of her daughter’s four varieties of vitamins had run out. All before lunch.

We were laughing about how times certainly have changed since we were all younger– when parents told us to get up, rub some dirt on it, and give it another go. My Mom and I were trying to remember if I ever called when I was away at camp– maybe once– but we’re not completely certain of that figure. Of course, we didn’t have cell phones, email, web cams, or texting when we were kids– but would we have used them if we did?

People have been throwing around the term “helicopter parents” for quite some time now to describe parents who are overprotective of their children to a fault. Some people hate the term and others believe it’s spot on. Mothers and fathers often cite that “times have changed” and more hand-holding is necessary, even though, by many accounts, children in the United States are safer than ever. So is our attempt to protect negatively affecting our children’s ability to be self-determined and independent? What do you think?

Who: Sociologists find that helicopter parents tend to be mothers and fathers of “Millennials,” children of baby boomers, born between the early 1980s and 2000.

They saw their youngsters as “special,” and they sheltered them. Parents outfitted their cars with Baby on Board stickers. They insisted their children wear bicycle helmets, knee pads and elbow guards. They scheduled children’s every hour with organized extracurricular activities. They led the PTA and developed best-friend-like relationships with their children…Today, they keep in constant touch with their offspring via e-mail and cell phones. And when their children go off to college, parents stay just as involved.

Where do we see it: It’s been reported that overprotective parents are noticed on sports fields, schools, colleges, after-school programs, and now, even overnight camps. As I mentioned above, an article in the New York Times reported that overprotective parents have seeped into the camp culture, a place where children’s distance from home was often equated with “growing up” and “standing on their own 2 feet.”

In fact, the camps are now employing full-time parent liaisons to counsel parents from 7am to 10pm via email and phone. This position has become absolutely necessary because camps feel that they need to cater to the increasing number of parents who:

make unsolicited bunk placement requests, flagrantly flout a camp’s ban on cellphones and junk food, and consider summer an ideal time to give their offspring a secret vacation from Ritalin.

While camps want to accommodate parents, they worry that their over-involvement is negating the point of camp—a place to learn how to solve problems and make decisions without parental involvement. ]

What’s going on? Many reasons have been cited as motivators of overprotective parents. Parents are overprotective for all different reasons. In some cases, parents perceive that when they do something for their child, it comes out better. In other cases, parents feel a need for control in a world that seems more unpredictable and scary that it was when they were younger. Some parents have a fear of failure and hate to see their children struggle while others have a fear that their children will succeed and no longer need them as much as they did at one time. Still others feel entitled to check in with or about their children at any given time or they feel empowered by living vicariously through their sons and daughters who are doing things that the parents might not have been able to do when they were younger.

Here’s the rub from several sides:

(1) A study shows…Parental involvement can be very helpful. Data from 24 colleges and universities gathered for the National Survey of Student Engagement show that students whose parents were very often in contact with them and frequently intervened on their behalf “reported higher levels of engagement and more frequent use of deep learning activities,” such as after-class discussions with professors, intensive writing exercises and independent research, than students with less-involved parents. “Compared with their counterparts, children of helicopter parents were more satisfied with every aspect of their college experience, gained more in such areas as writing and critical thinking, and were more likely to talk with faculty and peers about substantive topics,” said survey director George D. Kuh, an Indiana University professor.

(2) A mixed reaction… Lenore Skenazy, a columnist for the New York Sun as well as a mother of a 9 year old son, recently talked about allowing her son to ride the subway on his own. People voiced both dismay and encouragement and called her everything from neglectful to a breath of fresh air. She used the incident to create her own blog about kids and independence, called Free Range Kids. The idea behind the concept is to live responsibly (seat belts, helmets, airbags, etc.), but not to restrict your child’s actions out of fear.

(3) The negative side of over-protectiveness, including:

(a) Undermining children’s confidence in their own abilities to take care of themselves and get things done;

(b) Instilling fear of failure such that they are denied the chance to learn how to persevere while standing on their own 2 feet;

(c) Stunting growth and development—in fact, studies have shown that these children lack some of the knowledge to negotiate what they need, solve their own problems, stay safe, and interact in close quarters with others;

(d) Inability to launch because they’re unsure of their passion, their own direction, and what to do next, if it means doing it on their own;

(e) Taking more staff, teacher, and administrator resources that would be directed towards their children but instead, must be used to tend to parental needs and wants; and, ironically,

(f) Raising parental anxiety levelsresearch has shown that parents who consistently judge their own self worth by their children’s success report feeling more sad and having a more negative self image than parents who did not engage in this behavior.

So, what do you think? Are parents going too far to protect their children and teens or are they justified in doing so? Do you think the affects are more positive or negative? Why? This is a heated topic with many different opinions. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Please comment below!


Letters to their helicopter parents from their children: first of series


Scary Things Teens Do that Parents Don’t Know About: Steroids

Steroid Use in Preteens and Teens

Perhaps you’ve noticed a few of them walking in the halls of your children’s schools. Or perhaps you’ve noticed something strange among your own teens. Are their chiseled bodies really of this world? With their six pack abs, bulging biceps and firm quads, these teens make others wonder if they’re really working hard enough at the gym.

But they have a secret that they’re hiding from their parents. Steroids.

Given that many of our sports heroes, including baseball players, track stars , and cyclists, have been accused of (or have admitted to) using steroids to bulk up, slim down, and get that godly look and strength, is it really surprising that teens are interested in doing the same things? Our heroes help us all to see what’s possible and the tools they use to seize the day. It’s only natural for kids to have a desire to follow in their footsteps.

In addition, the cultural pressures to be “the best” can drive teens towards steroid use. How can they get better? Bigger? Faster? Steroids can look like an easy answer.

With the Olympics soon to be broadcast around the world, and many of our children and teens striving to be their best in school or at their local Powerful Words member school, it’s important that we keep our eyes open and stay informed.

What are steroids?

Steroids are very helpful in curing a lot of conditions. Anabolic steroids, in particular, help build muscle and bone mass. That’s where the danger starts.

  • Over 5% of boys and around 2.7% of girls in high school admit to taking some form of steroids without a prescription, according to the CDC in 2007.
  • Long term effects of unprescribed intake of anabolic steroids include urinary problems, abrupt and extreme mood swings, trembling, damage to the heart and blood vessels due to blood pressure and even death.
  • In men, steroids can cause symptoms such as breast development, testicular shrinkage and erectile dysfunction. Women taking steroids can experience facial hair growth, clitoris enlargement, menstrual cycle changes and even the development of many masculine characteristics. Most of these symptoms are due to hormonal imbalances caused by the steroid intake.

Some of the danger signs:

  • Mood swings (can be very extreme
  • Urinary problems
  • Severe acne
  • Abrupt increase in muscle mass
  • Yellowish skin
  • Needle marks in muscle groups
  • Syringes in child’s belongings
  • Sudden deepening of voice (females)
  • Facial hair growth (females)

There are 10 major classes of anabolic steroids . Each class is dependent upon the route of administration and the type of carrier solvent used to introduce the steroid into the body.

The ten classes are:
1. Oral
2. Injectable oil-based
3. Injectable water-based
4. Patch or gel
5. Aerosol, propellant based preparation
6. Sublingual
7. Homemade transdermal preparation
8. Androgen-estrogen combination
9. Counterfeit anabolic steroid
10 Over the counter (OTC)


Girls have recently been known to use steroids as a way to get an edge on the playing field, slim down and tone up. Some girls, as young as 9 years old, have found that steroids can help them to look more like the Hollywood stars and models they admire.

“There’s been a substantial increase for girls during the 1990s, and it’s at an all-time high right now,” said Charles Yesalis, professor of health and human development at Pennsylvania State University.

  • Overall, up to about 5 percent of high school girls and 7 percent of middle-school girls admit trying anabolic steroids at least once, with use of rising steadily since 1991, various government and university studies have shown.
  • “With young women, you see them using it more as a weight control and body fat reduction” method, said Jeff Hoerger, Rutgers University, New Jersey counseling program.
  • These girls are more likely to have eating disorders and use other risky methods to get thin.


As the men on Gladiators, Wrestlemania, and Ultimate Fighter get bigger, boys may also have a desire to bulk up. But you might be surprised to know that it’s not only about getting stronger. It’s also about body image—and looking more attractive—even in elementary and middle school!

Boys as young as 10, and high school students who do not play team sports, are also bulking up with steroids because they want to look good.

Some high schools are working to combat steroid use by banning the substance and offering a consequence: If a student is caught using performance-enhancing drugs, they can be banned from competing for a whole year. The problem is, no drug testing is required. Parents still need to keep their eyes open.

How should parents address the issue?

Direct Approach: Especially if the person you suspect is your son/daughter, this can be the most effective approach. You can always take the time to just sit down and talk about steroids. Many teens either simply don’t know about the real risks of steroids or are uncertain about their effects. Talk about all the general risks and the long term effects and how it simply isn’t worth it. Let them know that ultimately, they’ll just end up jeopardizing their own goals and maybe their entire lives.

If your child is thinking about taking steroids, your heart-to-heart talk could bring up facts and illuminate issues that s/he didn’t know about before.

Use the Media: When steroid use is brought up in the media, don’t stay silent! Let your children and teens know how you feel about steroid use, what it means for the sport, the athletes, personal health and the integrity of the sport. When children and teens are clear about how you feel about steroids and other illegal substances, they’re more likely to refrain from using.

Child Monitoring

  • Look for any obvious weight gains in your children, particularly, gains in muscle mass over a short period of time.
  • Is there any sign of depression? Hormonal imbalance can cause mood swings and erratic behavior.
  • Is there any apparent hair loss with your child? Premature balding and breast development in boys and facial hair development in females are possible side effects of steroid use.

Intervention: Let the experts work

If you’re sure that the problem exists, let your children know that you only want what’s best for them– and then, introduce an expert. Trained doctors are the best people to address the problem.

Steroids Hotline: 1-800-STEROIDS

This hotline provides information on drugs, how to know if someone you know is using steroids and where to get help.

Anything else but steroids?

In addition, believe it or not, Viagra is now becoming another drug used by athletes. It’s being used to help with athletic performance, increase blood flow, and increase the effectiveness of other drugs. Watch your medicine cabinets.

Looking forward to hearing your reactions- please comment below.

Copyright: Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman; 2008: Reprints only with permission.

Scary Things Teens Do that Parents Don’t Know They’re Doing: Diabulimia

“M” was an attractive, effervescent 18 year old girl when I first met her. As one of my roommates, she loved to be around her friends and talk non-stop. She also would steal several bags of Milanos double chocolate cookies from the kitchen cabinet; eat them all in one sitting, and not gain and ounce. She was hiding a huge weight-loss secret. She had diabulimia; the diabetic’s eating disorder.  This disorder has joined other well-researched eating disorders such as Anorexia and Bulimia, and lesser known unstudied eating disorders like Wannarexia.

The facts:

Up to about 1/3 of young women and teens with Type 1 diabetes skimp or withhold on their insulin doses in a scary attempt to lose weight, according to new research out of the Joslin Diabetes Center. Girls and women who skip or skimp on these doses are more likely to suffer negative and serious side effects such as kidney failure, foot problems, and even death at a young age. In fact, diabulimia triples the risk of premature death about women who have diabetes.

Other studies on diabulimia indicate that these young women have higher rates of both nerve damage and eye problems.

In addition, young women with Type 1 diabetes are more than twice as likely to develop a full blown eating disorder (i.e. anorexia, bulimia) than women without diabetes who are the same age as them.

The Warning Signs

  • unexplained elevations in A1C values
  • consistent and persistent problems with diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) (these can be fatal)
  • unusual and extreme concerns about weight and body shape
  • an obvious change in eating patterns and food-related behavior
  • exercise bulimia— unusual and extreme patterns of concentrated exercise (sometimes associated with frequent hypoglycemia)
  • missing monthly period—called, amenorrhea

The Risks:

  • higher A1C levels
  • higher risk of developing infections
  • more frequent episodes of DKA
  • more frequent hospital and emergency room visits
  • higher rates and earlier onset of diabetes complications – nerve damage, eye disease, kidney disease and possible heart disease

Think you know someone with the problem? Ways to catch it:

The Strait Approach: Ask them about Diabulimia

Have they ever heard of diabulimia? Thought about it? Do they know the risks? Sometimes hearing about it or having a conversation about it can reveal what’s going on in the other person’s head.

The Direct Check: Verify their insulin intake

Is insulin being used? If insulin is being used correctly, there should be a consistent decrease in the bottle, insulin syringes used, and medical supplies discarded (i.e. alcohol swabs, gauze).

Weight Loss Monitoring: Witness side effects

Are they losing weight? Are they binge eating? Are they losing weight, showing signs of dehydration, exhaustion, depression, or ketoacidosis? If they are using insulin correctly and eating a healthy diet, they should have normal energy and typical and predictable weight patterns.

Intervention: Getting Help

Are you certain that there is a problem? If so, talk to the person who you believe to be affected by Diabulimia. Express your concern and your support. Turn to a trained doctor who can help the person deal with these very real issues. They typically do not go away by themselves.

Call the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) for more information or a referral (800-931-2237). They can also provide you with a referral if you fill out their referral form that is available on their website. You can also submit a question. Finally, parents, friends, and family members can also learn how to support their loved one through this trying time through the Parents, Family, and Friends Network.

As Powerful Parents, we all need to stay ahead of the curve and know what our children are doing. While we are making progress everyday to help our teens move forward and people speaking out on behalf of girls and women, we still have a long way to go. Let’s help our teens together.

Who Wants to Be A Virtual Bimbo? Warning to Parents and Educators


Some of my colleagues, have brought a disturbing game to my attention recently called “Miss Bimbo.” Because some of it’s users are as young as age 9, I thought it was my social responsibility to let you know about it. It started in Europe but unfortunately, the popularity of the game is spreading. It’s currently being condemned by parents who are outraged by the premise.

  • According to CNN “When a girl signs up, they are given a naked virtual character to look after and pitted against other girls to earn “bimbo” dollars so they can dress her in sexy outfits and take her clubbing…”
  • Parents are concerned that young people will see Miss Bimbo as a role model, “harmless fun” or as “a great catch” NOT as the ironic brainchild of young men over in Europe.
  • Miss Bimbo can buy herself some virtual breast implants or facelifts, go on a kissing rampage, or try her best to “bag a billionaire.”

See for yourself…

Parents have the power to guide their children online through internet safety. Here’s just one more reason to know what’s going on out there in cyberspace.

Remember to:

  • Become computer literate and internet savvy
  • Learn how to block material that is unacceptable in your household or for your children.
  • Keep the computer in a place where you can monitor your children’s internet habits as they learn how to be safe and smart online.
  • Talk to your children about what is acceptable and unacceptable on the internet. Be open to questions and get into a discussion of why certain sites are OK and others are not OK. Unanswered questions and secrecy can lead to curiosity and sneaky behavior.
  • Let your children know that they must use their powerful words of responsibility, trust, honesty, and self reliance when it comes to being smart online.
  • Bookmark acceptable sites and your children’s favorite sites for easy access.
  • Spend time online together to teach your child responsible online behavior.

Have a Powerful Day!


The Candy Man and The Soda Papa: Marketing Candy and Drinks like Drugs to Teens


We’ve told children to “just say no” to drugs for decades. But how potent is our message when the drug dealers come in the form of The Candy Man or The Soda Papa?

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the Energy Drink “Blow” or “I Love Blow” which, packaged in vial form along with a fake credit card and mirror, is marketed to look and sound like cocaine. Parents and educators just like you are outraged. If you don’t know about it yet, here’s the gory story:

The firm which manufactures the substance has defended it to the end but they recently were slapped with a warning letter of violation from the FDA. Which says;

Your product, Blow, is a drug, as defined by Section 201(g)(1) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the Act), 21 U.S.C. § 321(g)(1), because it is intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man or other animals…Your sale of Blow without an approved application violates these provisions of the Act.” The whole letter is here.

Of course, this substance is not the only one getting parents up in arms. In December 2007, The Hershey Co. were criticized for creating mint packets (Ice Breakers) that were in the spitting image of the small bags used to sell illegal drugs like heroin, crack and cocaine. Police felt that it “glorified the drug trade.” And who could forget the energy drink “Cocaine” that was pulled from store shelves in May of 2007 after it received a letter from the FDA citing problems similar to those they spelled out to the makers of “Blow.”

Is this “fun way” to market candy and energy drinks” bringing our children one step closer to the drug world? If they become comfortable with seeing vials and packets in everyday marketing, might they be more easily swayed to try the “real stuff?”

And let’s not forget to mention, that many of these drinks are packed with caffeine (an actual drug children shouldn’t be ingesting!)!

Too much caffeine can cause:

  • headaches
  • jitteriness and nervousness
  • upset stomach
  • difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty sleeping
  • increased heart rate
  • increased blood pressure

Let’s get a comparison:

Espresso 77 mg

Brewed Coffee 107.5

Mountain Dew Game Fuel 120 mg

Starbucks Double Shot 130 mg

Rockstar Energy Cola 150 mg

Blow Energy Drink 240 mg

Cocaine (energy drink) 280 mg

And how about those wonderful candies for kids? My colleague, Amy Jussel of Shaping Youth, gives us the lowdown from “Crackheads” to “Buzz Bites.”

Manufacturers believe this shameless marketing isn’t a big deal and couldn’t possibly have an influence on children. Marketing caffeine to children? Packaging candy and energy drinks with a illegal drug motif?

On our quest to raising responsible, healthy children, we may need to teach the Candy Man and The Soda Papa a little character.


Internet Safety: 5 Steps to Protect Your Child Online


Five Ways to Protect Your Child Online

Protecting your children online is one of the most important daily responsibilities you have as a parent. This article will provide you with “5-Steps” that you can follow to improve your child’s safety online including the best service for helping parents with their children online, WiHood.

When we were children, we were not all connected to each other all the time, everywhere we went. Today’s children are! They take for granted that the internet is always on and with it or a cell phone, anyone can be reached in a few seconds. As a parent, the first thing you must do is to not be intimidated by the internet but enjoy it as much as they do but from your own perspective.

Step 1: Don’t be intimidated by the internet, so you can be the new internet Guru in your home

If you’re a parent who does not even have an email address, you can get a free email address at http://www.Gmail.com or http://www.Hotmail.com . Once you have an email address, you will be able to join, subscribe and become part of the online community actively. That is really the secret that your kids have already figured out. By actively being a part of the internet communities, it doesn’t matter which site or service, your role or their role in society changes because you are amongst many while still sitting in your favorite chair or if your surfing using your cell phone, riding on your local bus.

The internet is a constant communication between everyone and no one, between you and a lost friend from high school, and you and your child’s teacher. You get the idea.

Step 2: Be a part of the internet community…Walk the Talk!

Children today have learned about MSN Messenger (an IM program that allows for real-time text chat), MySpace and Facebook (both are online communities where millions of people are online all day communicating with friends). In my experience, Facebook is a wonderful place for parents because within minutes you will find old classmates, friends, and lost loves. Not only will you find them, you will be communicating with them in seconds. While writing this article an old high school friend found me on Facebook… Yes, Facebook and MySpace are as much fun for adults as they are for kids!

Step 3: Communication

Now that you are online and really enjoying yourself by finding old and new friends, it is time to unplug from the internet and communicate with your child. This is paramount! Once you understand and feel the bug of the internet, you must talk to your kids about it -everyday. Make light conversation of it, let them discuss cool things and show you web pages that they find amazing. This is your child’s generation version of online quality time. It does not replace offline quality time but is as important to your child and you.

Step 4: Online child filtering services

Online filtering services are a must for children when they surf the internet. Don’t believe you will be around all the time to protect them, no parent can be. Many children surf the internet at a friend’s home and at school. It’s difficult for a parent to be all these places and still take care of their own responsibilities. Normal online filtering programs are not portable except for one, WiHood.

WiHood protects your child online and also provides your child with their own virtual desktop on the internet. Your child gets their very own virtual PC is how you should think about it. That virtual PC is stored on a USB bracelet that your child takes with them everywhere they go. If your not home or they are at a friends, WiHood is protecting your child while on the internet while also helping them to do their homework.

Step 5: Do more then protect your child, educate them with the internet

There are many great internet web sites and kids will find them, I promise, but the internet is also the most powerful learning tool of our time. Make sure your kids are surfing. If you can not afford to purchase a new PC for your child, there is an online solution. Online virtual desktop companies like WiHood cater to children and parents. You can speak to your school and find out what are the computer hours that they have so you can reserve time for your child. Also contact the local library and find out what are their computer hours for your child.

These 5-steps are the foundation for you to protect your child on the internet and also offer to them the wonderful opportunities that the internet has to offer. I recommend you to subscribe to WiHood’s child protection and virtual desktop services. Your child deserves the best protection and tools for a wonderful internet experience.

Dr. Robyn thanks our guest blogger: Thomas F. Anglero

Thomas F. Anglero is the Founder and CEO of WiHood. WiHood protects children online and closes the digital-divide with its virtual PC desktop service for children. WiHood is portable when using the WiHood USB bracelet…a virtual laptop.