Under-parenting - Are you guilty of it?

Parentree-editors 2010-02-28 23:13:38

As parents, we often hear about over-parenting - parents who are trying to control and manage every little aspect of their children's life. But there is also such a thing as under-parenting? Yes, there is. Read on to see if you are under-parenting.

Treating them as adults even at a young age

Many parents today are very focused on making their children independent. We want children to make their own decisions. More and more parents are asking even very young children to make a decision on their own.  We do this is by treating them like adults and asking them to make a decision. Then we get angry when they make the "wrong" decision.

Are our children really ready for this type of independent decision making? When we ask them to do this, have we as parents really given them the tools to make such a decision? Should we treat them as adults? Can they really be expected to make the right decision every time?

Children have hardly seen enough of the world. They are living in the umbrella of love we are giving them. Our role as parents is to guide them, provide them the opportunities to think about decisions that have to be made, and guide them through the decision making process. No child is born a good decision maker.

So if you are treating your child like an adult from an early age and expecting them to make the "right" decision every time, you are under-parenting!!

Choice is not always good

Many parents are very affluent these days. We are able to offer our children a lot of choices. We throw choices at them for everything - for lunch, for dinner, for birthdays, for movies. Everything and anything seems to be about choices. Many parents feel that it helps their children make a tradeoff and learn how to balance things. But is there much to be learnt from choosing Chinese food vs Italian food, or having a Mickey Mouse birthday theme vs a Ben 10 theme?

In real life, sometimes there is never a choice or the choices have severe constraints. When children are given easy choices all the time, you may be teaching them that there is always a choice and without any constraints.

To teach them about choices, do not give them choices every time. Help them understand that a choice is not always available. And if you do, give them constrained choices.

So if you are always giving your child multiple choices without constraints, you are under-parenting!!

Not putting academic pressure does not mean not working hard

Many parents say they do not want schools that focus only on academics. They seek out schools that offer overall development, with less focus on studies. Such schools do not offer a ton of homework to give the child time after school hours and weekends to spend on activities other than homework also.

Many parents take this to mean that the child is not expected to work hard and that the school does not care much about homework. Schools will tell you that this is not correct. Schools will also tell you that often, even with the lesser amount of homework, the child comes back without finishing the homework. What message are we sending the child when we let this happen?

While it is laudable that parents put lesser academic pressure on children, hard work and diligence are essential characteristics we must inculcate in children. It is our responsibility to teach them that the homework must be completed. Children have to understand that irrespective of the path they choose, they have to have goals and work hard to complete them.

So if you are interpreting the "overall children's development" promised by your school as meaning no effort required from the child, you are under-parenting!!

"I just want my child to be happy"

This is a catchall refrain that is heard often amongst parents. We do whatever it takes to make the child happy.  It is not just about spending money on the child. This "happiness" factor manifests itself in so many different ways, often in situations where it is hard to recognize.  Some examples are below

  • When we always cook only the small number of dishes the child chooses to eat, because it makes the child "happy"
  • When we always let the child win at games because it makes her "happy"
  • When we allow the child to postpone any work he has to do because there is some other thing he wants to do that makes him "happy"
  • When we let the child make a mess, but never cleanup because she will not be "happy" doing a cleanup
  • When we let the child whine and get his way, because we want him to become "happy"

When we make the child's happiness the only factor that matters, we are teaching them that the life is about their happiness. Imagine your child's rude shock, when she first runs into a fellow student on the playground who refuses to give them the ball or when your child's teacher tells your child that he has no choice but to put away the coloring materials or library books. And in the long term, the child will never be happy because they fail to appreciate the small things in life that make them happy.

So if you are always focusing on the thought "I just want my child to be happy" and doing everything only for that, you are under-parenting!!

As you read through this, you will see that all these aspects - teaching independence, giving choices, lessening academic pressure and your child's happiness - are not bad things to practice. In fact, when used in moderation each one of them can make your child develop into a happy and complete human being. But if you practise them to the extreme, then they produce a negative effect and that is what "under-parenting" is about.

What do you think?


2010-03-17 15:23:22


I agree with you, Being myself brought in no choice life, I thought it would better make my son an independent from the beginning,He was given a choice of what he wants to wear,eat etc.He was quite happy with that procedure,But when things doesn't go the way he wants, he gets upset with that.Making him understand that what all he wants doesn't get in life has become biggest challenge to me,Now I sometimes purposefully keep him away from making decision,I do shopping for him even though he doesn't like the idea.I trying to make him understand that sometimes he gets what he wants and sometimes he has to accept what has been given to him

2010-03-01 18:01:10


I agree partially with what you say. We must teach the child to complete the homework or any work for that matter in time. This will help them understand the importance of time, work etc. Children do have their own independent way of thinking the only thing is we don't realise it or we simply ignore it. If not to treat them as adult, do respect their thoughts, feelings and through examples or incidents tell them about the wrong and right decision. Or guide the way showing one is wrong and the other is right.

2010-03-01 16:15:32


I quite agree - especially on how we sometimes end up implying that there is always an array of options from which to choose. It is indeed important for the child to deal with a no option scenario as well (in a fair/reasnable way) - the child will be able to appreciate choices only when they know what it is to be without them. And on happiness, here's an interesting view from recent research: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18585-happiness-aint-all-its-cracked-up-to-be.html.


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