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Overprotective Parents – Causes, Signs and Effects

Overprotective parents are characterized by excessive guarding behavior surpassing the risks in their child’s environment. This often stems from a well-intentioned but misguided effort to shield their children from harm and ensure their success. Causes of overprotectiveness include parental anxiety, sensationalized media, perceived child vulnerability, and parental PTSD from disasters.

While protection is crucial, especially in high-risk environments, excessive protection in ordinary settings can hinder a child’s development, leading to issues like anxiety, lack of coping skills, social phobia, fear of failure, depression, low self-esteem, and even delinquency. Signs of overprotective parenting include saving the child from every failure, micromanagement, hypersensitivity, and overreacting to challenges.

The consequences of such parenting can significantly impact a child’s psychological and social development, making them ill-prepared to handle life’s challenges and contributing to entitlement, indecisiveness, and even maladaptive narcissism. To foster resilience and competence, parents can aim for a balanced approach that combines protection with opportunities for independence, adopting a warm, responsive, and high-standard parenting style.

A couple sit and hold their small child.

What Are Overprotective Parents

Overprotective parents show excessive guarding behavior, considering the child’s developmental stage and the actual risk level in their environment.

Overprotective parents’ single-minded focus is to keep their children safe, not only physically but also emotionally.

These parents obsess with their children’s physical safety, even though they usually live in a relatively safe environment.

The levels of protection exceed the much lower level of actual risk.

They are also preoccupied with preserving their kids’ emotional wellness by helping them remove all obstacles and cushion the blow of everyday life.

Why Are Parents Overprotective

Some parents are overprotective because they want to do everything within their power to safeguard their children from harm and help them succeed.

Parents often choose this intensive parenting approach in a loving but misguided attempt to improve their child’s outcome.

Parents are instinctively protective.

Parents love and care about their children and want to raise them to be healthy, happy, and successful. 

They want to protect their kids’ well-being by preventing illnesses, hurtful feelings, and failure.

But when a mom or dad helps a little too much, steps in to save the day every time something goes slightly awry, or shields the child from all the negativities of the world, they become overprotective parents.

What Causes Parents To Be Overprotective

Parental Anxiety

Overprotective parents are often anxious parents who are preoccupied with dangers.

Parents who suffer from anxiety or panic disorder are prone to show overparenting behavior.​1​

Hyperbolic News Media

Overprotection exists in every generation.

However, there has been a trend toward intensive parenting in recent years.

In particular, the Millennials are infamous for having overprotective helicopter moms or dads.

We are living in an era where we are constantly bombarded by information.

The prevalence of the internet and smartphone usage means media needs to use creative ways to compete for our attention.

Sensational news does the job.

Hyperbolic news media leads parents to believe that the world around them is far more dangerous than it is.​2​

It makes every assault against a child seem like a personal threat.

Therefore, even though our society is, on the whole, safer than any previous generation in history, it doesn’t feel that way.

Perceived Child Vulnerability

Parents of children with chronic illness or physical disabilities often exhibit overprotective and controlling behavior.

These parents, especially the mothers, believe their children are more vulnerable or susceptible and require more protection.

Parental Post-Traumatic Symptoms After Disaster

Overprotection can arise following natural or man-made disasters, especially if the parent develops Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)​3​.

For example, if a family has escaped their burning home in a large fire, the parents may develop a fear of future fires and form overprotective behavior.

Is It Good To Be Overprotective

Having protective parents is suitable for infant survival. It is also beneficial if the living experience contains high risks.

However, in an ordinary home free of serious conditions, focusing exclusively on protection without flexibility threatens children’s development.​4​

Research shows that when parents protect their children from an extreme community, such as urban environments where gun-related violence, gangs, and drugs are common, the family functioning is better.

Parents’ brains are wired to protect their offspring.

But when taken to the extremes and the level of risks does not match the extent of protection, overprotection will do more harm than good.

Signs Of Overprotective Parents

Overprotective parenting can take many forms. Here are some signs of overprotective parents.

Saves the Day… Every Day

Of course, no one wants to see their children fail.

However, overprotective parents cannot stand to let their children experience any failure or disappointments.

They swoop in to save the day whenever their children face the slightest challenge.

  • They clean their kid’s messy rooms and pick up everything after them.
  • They pack their kid’s backpacks every night to ensure nothing is forgotten.
  • They do their kid’s homework or science projects to ensure they will get A’s.
  • They step in and rescue their kid from a poor grade or injured ego.
  • They would do anything to keep their child from failure, even if it means breaking the rules (or laws).


Overprotective parents are anxious about their kids’ every move.

So, they hover and control their children’s actions and environments.

They rule over every aspect of their kids’ lives.

Examples of overprotective micromanaging include:

  • They decide their child’s extracurricular activities because they know better.
  • They don’t allow their child to veer off and pursue interests they deem risky.
  • They plan their child’s daily schedule and supervise all activities.
  • They make all decisions for the child without allowing them to think through the options themselves.
  • They rarely take the child’s perspective or preference into consideration.
  • They only let their child hang out with the “right” friends.

Hypersensitive and Reactive

Overprotective parents are hypersensitive, and they often overreact to anything related to their children.

  • They are overly cautious over activities their child engages in.
  • They remind their child about safety and danger constantly.
  • They complain about their child’s bad grades and fight with the school to change it.
  • They are enraged and demand a review when their child is rejected from an opportunity.
  • They intervene if their child is not receiving the special treatment they feel entitled to.
  • They go overboard with consolation when their child fails.

Effects of Overprotective Parents

There are many reasons parents shouldn’t be overprotective.

The psychological effects of overprotective parents can be significant.

The most notable is that it hurts their children’s growth and development into well-adjusted, independent adults.

Here are the different ways this harm manifests.

Worry and Anxiety

Worry is a recurrent, dysfunctional, and rigid form of negative thinking that is often a primary sign of generalized anxiety disorder.

Studies have consistently found that overprotected children are more prone to worry and anxiety.​5​

Overprotective parents may overparent their children because of their own bias toward threats, increased perception of danger, and elevated sensitivity to their child’s distress.


Lack of Coping Skills

Parental overprotection can undermine a child’s development of independent coping skills.

Children must learn to adapt to challenging situations to learn effective coping strategies.

Some exposure to risks and challenging experiences allows children’s coping mechanisms to mature.​7​

These resilient life skills will weather future unhappiness, adversities, failures, and heartbreaks.

However, overprotected children are not afforded those opportunities.

They are put in a bubble away from the real world and shielded from the hurtful realities. 

Children accustomed to having their parents make their plans and clean up their messes are unprepared to deal with what life may throw their way.

They crumble easily under pressure from minor challenges and major obstacles alike​8​.

Social Anxiety and Phobia

Overprotectiveness conveys to the child a sense that the world is dangerous.

It reinforces avoidance and keeps children from engaging in social situations, restricting the opportunities to build friendships and learn social skills.

Children raised with overprotective parenting tend to have less competent social skills. 

These children are also more likely to suffer from social anxiety or social phobia, which is characterized by fear and avoidance of social situations.

An excessive preoccupation with fears of rejection, criticism, or embarrassment usually accompanies this condition.​9,10​

Fearful of Failure

Overprotective parents go out of their way to ensure their children don’t fail.

They rescue their children quickly and provide them with unnecessary assistance, often without being asked.

A child from an overprotective family is afraid to make mistakes.

Fearing failure, hurt, or rejection, they are reluctant to leave their comfort zone to try something new.

The child may shy away from opportunities. Instead of navigating hardships and solving problems on their own, these children become dependent on their parents.

Their unwillingness to spread their wings and fly prevents them from becoming competent individuals.​11​

Depression & Psychological Wellbeing

Children raised by overprotective parenting are more likely to suffer from depression in adolescence.​12​

Parental overprotection is associated with prescription medication use for depression and the recreational consumption of pain pills by college students.​13​

Low Self-esteem & Self-motivation

Besides higher occurrences of anxiety and depression, overprotected children also have lower self-esteem and confidence in their ability to solve everyday problems.

A person’s sense of self or self-esteem is primarily based on how others treat them in interactions.​14​

Constantly monitored and protected children are given the message they are not capable or good enough to manage life by themselves.

Without the chance to prove that they can take responsibility, these children cannot take full credit for their accomplishments to develop a sense of autonomy and competence.

As a result, they lack resilience, self-efficacy, and self-motivation, essential to facing the world independently​​.​15​

Bullying Target

Overprotective parenting is associated with high degrees of bullying experienced by the child in school.​16,17​

Overprotected children are often treated as younger than their age.

They are infantilized and not allowed to engage in rough play, assertion, exploration, or risk-taking activities necessary to develop conflict management and self-defense skills.​18​


Children from overprotective households are indecisive.

Kids need the opportunities to practice decision-making, but overprotected children are never allowed to make their own choices in life.

Without practice or preparation, they grow up not knowing how to make major decisions.

These children either do not know how to make such a decision or are afraid of making the wrong one.

They have learned to depend on their parents to make all the choices for them.

For example, a college student who perceives their parents as overprotective experience more career indecision than those who have found their parents more encouraging of their independence in childhood​19​.

Entitlement & Maladaptive Narcissism

Studies have shown that parental overprotection is associated with narcissism in young adulthood.​20​

The extreme levels of responsiveness, help, and intervention from protective parents teach their children that they are exceptionally important.

They are always worthy of intensive care and attention from others. Therefore, these children may feel entitled to things they haven’t earned.​21​

Psychologists have found that when parental responsiveness is not given at age-appropriate levels, the child, or adult child, is more likely to develop pathologically narcissistic traits.​22​

Functional Somatic Symptoms

Overprotected adolescents are more likely to develop Functional Somatic Symptoms (FSS).

The most prevalent FSS in children and teenagers are pain, fatigue, and gastrointestinal problems.​23​


One of the most damaging aspects of overprotection is when it is combined with low-care (emotional neglect) parenting.

When overprotective parents exert high control and low emotional responsiveness, they are authoritarian parents.

Researchers have consistently found that this parenting method is closely linked to adolescents’ delinquency, depression, and personality disorders.​24​

Overprotective and Other Parenting Styles

All good parents are protective parents, but not all protective parents are overprotective.

Overprotective parents are sometimes called helicopter parents because they hover over their children at all times.

Overprotective parents who are low in parental care and warmth are controlling parents or authoritarian parents.

These four parenting types have some overlap in characteristics, and therefore, people sometimes use them interchangeably.

But they may mean different things depending on who you talk to.

Among the four parenting styles, authoritarian parenting is the only clearly defined psychological construct. It is characterized by high control and low warmth.

The overprotective, helicopter, and controlling parenting styles are not well defined, but they have one thing in common – high control.

Besides the control part, these terms are not precisely established or consistently studied in psychology.

“overprotective” implies the parent’s aim to protect, while “controlling” implies the parent’s aim to control.

So, these two parenting types may have some fundamental differences in intention.

Overprotective parents are anxious about their children’s health and safety.

They use control to achieve their goals of safekeeping.

However, controlling parents are authoritarian parents.

They want to control without a good cause.

Regardless of the terms, to not impede children’s development, parents should avoid smothering their children and foster a healthy sense of competence in them.

Adopting a warm, responsive, and high-standard parenting style (i.e., authoritative parenting) is the best thing parents can do to protect their children long-term.

Final Thoughts On Overprotective Parents

If a parent finds it hard to let go of control, they may also be a controlling parent – find out the characteristics of controlling parenting.

To raise resilient children, parents provide a safe haven in times of stress and during periods of calm.

Set boundaries but also allow for adaptability.

Only when kids have the opportunities to interact effectively with the outside world can they develop into capable, resilient, and socially responsive future generations.


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