Under Pressure: A look at the causes of hypervigilant parenting and the role that educational institutions play in encouraging this


I recently saw a news program featuring a class of students in Norway making their way up snow-covered trees, climbing to impressive heights, and smiling despite the extreme cold. In fact, they claimed they weren’t cold — they were too busy with discovery to be concerned with the fact that it was mid-winter.

Not only that, these young kids were building their own fires and cooking their own food. They did not ask for help all the time. Rather than complaining, getting frustrated or giving up, they wanted to see for themselves what they could do, and they helped one another along the way.

The result? At five years old, the children learned key life skills, namely: better critical thinking, more creativity, and fewer symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

It got me thinking, this would never happen in America!

We, hypervigilant in our parenting, would shield our kids not only from the potential danger of climbing trees but also from the biting cold. Our safety concerns would — and do — get in the way.

Is it because we as parents are more focused on our own fears and what “might happen” than on what our kids might gain from certain experiences? Do we undervalue risk?

As I mention in my book Loosen The Grip: Strategies for Raising Independent and Confident Critical Thinkers, parental involvement in a child’s life exists on a spectrum from detached and uninvolved to over-involved and interfering. Where you or I might fall can depend on a number of circumstances, including educational institutions that may reinforce our proclivity for hypervigilance.

Schools often add pressure on kids to succeed at many things, so long as they fall into a range of accepted activities. They place children in high or underachieving classes, competitive and non-competitive teams, all while holding parents responsible for the behaviors of their children and overvaluing risk.

So what can you do? Take an honest look at where your fears may come from. If it’s safety, ask yourself if the activity is truly age-appropriate — if it is, consider why you’re saying no to it. Consider rewards for children allowed to participate in age-appropriate activities, where they’ll gain experience, independence, and confidence.

We don’t have to look to other countries’ cultures and wish we could emulate it. We can be inspired by it and be the change we want to see here at home.

For a closer look at hypervigilant parenting, check out Chapter 1 of my book, which you can get here.