I caught up on my pod queue today, listening to a handful of TED radio hours. One was about Growing Up; how to go from childhood to a productive and happy adult.
I am not going to point any fingers here, since 1) I don't have children and 2) there is no reliable research
Suffice to say that in the perspective of one of several dimensions there are two parenting approaches: Over protection or Not.
The further back we go in time the less overprotected the general child was. I guess most people reading this have childhood experiences of pain, of blood, of adventure and exploring, maybe even of electrical shocks, powertools, broken limbs and concussions, if not of driving a full sized car before reaching the age of10.
And yet, we are all still here and we are good people; healthy, productive, curious, even happy. Somehow most of today's parents were NOT overprotected and yet they seem to think that that wasn't an important determinant to who they became. Instead many seem determined to deprive their children of the freedom and learning that un-adultered exploration leads to - thinking that their prodigy won't become deprived by it.
I had 6 concussions before turning 18 and then 2 not long after. I found a loaded gun (albeit an airgun, but still with hour-glass shaped lead bullets) when I was 7. I rode my bike down a slide, blindfolded. I probably blead every day, at least every week. I climbed to the top of 15m (50 ft) trees unsupervised and hung from my knees. I got into fist fights... All before turning 12. I regularly took my bike 20km to a friend's house outside the city. I ran away from home when I was 7 and brought my 5-yr old brother with me. The plan was to sleep in some bushes a couple of kilometers from home. At around the age of 9, I got lost alone in the archipelago in a very small boat in bad weather. We threw rocks on each other. And I burned myself: on the stove, on burning sticks, on melted sugar, on firecrackers...
I survived. Not only that, I never even broke a bone. What's more, I learned a lot about the human condition, about ballistics, about consequences, about reasoning, about the difference between merely scary and actually dangerous.
I'm afraid today's children only learn that adults are supposed to drive you to soccer practice, piano lessons and make sure you are always comfortable and satisfied. Most of course grow out of this apathy, but I can't shake the feeling they still have lost some important life lessons.
In Sweden we call overprotective parents for "curling" parents, since they, just as in ice curling, run before you and polish the ice to make a perfect and safe path. That is the absolutely worst kind of parenting I can think of (except physical and sexual abuse).
What do you think? Were you overprotected or did you bleed? Do you think kids should be left more to their own devices, that living quarters don't need "child-proofing"?
The famous Danish child psychologist Jesper Juul says you shouldn't praise and raise your child, you should "just" be a loving and interested witness. Rather than grading and judging (good, bad, nice) you should be a role model and a witness (that looks fun, I don't dare do that, It's too dangerous for me, do you like drawing, thank you for the picture, was it fun to draw?).
I don't know. I don't have children.
Also, I think your innate personality will emerge sooner or later no matter your upbringing (except extreme abuse). However, I agree with Juul that you stand a better chance developing your self-esteem if you are not constantly judged and thus primed to perform for others and seek praise. If constantly judged (you are so good, so pretty, fantastic drawing, strong, fast...) you can end up in the self-confidence trap, where you think your worth lies in your actions and performance, rather than in yourself. The latter is self-esteem and I think you develop that much better if your first 5 years are interestingly witnessed and loved, rather than judged, curled, prohibited.