It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the surest ways to raise a damaged child who struggles in life is to protect them too much. Unfortunately, overprotective parenting has become like a plague sweeping over America and many other modern societies in resent years, with often disastrous results.
Why Overprotective Parenting Damages Kids
First and foremost, overprotection is actually a form of developmental neglect that prevents a child from developing the skills needed to successfully navigate life. In fact, parents who overprotect their child can do them more damage over the long run than is done by many cases of outright abuse. Behavioral neuroscientist Sergio M. Pells comments that protecting kids too much "simply defrays those costs to later, when those same children will have difficulty in dealing with an unpredictable, complex world." (Wenner, 2009, p. 29) Children must learn how to cope with setbacks, and this learning only comes through practice and experience.
Overprotective parents also hinder a child's growth and development. No matter how well-intentioned their efforts may be, they inevitably end up stifling a child's natural maturation. They keep a child from exploring in the woods because they're afraid they might hurt themselves. They avoid situations in which another child might upset them. They hinder a child's ability to try new things (“she'd be too scared”). They manage a child's affairs to ensure that things go smoothly. Such behaviors may seem minor and insignificant at the time, but throughout the course of childhood it amounts to a mountain of experiences that a child has been protected from; experiences that would normally be a valuable part of development. Protective environments tend to go hand in hand with oppressive environments.
Overprotection can lead to child anxiety problems, since parents tend to transfer their own anxiety about what a child might experience to their kids. Children pick up on this, and learn to be anxious about life themselves. Overprotective parenting also promotes a number of problematic ideas and a flawed attitude towards adversity. So when children do experience pain, they tend to react to it in a much more unhealthy way . . . taking it personally and considering it an egregious injustice that they should ever be made to suffer.
The end result is a child with a diminished ability to navigate the world. Someone who has had little practice in working through problems on their own. Someone who has almost no experience recovering from stress. Someone with less developed social and emotional skills coupled with high levels of anxiety that will diminish their ability to cope. It's the exact same outcome chronic abuse might create, only we reached it through the opposite extreme.