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Guide kids, but don't hover

It is scary being a parent. We hear stories of abductions, kids getting harmed physically and sexually, and we feel a need to protect our children. If you feel you hold on too tightly, though, or if your child seems embarrassed by your overprotection, there are ways to loosen your grip without putting your child at risk. Rather than thinking about protecting your child, think about empowering them.

A recent article on "helicopter parenting" said cellphones and the Internet have changed parents' ability to hover over their children. The parents who supposedly hover the most are moms and dads of the "Millennials": children born between the early 1980s and 2000.

As I read the story, I could not help but think of my own childhood. I was the sixth of nine kids, and I can safely say my parents most likely didn't know where I was 70 percent of the time. It wasn't that long ago, and I was raised in a small town before cellphones, the Internet and the idea that something catastrophic could happen to me if my parents lost sight of me.

My parents weren't neglectful any more than my neighbors and friends' parents. We didn't have the technology, but we also didn't have the angst that comes with the technology. There wasn't the feeling that if I wasn't constantly busy with piano, soccer or tutoring, I would fall behind. My parents saw their role as providing a secure home life, plenty of sleep, good food and help with homework.

Times have changed. Some parents talk to their grown children every day via texts, emails, Facebook and other websites. Even when the kids go to college, Mom and Dad are still instrumental in guiding their courses, careers and social lives. The kids cannot escape, and what's more, many of them don't want to.

Research supports that when parents become involved in their children's activities, the children do better. But there is a fine line. The positive effects diminish when parents take over and try to control the activity the child is in.

Being there as a guide to support your child may be helpful, but if your guidance becomes you telling your child what to do, what to think and how to respond, your child begins feeling incompetent to handle situations. Soon, your child cannot make a decision without asking Mom or Dad.

The key to being a fantastic parent is watching your child and understanding when and how much to let go of them. Just as children have developmental milestones to attain, so do parents. Hanging on too tightly to your child can produce any of these behaviors:

*Your child becomes less confident in his own ability to take care of himself in situations at school or play.

*Your child becomes fearful, withdraws from novel activities and then develops more anxieties.

*Your child becomes less interested in things around her unless you take an interest. A parent should be supportive of a child's interest, but not responsible for it.

No one will ever love your children the way you will. Protect their childhoods, love them and offer them new experiences so they can grow and learn.

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Mary Jo Rapini is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman of "Start Talking: A Girl's Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever" (Bayou Publishing, 2008). Her website is www.maryjorapini.com.