A Boy So Overprotected, Court Rules Him Too Pampered for Regular School

A 7-year-old boy in Switzerland was ostensibly  so “pampered” by his “overprotective” parents that he now is being sent to a school that sounds like it is for kids with special needs.

I am a little skeptical of this story line, for a couple of reasons, the first being that I did an entire TV series where I intervened in 13 families where the parents were extraordinarily risk-averse when it came to their children: a 10-year-old whose mom still hand-fed him like a baby; an 8-year-old whose mom let him have a skateboard, but he could only stand on it, on the grass; and a 13-year-old whose mom still took him into the ladies room with her. All these parents suffered from crippling  anxiety, and yet their kids (about 3 dozen, all told) seemed well within the bounds of normal, and most were downright delightful.

So, as satisfying as it might be to say, “Overprotective parents ruin their kids — this 7-year-old is proof,” we don’t really know what went on there, or why this child was so affected. And one case certainly doesn’t prove that, across the board, kids with very protective parents are all going to be ruined.

That being said, the reason this story is making its way across oceans is not just because it allows us a bit of smugness (“I’m not ruining MY kids!”), but also because it allows us to take a step back and examine what kind of culture could give us such terrified parents and kids. Once we’re in that searching mode, we’re ready to read things like this report from Pro Juventute, an organization examining Swiss children, that said:

“While children in the 1970s spent a great deal of their free time outside and were active for three to four hours a day, the situation today is a lot more gloomy,” the organization in a statement.

Youngsters in German-speaking Switzerland spend just 32 minutes a day outside unsupervised, while those in the French-speaking part of the country are even more confined — spending only 20 minutes outdoors, it said.

The study of 649 families conducted by the University of Fribourg found that a third of children were not allowed to play outside without adult supervision, while 15 percent did not play outside at all.

“Physical activity and free play benefit children’s physical health as well as their mental well-being, language, emotions and social behavior,” said Urs Kiener of Pro Juventute.

So maybe it takes an extraordinary story like the 7-year-old’s to focus us on the “mundane” story that is extraordinary in itself: Children today get less time outdoors than prisoners, and they are guarded almost as constantly.

That’s enough to drive anyone crazy. – L.

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Thank you, I'd prefer a cup of tea to a boisterous game of "tag."

Thank you, I’d prefer a cup of tea to a game of “tag.”

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15 Responses to A Boy So Overprotected, Court Rules Him Too Pampered for Regular School

  1. Papilio November 27, 2016 at 2:16 pm #

    “That’s enough to drive anyone crazy.”

    Makes you wonder how much time outside people in an asylum get.

  2. ebohlman November 27, 2016 at 2:25 pm #

    From what little coverage I’ve seen of the story, “overprotected” and “pampered” aren’t the right words (they may be artifacts of machine translation); it sounds to me like the parents kept the boy completely socially isolated and denied him most contact with the outside world. That’s more like “held captive” to me.

  3. Jessica November 27, 2016 at 2:31 pm #

    Yes, it sounds like he was abused or neglected (kept isolated from his peers), and that maybe there’s some sort of translation problem here. But it’s nice to see the discussion about the importance of outdoor playtime.

  4. WendyW November 27, 2016 at 3:34 pm #

    The article says “parents “remove all obstacles” and keep him away from everyday learning experiences such as playing with other children.”

    While some inaccurate translation may be a factor, the “remove all obstacles” part sounds more like parents trying to make life perfect, and maybe the lack of play with other children was a misguided attempt to avoid the fighting and bullying that does occur, even if in relatively small amounts.

    I think the judges were making the same judgement that US college administrators are so fond of nowdays- that the precious snowflake would be traumatized by the realities of life- even though he’d probably do just fine.

  5. BL November 27, 2016 at 3:39 pm #

    @ebohlman
    “From what little coverage I’ve seen of the story, “overprotected” and “pampered” aren’t the right words”

    Yeah, “stifled” seems more descriptive to me.

  6. Kirsten Ruark November 27, 2016 at 4:52 pm #

    My husband and I took a bunch of young teens hiking yesterday. On our way down the mountain we stopped to offer a bandaid to a stranger with a kid who’d obviously fallen and scraped his knee. The dad refused the bandaid saying he had called the forest ranger and they would have more and better equipment to deal with this “emergency”. It was a skinned knee with a little bleeding and nothing more. Honestly, it didn’t even really require a bandaid in the moment for anything but comfort.

    Several minutes later this boy (about 10 years old) and his Dad zoomed down the trail in a forest ranger 4 by 4 and waved at us with huge smiles. The boy had a lollipop in his mouth. I truely couldn’t believe this scene as I struggled down the last 1/4 mile of the trail with my knees hurting (I had double knee replacements 6 months ago) but determined to complete my hike.

    What did that boy learn on his hike? Not grit. The number one kid trate that predicts future success.

    Charlotte, North Carolina

  7. James Pollock November 27, 2016 at 5:47 pm #

    There’s a possibility that we have cause and effect reversed… maybe it isn’t that the parents have caused the child to have special educational needs because the parents are overprotective… maybe it’s that the parents are overprotective because the child has special educational needs.
    It is perhaps worth noting that the parents were fighting to put their son in the regular school, and the authorities who are insisting that he go to the special-needs school.

  8. Marcy November 28, 2016 at 10:50 am #

    There has to be something else to the story. The father claims the kid does karate, soccer, and plays outside on roller skates. The school claims he can’t walk up stairs by himself.
    It is possible part of the problem is that this is a Serbian family. During my 6 years in Switzerland I did not find the people to be overly welcoming of outsiders. (my blond haired, blue eyed boys didn’t have a problem though…)
    In the 3 separate articles I’ve read on this, it does not specify anywhere how exactly he has been overprotected. Only that obstacles have been removed. Lack of socialization is suspect if he did do soccer and karate and played outside on roller skates. I don’t know why people think he is being isolated and held captive. Perhaps he is, but I have read no quote supporting this.

    The Pro Juventute report is something worth commenting on. But the story of Marko from St. Gallen has too few facts to do anything other than speculate and whip ourselves up into a righteous frenzy without just cause.

  9. Rae Pica November 28, 2016 at 12:46 pm #

    I can’t imagine how the kids who were part of your TV series were “well within the bounds of normal.” I know a couple who are also anxiety-ridden (when one child fell about 12 inches from a backyard swing I’ve never witnessed such hysterics) and both of their daughters are a mess. One suffers from anxiety attacks and depression and is barely functional. The other is 30 years old, still lives at home with her parents, and is too afraid to drive.

    I hope you were able to make a difference in those kids’ lives before “normal” became dysfunctional!

  10. John B. November 28, 2016 at 1:20 pm #

    Quote:

    “maybe the lack of play with other children was a misguided attempt to avoid the fighting and bullying that does occur, even if in relatively small amounts”

    @WendyW:

    I believe a parent who disallows her child from playing with other kids so he can avoid the possibility of small amounts of fighting and bullying is not preparing her child for life. Kids are kids and are not yet mature enough to handle conflict resolution in the way MATURE adults do so they argue and fight and sometimes bully. I believe every adult went thru this as a kid. I know I did. Of course, perspective is needed for every one situation but generally speaking, conflict with their peers is something all kids will experience at an early age and they can only learn to deal with it by experiencing it.

  11. lollipoplover November 28, 2016 at 2:28 pm #

    @John B.-

    There are so many more controlling parenting styles these days where parents don’t want their kids to play with other children or control the activities the child is allowed to join, whether they like it or not. Not letting kids determine their own friends and what they want to do in their free time is a control issue. Parents jump in to settle conflicts and teach their children nothing.

    As for this boy- He can’t walk up stairs? Does he have an underlying anxiety/fear issue? If he can do karate and play soccer but can’t do stairs, there’s probably a lot more to this story than just that he’s “overprotected”.

    My neighbor can’t make left turns in traffic. She drives different routes to avoid them. Some people are scared of elevators and take stairs. Some, it’s heights. If this kid needs an IEP plan to overcome something that actually manifests into physical symptoms, like an anxiety attack, I hope the school can help him find an education that fits his needs. We can easily be hypercritical of the parents, but in this case, I would think there’s more information not being shared.

  12. Jessica November 28, 2016 at 6:38 pm #

    Interesting perspective, Mary.

  13. angeleyes1307 November 29, 2016 at 9:15 am #

    @Marcy
    Is there any chance you could link to the article that has those details? Every article that I can find simply says that the dad claims a “normal childhood” but nowhere does he expand on that. I would like to see more details of the story.

  14. Kaye November 30, 2016 at 12:53 pm #

    Here’s the original article, in German…

    http://www.sonntagszeitung.ch/read/sz_20_11_2016/nachrichten/Problem-Kind-78820

    The father is quoted as saying his son “gehe oft nach draussen spielen, fahre mit dem Rad und den Rollschuhen, besuche einen Karatekurs und spiele Fussball” = “often played outside, rode his bike and rollerskated, took a karate class and played football”

    The court did indeed say he was “verwohnt” and “überbehutet” i.e. spoiled and overprotected. (it’s not a translation issue).

    But a child psychologist and the court also found that he was lacking motor skills, unable to hold a pencil or climb steps, thus needed extra help. I have a hard time imagining they would just make that up– the school would have asked that he be assessed, and they have no reason to do so if there isn’t a problem. I suspect there is a lot more to this story than we are getting here.

  15. sexhysteria December 1, 2016 at 3:19 am #

    A mom still took her 13-year-old into the ladies room with her???