What makes good parenting? Everybody’s got an opinion on the subject. But parents generally fall into either one of two categories: hands-on or hands-off.
We’ve all seen the hands on approach in action. These are the parents who want to micromanage everything that the child does. They’re standing over their child as they learn to swing a tennis racket or wash the dishes or make a sandwich, constantly issuing instructions, every few seconds. Hands-on parents are also the parents you often see in supermarkets, repeatedly imploring their kids to behave and then getting violent when they don’t.
Then there are the hands-off parents. These are parents who allow their children more free reign. They don’t bother correcting them and let them make their own mistakes. Hands-off parents aren’t concerned about their children going out to the park by themselves. And they’re not continuously monitoring whether they’re keeping up with their school work. Instead, they’re happy to live and let live, giving their children permission to follow whatever path they want.
Both of these varieties of parenting sound pretty bad when you put them in blunt terms. On the one hand, hands-on parents force children to live in a suffocating gulag where they are unable to interact with the world without having to go through the filter of their parents. And on the other hand, hands-off parents could be accused of neglect.
Being a hands-off parent, however bad it might seem to some, is arguably a better approach to parenting. In fact, because it points kids in the direction of the world – and not their parents – it could be the best.
Kids who are exploring the world, rather than trying to meet the needs of their parents all the time, will go forward in life less concerned about what other people think. Hand-on micromanaging parenting effectively teaches children that everything they do has to be approved by other people. They learn this lesson when they are young and carry it forward throughout the rest of their lives.
Hands-off parenting, by contrast, frees children up to explore the rest of the world. They can go on a Duke of Edinburgh expedition, try fun activities, like Lakeside Karting, or start their own passion projects down the bottom of the garden, without fear of reprisal. Early on, they are focused on the outside world, not their caregivers, meaning that they are less concerned about what other people think.
Having empathy for others is important – and being focused on the world doesn’t mean that children won’t develop this skill. Instead, focusing on mastering their physical environment, rather than their social environment, will mean that they are at a far lower risk of developing narcissistic personality traits. The reason for this is that they won’t feel the need to protect a brittle ego because it won’t be so dependent on the opinions of other people in the world. They’ll be happy just to be themselves, no matter what life throws their way.