I used to babysit for a three-year-old who spent nearly every minute of her life at her mother’s side; she spent her days playing with her mother, napping with her mother, and eventually falling asleep while her mother rubbed her back.
While eating, the little girl often spit out her food, letting it dribble down her chin; rather than telling her not to do this, her mother sat beside her with a napkin while she ate, poised to wipe up regurgitated food. This is only one of many examples of the way the child was encouraged to rely on her mother to do everything for her.
Not surprisingly, this adorable, sweet little girl was terrified to be left with me. She had not spent more than an hour apart from her mom since she was born and she wailed uncontrollably for hours every time I babysat, refusing to eat or talk. Eventually, both the mother and I decided the arrangement was too unbearable for all involved; the mother seemed delighted to return to being her daughter’s sole caretaker. Naturally, I was highly disturbed by this form of parenting, but I never considered that it could be considered a form of child abuse.
If I lived in Italy, I might have thought differently. A mother has been charged with child abuse for being too involved in her twelve-year-old son’s life. The boy’s grandparents, who helped raised him, have also been implicated in a form of helicopter parenting so severe that prosecutors say it constitutes abuse. The mother and grandfather have already been convicted of child abuse, and are appealing the verdict; the grandmother awaits sentencing.
“Luca,” as the boy is known, was reportedly forbidden to play with friends, play sports, or leave the house except to go to school. His teachers say he brought his snacks to school already cut in bite-size portions. According to TIME:
Investigators say the teachers noticed that he was both physically and psychologically stunted from such around-the-clock doting. “He didn’t know how to run. He had the motor skills of a 3-year-old child,” Andrew Marzola, the lawyer representing the boy, told the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera.
Not only is this case distinct from the average overprotective parent in its extremity, but it’s also complicated by a custody battle. After Luca’s parents divorced, the father says he was not allowed to see his son for nine years. He eventually became so worried about his son’s welfare that he got authorities involved.
But even though Luca’s situation is unusual, this case could set a precedent for teachers and other adults to intervene legally when they suspect a child is being smothered to the point of harm, the same way teachers are required to report any suspicions of physical child abuse. Although I would love to have psychologists or social workers speak to a parent who is overprotective to the point of stunting a child’s growth, I would never advocate removing a child from the care of an overprotective parent. Even in Luca’s case, I do not think that taking the child away from the only parents he has ever known is the solution to his troubling upbringing.
Do you think over-parenting should ever be considered a crime? If so, what should the punishment be?