Obstinately Overprotecting Odin

I woke up this morning and worried about my 2 year-old son, Odin.  Is he eating enough leafy greens?  Is he socializing well with others? Is this demanding and snarky attitude he is newly exhibiting a permanent part of his personality? Will ramming his head into the table while playing soccer in the house prevent him from going to the Ivy League school of his choice?

My son, in the ONLY car he will ever drive, in Westgate Mall.

It’s normal for parents to worry about their kids, but after reading an article entitled “Mom and Dad, stop stifling me –it’s damaging my brain” by Wendy Zukerman on the NewScientist.com website, I am rethinking my hovercraft tendencies.  My overprotective inclinations may be more than just irritating and neurotic.  Is it possible that I may be damaging my little shortie’s brain?

Using a tool called the Parental Bonding Instrument(.pdf), researcher Kosuke Narita of Gunma University in Japan, asked 50 people in their 20s to rate their parents on statements like “did not want me to grow up”, “tried to control everything I did”, “tried to make me feel dependant on him/her”.    They then did brain scans and found that those participants who had more overprotective parents correlated with less gray matter in the prefrontal cortex.

His team proposes that the excessive release of the stress hormone cortisol, caused by either neglect or excessive attention, reduces the production of dopamine leading to the stunting of grey matter growth.

I am immediately defensive.  I mean, if I don’t protect my kid, who will?  Is my husband right,  I shouldn’t be so darn controlling and filled with worry?  Surely not.

Fortunately, Stephen Wood, who studies adolescent development at the Melbourne Neuropsychiatry Centre, isn’t so sure that parents are to blame for the participants having less grey matter.  There are so many other factors that may contribute to brain differences, such as socioeconomic status, education, or preexisting abnormalities.    He states in the article, “The effect they found may be real, but why worry about parenting if there are other factors that are so much larger?”  I exhale deeply.   Thank you, Stephen.

Even after reading this and thinking about my son’s grey matter in grave detail, I can guarantee that my sweetest is not playing outside in traffic after dark without his coat and shoes on.  I can’t help myself; I will probably always be a little overbearing.  But the article did make me think about easing up a bit on him.  I don’t want to be so domineering that cortisol is shooting through his veins in biological defense.   I need to give him space to grow, to develop, and to explore the world as safely as anyone can these days.  But you can bet your bottom dollar that I’m watching him like a hawk, from a safe distance.  At least until he graduates from the Ivy League school of his choice.


Narita, K., Takei, Y., Suda, M., Aoyama, Y., Uehara, T., Kosaka, H., Amanuma, M., Fukuda, M., & Mikuni, M. (2010). Relationship of parental bonding styles with gray matter volume of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in young adults Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry DOI: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2010.02.025

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Katie Hill

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  1. So next time he is yelling at me/you/dog/cat/toys, I’ll quote this research to you!

    Awesome post, and cute photo by the way!

  2. LOVE the blog AND the research. You know me, I’m all about neurotransmitters and adrenocortical hormones. I hope I left you with enough dopamine!!!! Mom

  3. Now, I feel deeply sorry for many parents who have read my paper. At same time, some comments to our study let me down. I want to highlight the following points.

    In deed, significant association was found between parental overprotection and gray matter volume of prefrontal cortex in our research. However, most parents, including me and my wife, can not use this data for more appropriate approach to their (or our) children. This reason is as follow.

    If some children had received same bonding approach from their parents, it is possible that after adulthood, one will remember his/her childhood experiences as “high care and low overprotection, and good mum and dad”, but other will feel that as “my childhood nightmare”.

    Thus, now, we are not able to know whether our son will remember his childhood as low parental overprotection or as high parental overprotection (i.e., low care or overprotection) in future. There are enormous different recognitions between several children against same event.

  4. Hi “one author”,
    Thanks for your comment. I know as a scientist and a Mom, I often catch myself reading a paper such as yours and wondering if I should rethink some aspect of my parenting based on what I read. It is an easy trap to fall into, and a good way to drive yourself crazy!
    Thank you for the clarification

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