At 13 years old, Tung’s mother still bathed him. From personal hygiene to basic housework like cooking rice or even a pack of instant noodles, his parents did everything for him.
His mother was afraid he wouldn’t get clean if she didn’t bathe him, and that he would hurt himself if he tried to accomplish tasks alone.
When Tung graduated high school, he wanted to go to school for graphic design or IT, but his father forced him to major in auto repair at college.
The 22-year-old the left his parents’ farm in the northern province of Thai Binh for Hanoi, where he stayed with a friend.
But Tung didn’t know how to share a common space without his parents as housemaids. He didn’t even know how to wash the dishes. He also never took out the trash or cleaned the room, which frustrated his roommate.
After a big fight with the friend he was living with, Tung moved out. He went to live with his uncle’s family. But then his uncle and aunt started to argue about having a non-contributor like Tung around the house.
Tung’s college life was also difficult. Because he didn’t get to study what he wanted to, Tung dropped out and started working. But his income was so low he had to ask for money from his parents and even borrow from his uncle and friends just to survive.
Cases like Tung are not rare because many parents tend to overprotect their children. This can be challenging for them when they grow up and try to live life as adults.
A 2021 survey conducted by Harvard University researcher Do Hong Hoang My at a school for gifted students in Ho Chi Minh City and at a school in the Central Highlands found that city students fully provided for by their families with a career-oriented mindset and many opportunities in life often have three outcomes. They either became passive, confused about their future, or disagree with their parents because they want to find their own way in life.
Meanwhile, students in the Central Highlands province without the same comfortable conditions and wealth of opportunities as city kids excelled in self-navigation and decision-making.
Nguyen Thu Trang, who lives under her parents’ overprotection. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Thu Trang
A British Council research report on young Vietnamese released in August 2020 revealed that 75% of survey respondents said family is the basic factor that shapes their personality, and 80% said family is a dominant factor in self-identification process.
Phuong Hoai Nga, a consultant and psychotherapist for children and families in Hanoi, said there are no statistics to confirm that Vietnamese parents are overprotecting their children, but the idea is indeed a stereotype of Asian parents.
Assoc. Prof. Nguyen Duc Loc, director of the Institute of Social Life Research, said overprotective parenting is a result of the social development process. Recent observations show that countries like Japan and South Korea are also experiencing the same issue.
“Eeach family only has one or two children, so they devote more attention and care to their children, which leads to overprotection,” Loc said.
According to experts, many parents, especially those who were born in the 80s and lived through periods of intense poverty, want to make up for the deficiencies they experienced by providing the best possible lives for their children, which leads to overprotection.
Nguyen Thu Trang, 25, said that she feels like she’s living in prison because of the way her parents raised her. They strictly control who she hangs out with, where she goes and her every move.
“My room has a camera, I have to use a phone with a locator and my mother also asked someone to keep an eye on me in class. In general, I have no freedom,” Trang said, adding that she can buy anything and travel anywhere she wants, but her mother has to come along.
Loc said that with children raised like Trang or Tung, too much protection results in a lack of survival skills and a poor capability to deal with adversity. The child will also have low social skills, become self-centered and have little sympathy for others, he argued.
“When people become more fragile, they won’t be able to deal with difficulties in life, and they’ll have little understanding of the laws of nature and tend to feel smaller and weaker. These people are more prone to depression, suicidal acts and autism because they are mentally weak,” Loc said.
At the age of 16, Trang couldn’t take it anymore and left the house without bringing her phone or wallet. She didn’t go to anyone’s house because her mother would know, so she wandered the streets alone and almost got abused by a man.
“When I was out there, I felt useless without my parents, so I came back and accepted my fate as a doll in a glass cabinet,” Trang said.
For Tung, he also had to change jobs 4-5 times in the first year he worked due to disagreements with colleagues, bosses or his incompetence. When he stepped out of these relationships, Tung said he was able to look back and realize that the main reason for his problems was his lack of social skills.
Nga believes that not all overprotected children become fragile or incompetent. If they have the opportunity to experience other environments outside of their family, or if they simply possess a strongly independent nature, they can still escape their parents’ protection. However, those who don’t have the strength to escape will always feel insecure.
Experts advise parents to let them be free to explore the world instead of being overprotective. Photo by P. Nguyen
Experts warn that children raised by overprotective parents can end up with the mindset that “the world is not safe,” and that the only way to get rid of anxiety is to avoid everything.
Loc said parents should remember the principle of “growing up with their children,” which means to let their children grow naturally, be free to explore the world and live their own lives. What parents need to do is not overprotect their children, but instead accompany them on their journey of growth.
Nga advised parents that protecting their children means letting them grow up safely. And she argued that the way to do this is not by avoiding danger, but by teaching kids how to recognize and overcome danger.
Eventually, Tung told his aunt and uncle about his problems. They became sympathetic and taught him more about life skills. He was then allowed to study graphic design as he desired.
Earlier this year, Tung moved out of his uncle’s house and learned how to be independent.
“Perhaps I’ve had the longest childhood in the world,” he said. “It’s time for me to grow up.”
*The names of the characters has been changed.
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