“World’s Worst Mom” — My Reality TV Makeover of Overprotective Parents

By Lenore Skenazy, President, Let Grow

On my Discovery TV reality show, World’s Worst Mom, I deal with families that have reached a breaking point, thanks to extremely overprotective parenting.

How overprotective?

One mom only lets her 8-year-old use his skateboard…on the lawn. Another wants her husband to install in-home security cameras, so she can make sure her kids never venture outside. (Her oldest is 13.)  And the mom I visit in Episode 1, above, sometimes still spoon-feeds her son.

He’s 10.

These aren’t bad moms, just very anxious. And some of the dads — moreso! How can I get them to loosen the reins?

I give each family a series of  four “challenges.” For instance, I send the parents off to a nice lunch while I send their kids off to climb a tree, run an errand or even learn to ride a bike.

The transformation of both generations is so remarkable I am grateful it is recorded on tape. Because at the end of 13 episodes, 12 of the families changed beyond recognition. The mom in this one — who’d been so scared for her tween daughter that she always went inside the bathroom stall with her — cried at the end and said, “Now I feel like I have two birthdays.” Instead of constant dread for her kids, now she saw them as growing, blossoming young people. She felt totally reborn. The kids — Zack, 12, and Brianna, 10 — were ecstatic too. A few months after the filming, she texted to say:

“Zack is having his first sleepover tonight:). My son is so happy….thanks!  Brianna’s is next!”

Here are the two truths I learned doing this show:

1 – The only way to change anxious parents is for them to see WITH THEIR OWN EYES how successful their kids can be, doing something on their own.

2 – The only way to change anxious kids is for them to see WITH THEIR OWN EYES how successful they can be, doing something on their own.

World’s Worst Mom is basically a TV version of The Let Grow Project, the free homework assignment educators can download, whereby the students are told to go home and do something new, on their own, without a parent. It is just as transformative as this show. Here’s a 2-minute video of a teacher, a parent and some students, talking about how it vanquished their anxiety.

And here’s our Let Grow Independence Kit, a home version of the Project. Also free!

We live in a culture constantly shoving fear down our throats. The only way to counter that distorted, disturbing message is with a heaping helping of reality: Watching our kids grow confident and competent as we stand back a bit and let them.