Russian parents make no apologies for being 'hyperprotective'

Russian parents are even more overprotective of their children than American parents are.

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Russian parents often describe themselves as "overprotective" of their children and offer many reasons to explain why. First among these is the general instability of life in a country that saw the powerful state most current parents grew up in, the USSR, collapse amid social chaos and political strife in the early 1990s.

Another reason is that unlike the Soviet media in the past, Russian TV and newspapers today play up scary stories about crime, traffic accidents, terrorism, and – most frightening of all for parents – reports of kidnapping and other child-victim crimes.

"Cases of missing children and pedophilia are covered on TV, and parents' alarm has grown sharply," says Tatiana Gurko, head of family sociology at the official Institute of Sociology in Moscow. "Hyper-protective parents are everywhere. There is a big social discussion going on about whether a law should be passed requiring teenagers to be indoors by a certain hour."

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Like most modern societies, Russia has experienced a falling birthrate in recent decades, with the result that most families have just one or, at most, two children. It's much easier to oversee one or two children than five or six, and parents tend to feel more protective toward them.

Unlike most Western countries, post-Soviet Russia has experienced much social and economic upheaval, including rampaging crime, which accentuates the fears and natural protective instincts of parents.

Russian children aren't allowed much freedom. Parents generally accompany their children to school until they're at least 12, don't let them play on the street or use public transport, and monitor their social lives very closely.

"My daughter Ksenia was 12 when she declared she wanted to go to school by herself and be more independent," says Natalya Knorre, a single mom who lives in central Moscow. "Her school was nearby, but she had to cross a busy street to get there. I was worried sick at first, but it worked out. Later I allowed her to go out in the evening with her friends, provided, of course, that I always knew where she was."

Overprotectiveness appears to be a strong trait of Russia's small but growing middle class, for whom a modicum of economic well-being is a new and fragile development.

Many Russian families also have live-in grandparents, a legacy of Soviet housing shortages, who re-inforce the attitude of protectiveness and also provide another layer of supervision for the children.

Given all that today's adults lived through in the 20th century, they project their own insecurities on the kids, say experts.

"Russian parents who consider themselves to be good parents are usually very protective," says Marina Bityanova, head of the independent Tochka Psi psychological center in Moscow.

"They have deep-seated fears, which they consider very well-grounded," she adds. "Possibly their surveillance is excessive, but this is the typical Russian reaction. Parents worry that their children may not be able to cope with all the uncertainties and dangers that are out there."

For the very rich – a thin but highly visible sliver of Russian society – there is the added fear of being targeted by criminals. The children of the wealthy go to private schools, to which they are chauffeured, and are often seen in public accompanied by professional bodyguards.

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