HELICOPTER PARENTING

 

When our children are very little, they truly need us to protect them at every moment.   Most of us do a great job keeping our little ones safe!  However, as they grow, our kinderlachs’ physical, emotional, and social needs change.  And, so does our role as parents.

 

Who among us doesn’t recognize the following scenarios? 

The mom in the grocery store with the shopping cart cover that is supposed to protect their toddlers from lurking germs. 

The parents on the playground negotiating toy disputes for their 7 year olds.

A child who hands in homework clearly done by a parent.

A parent who has coaches their child over and over again about what to say in a nursery school interview. 

The parents who run to school in ‘attack mode’ ready to confront the teacher for ‘unfair’ treatment of their kids because they didn’t get an A on an exam.

 

There are many anxiety provoking messages out there as well regarding: what food to give your child to eat, what food not to give your child to eat, what position to put your baby in to sleep, what position not to put your child in to sleep, what to expose your child to, what not to expose your child to… the list is endless…..

 

This is a phenomenon that’s everywhere in our secular and religious culture.  Like a chopper in mid-air, parents learn to hover over the child’s life, protectively ready to swoop down and intervene when other kids, adults, teachers, or general society make their young ones a tiny bit uncomfortable. 

 

Perhaps you know it by its other names: helicopter parents, smothering mothering, alpha parenting, hyper-parenting.

 

Child development experts say that while parental involvement is important and necessary in making a child feel secure, parents must be very careful to strike a balance between support and suffocation and sometimes that can be a very fine line. 

 

Most parents certainly start out with good intentions.  Hovering parents though distinctively want to create a perfect world for their children and to meet their child’s every need.  They don’t want their child to feel or experience pain or frustration.  Therefore, they become too involved in a misdirected attempt to ‘control’ their child’s social, academic, athletic, and other facets of their life. 

 

Another concept we hear a lot about these days with kids is with over-scheduling. Although these ‘extra’ experiences are valuable, their meaning gets totally lost when there’s a major surplus on these activities.  Overscheduled kids become overstimulated.  And, we all know how fun that is.

 

So, how do you recognize if you are a helicopter parent? 

 

Dr. Paul Redmond, British psychologist, who writes extensively on this topic, differentiates between five different types of helicopter parents:

 

  1. THE AGENT- like a sports or movie agent, this parent represents his or her child and fixes any problems that come along.  She/he takes care of all that boring minutiae that is too mundane for their busy child to handle.

  2. THE BANKER- like the government, the banker provides financial bailouts with no questions and no expectations of loan repayment.

  3. THE WHITE KNIGHT- when trouble overtakes the child’s world, the White Knight arrives to solve the problem, only to fade away again when the problem has been resolved.

  4. THE BODYGUARD- The bodyguard protects the social status of her child through creative excuse making.  This parent also provides regular chauffer services and acts as a personal assistant.

  5. THE BLACK HAWK- the worst of the helicopters, this parent will do anything, legal or otherwise, to tip the advantage in their child’s direction.

 

Do any of these labels fit?  Are YOU one of these parents who are always on the lookout for threats to your child’s success and happiness and ready to swoop in and save the day?

 

How did it get this bad?  After all, each stage of childhood is a natural stage of letting go - crawling to walking to running to playgroups, to elementary and high school, college, and adulthood.  So where did we get stuck along the way? 

 

There are a number of reasons why it is so difficult for parents to let go in the year 2011!!

 

  1. Technology- in this age of instant messaging and 24/6 (thank G-d for Shabbos) cell phone use, these advances allow parents to cross the line between healthy involvement and unhealthy intrusion.

  2. Elevated sense of concern- Need we mention 9/11, Columbine, Virginia Tech, etc.

  3. Parents may be rejecting the less involved parenting style of their own parents and now going to the opposite extreme.

  4. Society puts a lot of pressure on parents.  If the child fails in a any traditional sense of the word, society points an accusing finger and collectively screams: “Where were the parents”? 

 

 

Let’s now take a look at some of the more clinical concerns and consequences for parents who hover

AND kids who are hovered over.

 

  1. As a child ages, the natural order of things says that the parent is no longer a constant participant in their child’s life.  Unfortunately, for some adults, that leaves them feeling rejected, lonely, and lost. 

  2. Some people feel they can overcome guilt from their past by being an extreme advocate for their own child, perhaps because they never had someone doing that for them.

  3. Many parents today really view their children as extensions of themselves.

  4. Most baby boomers were raised riding bikes without helmets, riding in cars without seat belts, and even eating food served with peanuts.  Society rules and customs now have them doing the exact opposite.

  5. Parents truly sense that their children are fragile, because that is how they feel about themselves.

  6. Many parents don’t know how to truly ‘be’ without some kind of externalized diversion, distraction, or escape.

  7. Their child’s performance is a reflection of their own self worth.

 

This is a lot of baggage to carry and to inflict upon children.  Children who are hovered over end up experiencing life ‘risk-free’ and cannot distinguish between a healthy struggle and suffering.  They rarely experience failure, which is a critical element of building a strong self-concept.  Hovering can make kids act lazy, self doubting, unable to bounce back after a set back. 

 

In her excellent book on the topic of building resilient children, Wendy Mogel, author of “Blessings of a Skinned Knee," quotes a pediatrician who profoundly states the following: 

“I worry more about the kids that DON’T have scrapes and bruises than the kids who do.”  

 

In short, these children are deprived of the crucial opportunity to ‘grow up’.  This has serious and far-reaching implications.  For example it can affect long term relationships like shidduchim, marriage, in business, toward good decision making, co-existing with others, learning accountability and responsibility.  Imagine the world without mature and resilient people.  It is pretty scary.

 

Let me now offer some solutions:

  1. Let your kids solve their own problems.  Be a guide on the side.  Let them try first and if not, welcome their request for help by showing them alternatives and potential consequences.  Then, accept their choices and the results.

  2. Allow them to fail.  It is the best way to learn.

  3. Hold your children accountable.  The consequence should be allowed to play out.

  4. Teach that learning from a situation is often more important than metering a negative outcome.

  5. Teach respect for authority and then show it yourself.  i.e. teachers.

  6. Let your child take age-appropriate risks

  7. Worry about the right things.  IS your child getting enough exercise, eating right, developing a good self image including a positive body image.

  8. Don’t rush to defend your child from teachers or others who are constructively critical of their performance.

  9. Let your child know that you have every confidence in their ability to solve problems, make friends, master school work at their level, etc.

  10. Get involved in something you enjoy doing, so you are not living vicariously through your child.

  11. Let your child practice being independent and self sufficient: i.e. taking care of pets, deciding when to do homework, making decision between two appropriate choices set out by parents.

  12. Let them see you enjoy life.

  13. Stop doing things that your children can do themselves: packing their backpacks, making their beds.

  14. Be an amazing listener.

  15. Get help from a qualified third party if you are not able to ‘let go’ on your own.   

 

 

Most of all, enjoy and get naches from your child. Just know when you need to do it from a distance!!