Helicopter Parents...Keep Those Rotors Spinning

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The January issue of Real Simple had an article - “How To Raise A DIY Kid” - that had me intrigued then left me shaking my head, left and right, once again.  It raised the issue, albeit somewhat differently, of “helicopter parents” and then some.

First, let’s all agree on a universal truth – parents want their children to be happy, healthy, productive, and safe.  I surely do for my child.  Yet that’s where many, if not most, similarities end because, when it comes to parenting, one-size-fits-all advice simply doesn’t fly. 

No one can truly tell a parent how to do their job for one key reason.  No one knows their child better than the person (or people) who changed the child’s diapers, helped with homework, refereed playdates, soothed hearts, nursed illness, provided a safety net, and given them the tools and room to grow.  And while asking for and receiving input is fine, in the complex world of parenting, viewpoints from the outside are like watching a tennis match from the stands.  Unless you’re sweating it out on the court, you’re only an observer.  With a mai tai in your hand.

In this article, some of the advice still has me shaking my head:

·  “Kids need to fly solo as they mature.”

·  …”young adults who had been ‘overparented’ in childhood were more likely to have depression, anxiety…”.

·  And for parents whose older children “slip” and need their help, “Admit that you (i.e. the parent) messed up and tell them that you’re sorry.  Let them know that the expectations are changing as of this minute, and then teach them how to do things as necessary.”

This advice begs a number of questions…

How many parents hope that their children never learn to fly solo?

How many young adults struggling with depression, anxiety and more are doing so because of “overparenting,” or do they need additional support *because* of these diagnoses?

And how many parents feel they should apologize to their 18-year-old who needs help, as if the parent screwed up in some way.  Or that their child should be taken to task because…they need help.  Talk about using guilt as an attempted motivator.

And there are “guidelines” by age as well…

·  Ages 5-7 - load backpack and go through a mental checklist of what will be needed for that day in school.

·  Ages 8-10 - keep school materials organized.

·  Ages 11 and up - take initiative to organize long-term school projects.

Agree with all in principle.  Yet do these contributors think that all or even most kids are capable of achieving these goals by these ages?  And without the oversight, support, and yes…”helicoptering” of their parents?

There are thousands - no millions - of bright and capable children and teens who need support, and many far more than they’re already receiving and not because their parents don’t have their rotors spinning.  Some lack the executive function skills to organize their materials or handle long-term assignments solo, whether in 5th Grade or college.  Others are struggling with ADD or depression and is precisely *why* these parents need to continue to helicopter or otherwise.  And still others have been expected to achieve things because of an arbitrary age or grade and today are struggling often outside of the purview of others…some until it’s too late.

Transitioning into middle school doesn’t mean that a child should simply be able to handle multiple classes and teachers without support.  Turning 16 doesn’t mean that the teen should be standing at the DMV for their permit.  And attending college doesn’t mean that the artificial transition to adulthood as mandated at college orientation is applicable for all.  These are individual milestones, requiring the keen oversight by whom?  The parents.  Their eyes, knowledge, and intuition trumps all else.

Telling parents to let their children fail, which is very situation-specific, and using words like “coddling” and “indulgence” (insulting to caring and involved parents) greatly oversimplifies the realities and assigns an overlay of guilt onto an already complicated role. 

Parents today take the brunt of criticism and often feel like they're spinning in an attempt to meet the needs of their children, which is the top priority, and societal expectations.  What really needs to happen is that helicopter parents all, including myself, should tighten their seatbelts, make sure their earbuds are working to hear everything going on below, and hover as close to the ground for as long as needed. 

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photo credit: Eugene Kaspersky  via photopin