In the 8:00 hour of the Today Show, Matt Lauer interviewed two women from Real Simple magazine on the topic of helicopter parenting. I anticipated the segment would delve into the acts of parents who call coaches at midnight about tomorrow’s big game or negotiate their kid’s first salary. I wasn’t prepared for them to characterize…me.
If you’re unfamiliar with helicopter parents, they used to be tagged as maternal and paternal control freaks, but now the group includes excessive worrier types.
Helicopter parents are overly involved in children’s lives by dictating decisions and directing actions, all in the name of success and safety. Parents mean well, but they try too hard. Experts say that helicopter parents stifle children’s creativity, expression, sense of accomplishment, and they prevent failures. Kids never learn how to do anything for themselves, and they never learn how to adjust to adversity because hardships don’t exist. Helicopter parents eliminate elements of risk.
The helicopter parent who sought help from the magazine’s resident therapist refused to let her son, age 7, play outside because of traffic concerns. I do this, too. Our girls aren’t allowed beyond the crack in the driveway because cars fly down the hill. In the past, motorists have lost control of their vehicles in front of our house, wiping out the mailbox and fence pieces.
The mother also refused to let her daughter, age 10, go anywhere without a cell phone in case she needed to reach her. The cell phone signal is a type of invisible umbilical cord, remarked the therapist, who insisted that Mom take the phone back when her daughter visits friends or goes somewhere without her. The daughter must learn proper judgment and the mother must learn appropriate trust.
My daughter doesn’t have a cell phone, but I always make sure whomever she’s with has one, and that my number is known.
The examples went on and on. Using the stove and knives, sleeping over at unfamiliar families’ homes, playing outside at night, and going to the pool alone.
And here comes another anecdote from Throwback Monday: I grew up in Kanawha City, one street over from MacCorkle Avenue. My friends and I played in the yard, sledded down hills in busy alleyways, walked for blocks to school, rode our bikes across the highway, ran the streets at night playing Spotlight, and we stood next to Southern Kitchen’s restaurant sign as we waited for the school bus in 6:45 a.m. darkness — often by ourselves.
Sex offenders? Didn’t know of any.
Hit by a car? That’s illegal!
Slumber party? Be home after breakfast.
My parents got angry if I didn’t show up on time, but they didn’t seem to worry when I went someplace. At least, they didn’t talk about being concerned. Perhaps that’s why my mother chain smoked and weighed 105 pounds.
Crime rates were higher back then, the expert told Matt Lauer. We’re safer today than ever before. Kids aren’t in the imminent dangers that parents dream up in their heads.
Oh no? Does this so-called expert read the newspaper?
And why do I hover? Because my kids have gotten hurt and they have found themselves in situations of extreme danger. Each time bad things happen, Mike and I swear we’ll never let it happen again. And if you haven’t said this yourself at one time or another, I’ll call you a liar.
Yes, I’m a chronic worrier. Yes, I’m hands-on and helpful to a fault. Yes, I over-parent. Yes, I practice attachment parenting.
Parenting experts warn that Mike and I are doing more harm than good. We’re doing more damage to our kids than anything in the woods or on the street corner.
The threatened outcome is that we’ll produce extremely needy girls who will lack the confidence to do anything short of our encouragement or seal of approval. We’ll make teachers’ jobs more difficult. We’ll bring up Nervous Nellies who lack courage to stand on their own two feet. They’ll never know how to survive on their own. Kids learn more from mistakes than achievements. If we manage it all and do it all, then they’ll collapse the first time something doesn’t turn out as planned or promised.
Bull! They’ll be fine. That’s what non-helicopter parents say to us when we panic. It’ll be fine.
We don’t infuse our kids with fear to keep them from living. We simply tell them what will happen if. Every situation is a learning opportunity. But some types of fun aren’t worth the risk. It’s not worth the guilt.
Part of being independent is being responsible. And that comes with learning about actions and consequences by studying other people’s behaviors and considering their choices. We learn by example. And from what I’ve experienced, parents are grateful to us for holding on a little tighter. They trust that their kids will be safe in our care, and they trust that our girls won’t attempt something over the top. That’s not to say that they won’t try stupid tricks one day. Those same experts warn that we’ll have two wild kids on our distant hands when they go to college, away from our disapproving gaze. Ava and Maryn will go crazy when they get their first taste of freedom.
Bull! Every parent is insecure about something. The comparison game never ends. The competition continues. Whose kid is going to turn out better? Who’s doing a better job?
Parents, it’s time to land that plane.
We all have our reasons for parenting the way we do. There’s a history that has determined the present, and it’s really no one’s business what’s happened along the way that makes us the way we are. The requirement is to respect each other’s differences and to keep our noses out of it. The fear of other parents’ opinions of us shouldn’t be one of our concerns.
So, here it is, world: I am a helicopter parent. But it’s a patch on my jacket that I wear with pride. Roger that?