Are You a Helicopter Parent?By
The term ‘helicopter parent’ means different things to different people. The term itself was born in a parenting book from the 1990′s called “Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility”. The authors, Foster W. Cline and Jim Fay, used the moniker to describe a parent that micro-manages their child’s life to the point of detriment. Since then, it has been picked up, kicked about and rendered ambiguous, by pop-culture. For some, the label is a pejorative, used to describe those who are either too paranoid, or too controlling, to let their children live their own lives. It portrays a parent who stifles their child’s decision making ability and cripples their sense of autonomy. For some officials whose positions interface with parents, the term has come to represent a mother or father that routinely swoops down in a blind and vehement defense of their children, with little care for the objective circumstances.
Yet for others, including most of us who mingle in the general social circles of parenthood, the term is cast about as a casual reference to any parent that seems more protective than average. Are you the mother standing at the bottom of the playground ladder, rather than chatting on the bench with the other moms? Are you the father that calls to make sure the parents are home at the slumber party your 16 year old son is staying at? If so, welcome to the helicopter brigade.
While this layperson use of the term may seem to be the least harmful with regard to its actual implication, there is a bit more to the story. As with so many other terms of negative connotation, popular use has watered down the pure offensiveness of the ‘helicopter parent’ label. Some parents have even begun proudly identify with this, or any other, moniker that infers a greater level of involvement, support or protection being offered to their children. Yet to so many others, mainly those of us still trying to figure this parenting thing out, the term remains high on the list of things that we would rather not have attached to our public profile. But maybe that’s where we’re wrong.
The laissez-faire, or permissive style of parenting tends to be exercised by those who believe that a child should be free to make their own choices, and that judgement is best developed through the authenticity of a child’s own discretionary life experience. In furtherance of this philosophy, many permissive parents adapt a long-leash philosophy. They spend less time worrying about the subtle dangers that may or may not effect their children, and place a high value on the individual autonomy of their kids. This style is often contrasted against an authoritarian view of parenthood. The authoritarian parent believes that a child’s duty is to respect his parent’s judgement and strictly obey his parent’s rules, irrespective of their subjective judgement. Oftentimes, the authoritarian parent proscribes a diverse range of conduct that may or may not pose a threat to the safety of their children. It’s of no surprise that these two styles of parenting are mutually offensive. Authoritarians believe permissives to be weak and naive, while permissives believe that authoritarians are stifling and closed-minded.
But there is a lot of ground in between these two extremes, and this middle ground is where most parents tend to find their own parenting style. Many of us feel that our role is to remain intimately engaged and influential in the development of our children. We believe that our active involvement can help them build a brighter future than they could build alone. We want to help them develop their individual autonomy and enjoy the exercise of personal freedom, but we struggle against the dangers that are germane to their immature decision making skills. Balancing our goal of empowerment versus the need for protection can be a very complicated task.
It is an endeavor that is often made more difficult by our parental peers. Very few people actually research their parenting style or develop their role pursuant to qualified recommendations. Not very many of us actively inform ourselves about the diversity of threats facing our kids, and even fewer of us have the time, energy or enthusiasm to devote the kind of attention to parenting that we’d like to. Instead, we base most of our decisions on personal opinion, subjective experience and from the norms established within our peer group of parents. “What would the other parents think?” becomes a key component of our own decision making process. As statistics and anecdotes clearly show, this can be a hazardous way of developing our parenting style. Particularly if your peers are the type who lean more towards the permissive end of the parenting spectrum. Research has linked permissive parenting with increased rates of substance abuse, behavioral and emotional problems, impulsivity and mal-adapted familial roles.
Those who believe that they came from an overbearing household, or grew up in a close-minded society, instinctively feel very wary about parental oversight. This includes a substantial portion of us Baby Boomers and even post-Baby Boomers. Other parents find that they’ve become chained to a social status that is closely tied to that of their child. They fear imposing regulations that could draw criticism to themselves or could impair the social growth of their kid. Those parents who have poor self esteem, those who are overwhelmed by their responsibility as parents, or those who have trouble with personal responsibility in general, tend to be overly permissive as parents. They pursue smooth sailing above all else, fearing the potential conflict and effort that often comes with the imposition of restrictions. These, and other common parenting profiles, discolor the middle ground of our parenting style spectrum.
In many cases, parents who make inquiries, set curfews, espouse conservative opinions or enforce unpopular regulations, get labeled as ‘over-protective’. Rarely is any thought given to the rationality or reference behind the parent’s ‘unusual’ engagement. More often than not, this label is assigned as a self-protection measure. Some parents feel threatened by examples of increased parental involvement. They fear it makes their own parenting style look neglectful. Burdened by single-parenthood, de facto single-parenthood, a lack of confidence, training or resource, many of us simply can’t match the devotion that seems to be manifest by the ‘over-protective’ ones. Still others have trouble with the notion of accepting ownership for their child’s inevitable mistakes. They therefore develop a parenting style that proportions the bulk of decision making responsibility onto their children. It is from these groups of parents, that the layperson accusations of ‘helicopter parent’ typically fly.
So to you Chopper Pilots out there, let not your hearts be troubled. Stand tall alongside your protective instincts. Contrary to what the ‘helicopter parent’ term has casually come to imply, you are not hampering your child by protecting them. A parent’s role is not to “let” their children grow up, it’s to “help” their children grow up. Decades of supporting research have demonstrated that parents who are more actively engaged, those who supervise more closely and those who involve themselves in their children’s decision making processes, produce children who make better life choices and express greater life satisfaction. This holds true whether you’re measuring delinquency, substance abuse, scholastic achievement, or subjectively rated happiness in later life.
Excluding of course those few who suffer from psychopathy, the parent who hovers over her child on the playground, or who scans through a spyware report of his child’s computer activity, is doing nothing to warrant a pejorative label. Parental engagement is not about scrutiny, control, or paranoia. Its about love, respect and guidance. Acknowledging danger and acting to prevent harm, are prudent -if not natural- parental practices. And these practices should be taking more and more precedent over the permissive parenting style aggressively popularized by the pop-culture media and inadvertently abetted by many of the parents within your own peer group.
For More on this topic, view below:
The world is changing. The digital age has worn away privacy, dissolved naivety and given birth to new threats. Many of these issues have never before been faced by previous generations of parents. Sexting, internet stalking, bluejacking, youtube, myspace…there are so many ways for youthful indiscretion to turn tragic these days. We have to evolve with the times. And we have to be smart about it.
Whereas my parents thought very little about turning me loose on the town, I wouldn’t dare let my youngsters frolic about unprotected. After decades of news stories, A&E True Life movies and Amber Alerts to fill my head, I’m much more cognizant of the threats posed to unchaperoned kids. But I can’t just keep them inside where they’ll engorge themselves on junk food, play violent video games, text a naked picture of themselves or turn to substance abuse for entertainment. So the challenge is to be creative, to explore their interests and develop entertainment opportunities. As the current generation of parents explores these new avenues, an opportunity exists to forge new family pastimes and generate increased opportunities for group engagement.
Productivity can be an integral part of entertainment. From batting cages to dance halls, there exists an ever expanding realm of hobbies and interests that can enrich and amuse simultaneously. Learn how to golf, get into shape, play chess, join a debate team, volunteer for a non-profit or raise seeing eye dogs. Too boring? Join a paintball team, get your diver’s certification, build and race your own go-cart, form and manage a small business…the list is limited only by your imagination. You don’t even have to think too far outside the box – just far enough that liquor, drugs and mischief no longer become a pre-requisite to the entertainment.
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