Hands-On Parenting: Too Much Of A Good Thing
I first became aware of the term “helicopter parent” many years ago. It was in an article by Amanda Robb in the July 2008 issue of O Magazine. The term was coined by former school principle Jim Fay and psychiatrist Foster Cline, MD, to describe mothers and fathers who “hover over their children”. The article began with the story of a Missouri mom who created a fictitious boy named Josh on MySpace to “cyber-torment” her teen daughter’s former best friend. After “Josh” led the friend along, he abruptly told her she was a bad person, everybody hated her, and that the world would be a better place without her. A few hours later, this girl hanged herself and died the next day.
Although this tragic story may be extreme, overly-involved parents are quite common. The article quoted a study done by Patricia Somers, PhD, who found that in the 60 American universities and colleges studied, “40 to 60 percent of parents engage in some type of helicoptering, such as helping with academic assignments, and as many as 10 percent actually write their children’s papers for them.”
Yikes! How’s that for preparing our kids for the real world?
Unless you want to be doing your kids’ laundry forever, now is the time to arm them with the tools they’ll need to be a success. There is a balance to be found between helicoptering and leaving our kids twisting in the wind. While a helicopter parent prepares resumes and cover letters for her children, a democratic parent provides feedback and guidance. She suggests where to look for resources to create a resume, and offers to role play interview questions. She does not call the recruiter or interviewer personally, and insist on an interview for her child.
We all want our kids to succeed. We don’t realize, though, that sometimes our best efforts undermine this success. Some helicopter parents do what they do because they feel the pressures of modern life are too much. The problem with picking up too much of the slack for kids is that they never learn how to adjust to the realities of their life. It may not be ideal, but it’s the life and the society and the pressures we’re all dealing with now. How does protecting our kids from all of that, well into adulthood, really help them? Are these moms going to be calling their children’s employers to negotiate salaries when the “kids” are in their 50’s? When does it stop? Or does it?
Watching our children grow can be hard on parents. But we really do them a disservice if we insist on continuing to treat them as incapable. Alfred Adler would say that pampering a child was worse than neglecting him, something helicopter parents would do well to reflect on. Instead of sending the message, “I have confidence in you – I’m here if you need me, but I know you can do it,” over-involvement may inadvertently send the message, “You can’t function without my help.” Not a particularly empowering, confidence-boosting message. It also doesn’t provide kids with the opportunities to experiment, practice, and learn so that they may go on to be healthy, productive adults. As parents, are we truly preparing our kids to withstand trials, or better yet, flourish in the face of them?
One important caveat is the finding by researcher George Kuh, PhD, who conducts the annual National Survey of Student Engagement. His findings demonstrate that students with involved parents “study more, have more frequent contacts with faculty, report greater gains in critical thinking during college, write more clearly, and talk to their peers more often about substantive issues than students with less involved parents.” So clearly, parents do matter.
Striking a balance doesn’t have to be difficult. The litmus test is simply: Is my child capable of handling this challenge/situation/task on her own? If she is capable but unprepared, then education is the only missing element. An example might be being capable of doing her own laundry, but simply lacking the knowledge on how to actually do it. If she is not capable, parents needs to balance acting as a coach or consultant to help guide her without taking over. We don’t want to foster a reliance on someone else doing the hard stuff for her. The world of bosses, mortgages, and adult relationships is not always kind.
There is a middle ground between helicoptering/lawnmowering/snowplowing and neglecting, and it’s the best of both worlds for parents and children. Involved, caring, respectful, encouraging, and well aware of when to step back and let the kids do the work for themselves: the balance for great (and effective) parenting.
When exactly is Independence Day for our kids?
It may not seem obvious, but kids can feel a great deal of stress when they don’t believe they are competent to handle the challenges they’re facing. Read this article to understand more of the symptoms of kids’ stress and how to help.
Housework is another great way to foster independence in kids, teach them the value of contribution, and prepare them for adulthood.