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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Guidelines for Landing Your Helicopter: Why Helicopter Parents are Deadly.

Helicopter parents are deadly. They are not only letting down their children down. They are killing their spirits. Ultimately, if they aren't destroying them, they are certainly crippling them.

If you haven't heard the phrase, a helicopter parent (father or mother) is one that is always there to take up their children's cause. They do not let them scrape their intellectual or emotional knees. A parent who micro-manages a child's friendships, grades, teacher/student relationships, etc...is a thief. These parents, metaphorically, are not letting go of their child's bike which has just had it's training wheels removed.

I know a parent who will not let her son of 12 to go to a school camping trip unless she can go with him. There are plenty of counsellors, plenty of teachers, food, comfort, and safety at the fantastic camp with all kinds of confidence building activities. And yet, during this important age where a child transitions from childhood dependence to the adolescent exploration of independence, this boy is being robbed.

What does this insulation do?

As mentioned above, it does not allow them to transition to young adulthood. This alone puts the child's future into a precarious position. Not meeting certain developmental goals in a timely fashion can cause a life of everything being slightly to largely "off".

It also prevents them from being immuned from stress. If you do not deal with tough situations, you never learn that they will not kill you. I have heard stories of the mothers of college students calling deans to complain about course grades. How does one learn to handle failure in this way? What happens when he gets a bad review from his boss later on?

Lastly, hovering causes children to lose their sense of responsibility. If one doesn't succeed or fail on his own, he will never learn his role in either. And responsibility becomes just a quaint idea.

The argument is that this is a different time. We don't let kids walk to the store or go to the park alone anymore. It is a dangerous world. They need us more in these dangerous days. But this argument shows the difference between common sense and over-reaction. Dealing with a teacher who has been vetted by the school and dealing with a pedophile/killer/kidnapper/gang-member is something quite different. Students should be allowed to deal with teachers mostly on their own. Children need to be protected from pedophiles.


First of all, separate your fears and concerns into categories: "Truly Dangerous", "Maybe Risky", "Uncomfortable for Me", "Uncomfortable for My Child", and "Safe". Definitely allow your child to do the last three, if they don't fit into the first two. Check out "Maybe Risky" and decide if it is an opportunity worth the risk, if it is actually "Truly Dangerous", or if in reality you are just uncomfortable. The "Maybe Risky" items are an informed judgment call. However, if it is simply a parent's discomfort or the child's discomfort, he is doing a grievous wrong to his child if the child does not participate in a basically normal and wholesome childhood or adolescent activity.

Second, if it's your discomfort or fear, deal with it. But don't make your child deal with your discomfort. That's just selfish.

Third, if it's the child's discomfort, talk with him or her and help them see that most worries never actually happen. Make them as familiar with the situation and the safety built into this opportunity and then let them know that, if it is just about being afraid, they need to go anyway . As the book says, "face your fear and do it anyway" and that is really the only way to growth.

(Keep in mind the categories above and, of course, never insist on anything truly dangerous.)

Relax parents. Most adults today survived a far less safety-oriented childhood. Most children in America today have an even better day-to-day chance of surviving than adults did. Think seatbelts for the Baby Boomers (not required and probably not present in most cars). Everybody owes it to children to make them ready to enter a challenging, tough world with the emotional, ethical, and intellectual tools they need. Hovering over them and doing for them is not the answer.