Sunday, September 13, 2009

Helicopter parents

There's a lot of talk these days about the way parents are too intrusive, or controlling, or dominant when it comes to running their kids' lives. We've all heard the prototypical examples:
- the dad that does the science project (or in California, builds the mission!)
- the parents who write the college essay
- the mom who confronts the teacher when the kid is in trouble ("I don't know why I did it... there was the bunson burner; there was a pony tail; it just seemed sorta natural...")

The label most often used, especially but not exclusively by colleges, is the Helicopter Parent.

As I've considered what many think is the opposite of my term "systemic abandonment," the helicopter parent is actually just displaying a form of abandonment. In my view, the kind of parents that hover to the point that they answer questions the kid should be answering is actually keeping the kid from learning how to discover and express who they are (Identity) and what kind of personal power, or sense of self, they are developing (Autonomy). I don't really think most of these folks are necessarily "helicopter parents," but rather are parents who, for the most part, deeply care for their children and therefore think they are acting in the best interest of the child as they are trying to help them. These parents (and, frankly, at times the rest of us) abandon their kid whenever we are not actively seeking to help them become the independent, individuated person they have been created and called to become. This is because the concept itself refers to any adult that is more concerned with their own perspective/agenda than the
developmental best of the kid.

And sometimes parents may be appearing to be "helicopter" when in fact they may be far more aware of any teacher, administrator, resident advisor or coach what is the best way to help an adolescent move into healthy adulthood. Whether or not parents slip into the hover mode is at base a difficult thing to really know. When any of us are critical of those parents who may seem to be over-the-top when it comes to their involvement with their child, it might be a good idea to step back and see if we might come alongside and be a source of support and help to the whole system. And when we are pretty sure we're right in our assesment of over-controlling parents (or any adult), then maybe our best next step is to be there for that child in the role we do have with them, and provide the authentic and supportive support they truly need. Maybe the helicopter will take note and settle down a bit and join in.

1 comment:

Kathy H said...

Thanks for showing both sides of the "helicopter parent" moniker. While it's obviously wrong for a parent to take on responsibilities that their child should be handling, sometimes it's necessary for the "helicopter" to come in and do a bit of rescuing, just as on the battlefield. Some of our schools are so big and our bureaucracies so cold that kids need parents to back them up to make sure they're treated fairly. Hopefully the kids learn these skills by example, but when they're young they sometimes need some extra help.