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Helicopter Parents Heading for a Crash

Hovering over kids' lives isn't good for either child or parent.

by
Katherine Berry

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November 2, 2008 - 12:30 am
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With the school year well under way, helicopter parents are spinning into overdrive, hovering over their children and micro-managing their lives. But where did it come from, this belief that good parenting is synonymous with doing everything for one’s child? What makes so many otherwise sane and rational parents believe they need to confront a “mean” teacher to demand a better grade for their child? To rally against school bans on the cell phone they gave their kid so they could keep in touch throughout the day? To fill up a child’s schedule with piano lessons, soccer, football, Scouts, and additional tutoring, then spend their evenings chauffeuring them to each?

Part of it no doubt stems from the constant awareness that other parents are watching — and closely. Ever since Hillary Clinton bellowed “it takes a village to raise a child,” well-meaning parents have bought into the notion that they aren’t simply responsible for looking out for their own children’s well-being, but for that of others’ kids, too.

Did Johnny’s friend show up for a sleepover hungry and wearing dirty clothes? Perhaps it would be best to grill him ask if his parents are having marital or substance abuse problems that stand in their way of providing for their child. (Because surely it couldn’t be that the boy’s mother served salad for dinner, which he refused to eat, and objected to washing a special load of clothes after her son forgot to bring his hamper to the laundry room.) Why does Lakeisha have a cast on her arm so soon after getting off crutches from her sprained ankle? Sure, Lakeisha swears both injuries are from her Saturday soccer games, but perhaps someone ought to ask Child Services to look in on the family “just to be safe.”

Ever aware that someone else might be looking at one’s own kids and jumping to the worst possible conclusion, many parents have grown accustomed to thinking of child-rearing as a public performance. A parent who shrugs her shoulders when her child comes home with an F on a math exam — when he’s clearly capable of doing so much better — must not care , or so an outside observer might conclude. Even if Mom knows Joey was playing video games in his room when he should have been studying, and that living with an F is a good way for him to learn about the consequences of bad choices, she still worries what other people will think . Why deal with that kind of condemnation, or expose Joey to it, when it’s so easy to demand a retest and assume Joey learned his lesson already.

Part of the blame also lies with the school system. For years we’ve been hearing about the importance of parental involvement in a child’s education. Even the National Education Association urges parents to be involved not only in homework but within the classroom. After a decade of bombardment with statistics about kids falling through the cracks due to teacher shortages and crowded classrooms, good parenting has come to require ensuring one’s own child doesn’t get left behind. So is it truly that surprising when a parent, hearing that some involvement is good, assumes more involvement must be better?

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