Nobody wants to be that parent – the one who won’t let you hold their baby for more than 30 seconds, who can’t seem to talk about anything other than their children, and who seems to be in a constant state of anxiety as to their five-year old’s whereabouts and current activity and state of health and future career prospects.
Problem is, the person described is a portrait of way too many parents today (albeit perhaps not to that extreme). In the last week alone, I’ve seen at least three articles on the trend. Parents are devoting more hours a week to child care than paid work or housework. Less than 10% of kids walk or bike to school, even though this was normal in the 1950s when dying by the age of five was five times more likely. And mums are being arrested for allowing their kids to play in the park alone – sure, I get that this can be dangerous, but jail time? Really?
Protecting your child is all well and good but like with anything, getting extreme about it is dangerous. And the best way to combat a potentially problematic trend? Gain a better understanding of it. So here are what I think are five reasons for, and five results of, helicopter parenting:
Five reasons for helicopter parenting
Social factors: First of all, we have more time – labour-saving devices such as washing machines and quick meals mean that the average American couple has eight more hours a week to fret over their children. And secondly, we have more awareness of possible dangers – it’s not necessarily a more hazardous world than in the past, but the quantity and promptness of media that we have access to could certainly make it feel that way.
Education and career: People tend to equate success and happiness with material wealth these days, so it’s only natural that they want their kids to enjoy a prosperous life – and a good education will lead the young ones to better, higher-paid occupations. Hence the extra study time, tutoring and carefully-picked extracurricular activities.
Wanting to give their kids what they didn’t have: Our parents probably had a very different upbringing from ours, where they didn’t always get what they wanted. But this desire to give their kids a better quality of life sometimes goes too far and ends up spoiling them.
Not being demanding: As a culture, we’ve become soft. And as a result, we don’t want to make life uncomfortable for our kids by demanding of them, even though this is actually so beneficial for their character and future happiness. Therefore, we end up doing everything for them.
The expectations of other parents and society: It’s sad but true – we are so easily motivated to do things because of what others will think of us, and people are always quick to judge others when it comes to parenting skills. Case in point: the aforementioned case of a mother being arrested for letting her seven-year old walk alone to the park. What is not considered good parenting could have been defined as overprotective in the past.
Five ways that helicopter parenting is damaging to kids
Lack of immunity: Let’s start with the basics. Cleanliness is a great thing. It’s next to Godliness in fact, as the saying goes. I just clarified with my sister (she’s about to graduate from medicine), and things like rolling in the mud and climbing trees are part of a crucial stage of development. According to the Hygiene Hypothesis, these give a child’s immunity the chance to be strengthened and to avoid allergies in the future. Constant hand sanitiser isn’t necessarily doing as much good as you think…
Lack of independence, increase in fear: This one’s pretty obvious. If you’re not allowing kids to do anything for themselves, they’re never going to develop a sense of independence. “Who cares?” you say. Well they will, when they get out into the big wide world, everything seems scary, and you’re not there to guide them step by step. These are the types of people who’ll find it hard to take a risk and go for the better job, who’ll hesitate to travel and experience new things abroad, and who might still be at home on their parents’ couch at the age of 42. Just saying.
They’ll be soft on themselves: By constantly hovering around your kids and making all decisions for them, they are going to become soft. They won’t know how to work hard, how to get out of their comfort zone, how to give of themselves to others, and how to deal with small or large problems. And it’s hard to employ, be friends with, or date someone that fits that description.
Encourages consumerism: Constantly monitoring your kids limits how they can spend their time. Garden playing could get them messy, their friend’s place seems so far away, and who knows what they’ll do if they’re making up their own games! Solution? Keep them quiet and where you can see them, which usually ends up meaning entertaining them with technology.
Don’t know how to think for themselves: Teaching your child to think for themselves is so important. How else will they come to know what they believe and stick to it, as well as not follow the crowd – both crucial for a satisfying life? Helicopter parenting doesn’t really encourage this, but rather lays down the law for how life is and then hovers around to make sure it stays that way.
At the end of the day, we have to be understanding – helicopter parenting generally comes from a place of love, which wants the best for the children concerned. But it should also be noted that love is not always about protecting someone to the point of never leaving their side and making every decision for them. When it comes to kids, it’s about teaching them life lessons and then putting your confidence in them, giving them the chance to make mistakes that they can learn from, and trusting that they’ll grow up to do the right thing.