In defense of helicopter parenting

April 23, 2008|By Halaine S. Steinberg

A parent seeking help and advice should probably steer clear of the local bookstore, library or newsstand. Everything - from our failure to let our children go to our inability to tell them no - has been analyzed, dissected and discussed by supposed experts in both the media and academia.

The result? The birth of the "helicopter parent," defined, classified and ultimately reviled to such an extent that no one in his right mind would admit to being one.

As a veteran teacher and student adviser, I have often sat front row and center while some visiting expert expounded upon the devastating results and consequences of helicopter parenting. And after more of these programs and talks than I care to count, I have come to the following conclusion:

Enough already.

Enough of labeling as "difficult" the father who calls a teacher to ask why his son failed the biology final. Enough of patronizing the mother who intervenes when her daughter is victimized by the "mean girls" in her class. Enough of rolling eyes at the parents who spend time researching the colleges for which they foot the bill.

I have come to this conclusion because not only am I an educator, but I am the parent of 18-year-old twins and a 20-year-old. I confess that I, too, have asked for conferences to discuss failing test grades, initiated discussions about mean girl behavior, and researched enough colleges to write my own guidebook.

I suppose that makes me a helicopter parent. And I suppose, as an educator, I should know better.

But here's the rub: Over the years, I have also known plenty of professionals who roundly criticize parents who are conspicuously absent, either physically or emotionally. These parents' helicopters not only fail to hover, but fly them off to work, meetings, lunch dates, dinners out and weekends away from their children. Those professionals among us who know better are quick to point out that the ensuing vacant airspace is likely to be filled with mischief from a kid with too much time and too little supervision.

In fact, if we hear that a teenager is even considering hosting or attending a house party, we insist that the helicopter make ready for landing, blades revolving in a frenzy of parental directions, stipulations and boundaries. Do you have a teenager with a new driver's license? We invite you to fly your helicopter low, following behind the car if possible. And if we find out a young person may be experimenting with sex, drugs or alcohol, we welcome helicopter parents to morph into the even more extreme "lawnmower parents," who will go as far as to steamroll over their children in pursuit of their safety and well-being.

The schools, the experts, the media, the village that it takes to raise our children demand that parents step up - and, at the same time, caution us to back off. It's a tough balancing act for even the most adroit among us.

Certainly, helicopter parents have the potential to be intrusive and annoying. But, hey, at least we are there. We are the ones who sell the gift wrap, bake the brownies, set up the after-prom party, chaperon the dances, drive the carpools and keep score at the Little League games. We are the class mothers, the coaches, the field trip contacts, the emergency phone tree heads and the teacher appreciation luncheon organizers. We know how to be there when the school needs our contribution, and we deserve to be welcomed when we need the school to hear our voices.

At one colleague's school, even the offer of a free dinner could not entice parents to attend a PTA meeting. The teachers there would eagerly trade their long-distance parent relationships for a few helicopters hovering on the horizon.

We are not asking for dinner, just a little conversation.

Halaine S. Steinberg lives in Owings Mills. Her e-mail address is hsstnbrg@aol.com.

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