There are so many stories in the news about how helicopter parenting hurts kids. Comics make fun of it. Stories constantly warn about the dangers of it. It may cause a “psychological blowback” in College. It may cause depression in kids.
Here’s the thing: what about the helicopter parents themselves? All of these stories make it seem like these parents all could behave differently but instead have chosen to hover over their children and turn them into incapable adults. I think we are blaming the victim because as a mother who, despite trying not to, definitely hovers, it’s not good for me either and not entirely my fault.
The world of parenting and school is now set up for an expectation of some type of hovering. Blame, in part, technology. Now that new technology is available and widely marketed, it’s hard to avoid hovering. I have a friend who has been watching a video camera of her infant at day care from the time she began attending. Preschools provide daily reports and pictures via social media of what your child is doing all day long. Elementary schools require parents to sign homework daily to prove they have reviewed the work. Middle schools offer online computer accounts detailing your child’s progress so you can see that they didn’t do the last two homework assignments before the quarterly report card is posted. When I was a kid, the report card grade was generally a surprise for the parent (and oftentimes the child).
Many would say these are fine developments. Parents don’t have to be at work all day worrying about their baby; they conveniently can watch her. Parents can follow the daily progress of their child. However, we as a society haven’t decided what to do about the “then what.” What happens when you are watching the daycare cam and you see another child steal away your child’s rice cake right from her hands, but no one else noticed. Then what? Should you just ignore the crime, or should you sound like the “crazy parent” at pick-up? It’s one thing for daycares to have cameras; it’s entirely another to admit you watch them.
Regarding the parental portals that allow parents to watch a child’s progress online, it’s almost impossible not to log on to see how your kid did on a test before they get home from school. I’ve talked to many a mom or dad who has told me (s)he has to feign surprise at the child’s test score because it was posted hours earlier online. But what about when you discover your child is missing too many homework assignments? Then what? Do you allow your child to fail the class in a high-stakes environment, where one bad grade may determine your child’s future? Or do you hover and make sure your child gets their homework done?
These days, parents are encouraged to talk to their children more. When I was a kid, my mom never read an article advising how to get your child talking about what happened at school. Generally, unless there was a disaster, what happened at school stayed at school. But now that I’m talking to my kids, nobody tells you what to do once you’ve opened that Pandora’s Box of knowledge. I know a mother (and quite frankly, it is usually the mother and not the dad who is blamed as the hovering parent) who gets involved in her daughter’s social life and is seen as horrible overly invested and perhaps even psychologically dysfunctional. I’m telling you, though, there’s a slippery slope once you have opened the door of conversation. Once you know about the mean girl making your daughter feel left out, you can’t unknow this information. Then what?
Helicopter parenting is a result of many different cultural shifts happening at the same time. I don’t think it’s productive to blame the parent completely. Helicopter parents don’t need your anger; they need your pity. So, as a fellow reluctant helicopter parent, let me just say to all of you: I feel your pain (Really, I do: this last project of turning a pumpkin into a globe caused a cut on my finger).
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