Daily Archives: September 14, 2009

Mondays Column – Helicopter Parenting 14.09.09

“Kill him! Break his legs!  Kick his head in!  Smash his face!”

I was twelve years old, and as I lay on the ground listening to the woman on the sideline screaming this to her son who was doing his level best to hospitalise me, my mind raced back to the day my parents signed me up to play soccer, instead of rugby, because they didn’t want me exposed to the sort of thuggery I was currently experiencing. 

Eventually some of my team mates dragged her kid off me, while the ref frantically blew his whistle and the sideline boys waved their flags about wildly.   “Madam,” I said, getting to my feet and brushing the dust from my shirt, “please disport yourself in a more orderly manner, after all, ‘tis but a game.”  Actually, what came out of my mouth was, “Give it a rest you old bat!”  That was my first encounter with a Helicopter Parent.

Helicopter Parents are the well meaning folk who hover over their children, continuously advising and protecting their precious offspring through a megaphone.  And, thanks to sensationalised stories on tele every night, and the paranoia they inspire, the number of Helicopter Parents has reached epidemic proportions.      

While their little darlings are trying to grow up and learn how to make their way responsibly in the big, cruel world, Helicopter Parents seem unable to stop themselves from diving in and aggressively shielding them from potential harm or insult.  They have become the bane of many teachers, coaches, tutors, and instructors’ lives. 

These obsessed parents lashed their children into car safety capsules with the zeal of a storm bound sailor, only allowed them to play in parks covered with soft-fall materials, glued bike helmets to their heads, smothered them in sunscreen, and sent them off to schools where the dreaded cane had long been banned.  They rushed them to numerous sporting and lifestyle activities, but otherwise kept them locked safely indoors.  And even in their adulthood, Mum and Dad continued to fly in to rescue them from landlords, college professors, bosses, police, and in some cases, judges.

With the best of intentions Helicopter Parents sacrifice their time and energy in order to make smooth some of the rougher life passages for their children, but it has occurred to me that it might not hurt to leave the odd stumbling block on those pathways.  I read an email the other day about a scientist who was watching a butterfly struggling to emerge from its’ cocoon.  He grew distressed as the tiny creature struggled to fight its’ way out of its’ tight walled prison.  Picking up his scalpel, he carefully sliced a gap in the cocoon, allowing the little insect to flop out of its’ cage.  But when new born creature tried to lift its’ wings, the scientist was surprised to see that it was unable to do so.  The muscles it needed to fly are developed during the struggle from the cocoon, and his well meant interference had prevented those vital muscles from growing.            

We all want the best for our kids.  It’s nice to give them stuff we missed out on, and sure, there are a lot of dangers out there, but are we doing them any favours by being overprotective?  How will they learn to be responsible, to stand up for themselves, to develop the necessary skills to make the hard decisions and live with the consequences?  Who are Helicopter Parents really shielding, their children, or themselves?       

Look, I’d like to explore this topic further, but I’ve just spied the Littlest Princess riding her scooter on the driveway.  I’ll just pop out and tighten up her helmet straps, pop on her knee and elbow pads, sweep the concrete clear of any rocks, make sure she’s wearing enough sunscreen, and hang around til she’s ready to come back inside. 

I don’t know… kids today!

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