For our first entry I want to try to shed some light on a topic you may have heard a bit about these days and that is Helicopter Parenting. The term, believe it or not, was first coined in 1969 by Dr. Haim Ginott in his book Between Parents & Teenagers when he described how kids then described their parents hovering over them like helicopters. I’ve also heard similar terms like ‘snow plough’ or ‘lawn mower’ to describe mostly good intentioned parents who take too much responsibility for making sure their children’s negative experiences are minimized, especially their failures or disappointments.
Typically this occurs in parents of high school and university age kids, but more and more we are seeing it in parents of children much younger. I remember as a young parent watching my oldest daughter behind the two way glass at preschool, hoping she would make friends quickly. Feeling fearful she might not and as a result that she could experience some form of rejection that would cause irreparable harm (of course my own childhood issues had nothing to do with this!!) I remember questioning her a number of times about making friends, only to be met with a somewhat puzzled look as she shrugged and said something like; “I don’t daddy, but I really like snack time.
The consequence of a helicopter parents in the life of a child who becomes an adult are becoming more and more apparent in our society. As a counsellor who works at times with teens and those in university and college, I have seen a significant increase in the incidences of anxiety, low self-esteem and depression. Much of this is influenced, I believe by parents, again with the best of intentions, who have removed a lot of the necessary, negative experiences that children need to face in order to grow and develop emotionally and physically. As parents often say to me “I just want them to be happy”. It is difficult to watch our children suffer pain and disappointment and we will identify with them at one time or another from our own experiences growing up. For some of us we want our kids to experience a more loving parenting experience then we had, with perhaps more opportunities or less rejection and this is an acceptable goal, within reason.
However, in the same way exposure to germs helps to boost their immune system, exposure to failure, pain and disappointment helps them to develop, problem solving, self-responsibility, a work ethic, compassion, empathy and other critical life skills that will make the challenges of adult life a little less daunting. If your child fails you can ask questions that draw out their feelings and help them develop their emotional intelligence. In that time they can discuss where they could possibly have given more effort or accept that their best effort just didn’t get them the gold medal but they can still be happy in their efforts and the other team’s success. You can also use losses as a teachable time to work together with them to develop strategies to perhaps achieve more next time all the while letting them know you are in their corner cheering them on.
No the teacher, coach or other parent is not always right or not always wrong. ‘Back in the day’ parents usually sided with the person in authority. Today, too often it has gone to the other extreme. Children need to know that they have a voice but sometimes they need to own their mistakes and take responsibility for their action. Again, get the balance and you will allow the pendulum to stop in the middle. Be aware of your own biases and try to not let them influence your perspective too much. Kids are stronger than we think and honest hard work, responsibility and struggle will go a long way in their development. Let them face the consequences for their actions and walk with them through it, using the experiences as a teachable moments.
Children are a gift from God and raising them is an awesome and at times frightening responsibility. Making some small but significant changes in our approach can go a long way to reducing their stress and anxiety and other related struggles, as they move on from our care.