If you’re a helicopter parent, you’ve taken a bit of a beating lately. Your ever-present parenting style has come under fire, from college deans to corporate recruiters, and seemingly, everyone in between. They’re telling us that we’re doing too much, and screwing up our kids with all of our hovering. What, oh what, is a loving parent to do?
According to Parents.com, helicopter parenting is loosely defined as “doing tasks the child is capable of doing alone.” For example, doing your child’s homework, having conversations with adults – such as teachers or coaches – that they could manage on their own, or selecting their friends and social activities, versus allowing them to make decisions. You’ll probably be surprised to learn that this is not the first generation whose lives have been so closely supervised, and orchestrated. In fact, the term has been around since 1969, when a group of teenagers told Dr. Haim Ginnott, that their parents “hover over them like a helicopter.” Seems like those of us being accused of overparenting, were in fact, raised much the same way.
I vacillate back and forth on this issue. As a parent, I understand the delicate balance of wanting to protect our children from all the bad things in the world, and from making bad choices, while also allowing them to assert their own free will. However, as a corporate trainer, I also see the end result of us doing too much. Children who’ve had virtually every decision made for them, or been trained to check in with their parents on every detail of their life, are left with a compulsive need to please, and be perfect. They haven’t developed confidence in their own ability to make wise choices, and feel compelled to get parental (or the boss’) perspective on everything, before moving forward. Which may be fine for us parents, who desperately want to remain an integral part of our children’s lives forever. But at work, it can become a nightmare, because managers simply don’t have time to coddle our children.
And it’s for that reason alone that I’ve decided to weigh in on this helicopter parenting issue. Because you see, things have changed. Those training programs that many of us went through on our first job? They are, for the most part, gone. Our kids are expected to be able to hit the ground running, often with very little guidance or supervision. Why? Because their manager is overworked and stretched too thin.
When thousands of people were laid off during the last recession, many were never rehired when the economy began to recover. So now managers have fewer people, sometimes doing more work, leaving less time for things like training. Fair or unfair, that’s how it is, and our children’s success – or lack thereof – is heavily dependent on their ability to research, reason, and figure things out for themselves.
So how do we foster that ability in our children? Can we be both protective and proactive in encouraging them to think and make good decisions for themselves? Of course we can! But we’re going to have to ease up off the hovering just a wee bit, and allow life to happen without our constant intervention.
Below are three practical ideas on how to protect, while also provide space for growth. These are from my own experience as a parent, which by no means was perfect, but since my child is in his 20’s and relatively successful – as defined by being happy, healthy, and in his right mind – most of the time, while also boldly, and unapologetically, living the life of his dreams, there might be a nugget or two of wisdom in our experience. So in that spirit, here are my suggestions on how to embody the positive helicopter spirit of being there, without handicapping our children:
- Stop doing all the thinking. We raise our children to come to us with any problem they have, and we’ll figure it out together. Unfortunately, what that usually means is they bring us a problem, we reason it out, and offer them a viable solution. Let’s adjust our approach. Instead of us giving them solutions, let’s let them lay out their concerns, and then ask – what can we do to solve the problem? Then STOP TALKING. Be patient. Let them think, and offer up suggestions. It’s frustrating at first, for both of you. But the more you do it, the more conditioned they become to think things through, to reason, and make wise decisions. Affirm their ability to figure things out, finding answers from somewhere other than our minds, and they’ll be better prepared as adults to be participants in decision-making, rather than observers of the process.
- Start giving them freedom, with boundaries. When my son was a preteen, I started allowing him to buy his own clothes. I didn’t supervise or tell him what to get. Instead, I said this – This is your budget for school clothes. Whatever you purchase, is what you’ll wear. If you spend all your money on sneakers, I’m not buying you any more clothes. Nor am I giving you more money. This is it son. Choose wisely. Guess what happened? He let go of his fantasy of $200 sneakers and polo, and learned how to budget, because he didn’t want to wear the same thing over and over, and he knew I was serious when I said “no more money.” You see, most of life is multiple choice. The key to success is learning which choice to make, based on our own priorities and circumstances. But so often, we don’t let our children choose. Or we make the confines so narrow the choice is obvious. Or worse still, we don’t let them suffer any consequences for poor choices, even if the consequences are not really suffering. Let’s ease up a bit. Establish boundaries, so they can practice making wise choices while they’re home with you. That way they can be confident in their ability to choose, when they leave the nest.
- Change the conversation, and the celebration. Our natural proclivity is to celebrate the accomplishments of our children. What did you do today? What grade did you get? How many points did you score? See what I mean? Our whole conversation is about what they’ve done. Rarely do we stop and ask, what do you think? And if we do, we certainly don’t actively listen to the answer. Because it’s far easier to integrate our children into our “check off the to-do list” lives, than it is to listen to the inner workings of their mind. But if we change the conversation just a bit, we can affirm the value we place on their thoughts and ideas, as well as their accomplishments. Here’s a practical example: In high school, my son was junior class president. When he found out that the bottom 10% of his class would likely not graduate, he had this cool idea for the students in the top 10% to adopt those at the bottom. I thought it was a wonderful notion, but his advisor said forget about it. She said it’s too late to intervene, and that no matter what he did, the bottom 10% weren’t going to graduate. He came home so disappointed, and defeated. But I told him just because his idea didn’t work there, didn’t mean it wasn’t good. Perhaps it was meant to be implemented in another time and place. So he went back to the drawing board, and came up with another idea, targeting younger children, helping them become better readers. You see what happens when we affirm their ideas, and they learn to figure it out on their own? Yes, I could have taken over, and gone up to the school to “chat” with his advisor, which believe me, I considered doing. But had I, I would have stopped his creative process. He would have missed the lessons from his own journey, and missed out on the joy of discovering fresh ideas from failure. Changing the conversation, prepares them, for changing the world.
So what do you think? Agree or disagree? Any parenting advice you’d offer? Please share in the comments below, so we can all learn and grow together.
Hugs and Love ❤