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  • Baheya Sirry

Why steer clear of helicopter parenting?


helicopter parenting, over-protected, safetyism, paranoid parent
Helicopter parenting refers to parents who are over-involved in their kids' lives...
...hovering over them… like helicopters.

There are a few causes to this phenomenon:

  • To protect kids from harm

  • To control children’s every word and every move to match an image that parents have in mind

  • To try and control the “outcome”: “If my child does exactly this and that like I want, they will turn out to be exactly this AND that… like I want”.

First and foremost, I want to mention the strain that this kind of parenting will have on the parent-child relationship (the most important aspect of the parenting journey). As we all know by now, trying to control our kids is a very difficult (actually impossible), unnatural and exhausting task! So helicopter parents will tend to be much more anxious and stressed out. Now from the child's perspective, being under constant supervision from really tense parents can only increase their own stress and anxiety.


Having said that, let's dig into it!


Fear of crime and accidents


Most parents overprotect their kids because they are worried something harmful can happen to them. Who can blame them right? Picture your child getting hit by a car while riding their bike, falling off a tree, getting kidnapped or sexually abused. These are all a parent’s worst nightmare! This fear is understandable as every parent’s heart drops at the mention of a new abduction and we all carry in our soul the name of at least one missing child we have never met while remembering their poor parents.


So we protect and we over-protect. “No you can’t go to the store with your friends, no, you can’t walk to your friend’s house alone, no you can’t go to the park until I am free to accompany you etc. etc.”


Considering how scary a kidnapping or a collision with a car can be, you figure it’s just not worth the risk.


But is that the right approach?


Are we not running a much greater risk, a much more serious epidemic than the rare event of abduction or accident?


The truth is that “when we attempt to produce perfectly safe systems, we almost inevitably create new and unforeseen problems.”[1]

It is crucial to remember that you cannot as a parent guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen to your child (trust me, if there was a way, I would be all over it!) so we need to trust the world and teach our kids in an age-appropriate way how to be safe and independent.


Now as scary as a child abduction is, statistics point to a clear decrease in such crimes in the past years [1], (depending of course on where you live).


When we shelter entire generations of children, we are forgetting that we are depriving them of the sort of space, freedom and independence they need to develop a number of skills that are essential to their development. In childhood, simple experiences such as walking to school, climbing trees, arguing with friends, organizing play with groups of kids (unsupervised by adults), are priceless experiences that build character and knowledge and properly equip kids to tackle the adult world when they eventually get there. And contrary to popular belief, free-range kids do make it to adulthood mostly unharmed!


Helicopter parenting doesn’t allow children their most precious learning experience: Free play


Free-play, outdoor kids, free-range kids, nature play

A child constantly supervised and directed by adult words and adult gaze will not be given the opportunity to thrive on their own and gain confidence and self-esteem.


Kids playing together in groups at the park, children wondering through the streets of their neighbourhood getting oriented and gaining confidence about their ability to do so, understanding how the world works, what their limits are, what their zones of comfort and discomfort are—these are the experiences that help kids develop intrinsic and natural resilience. This… is all lost in the realm of helicopter parenting.


Were we still living in nature like our ancestors did, our offspring would not have been so overprotected and would have experienced very early on the natural environment they would eventually go off into on their own.


While we bombard our kids with activities, we take away their down time, precious time during which their childhood imagination is meant to run wild, their creativity should blossom and their curiosity about the world can flourish. Sadly, with minute-by-minute schedules filled up with expectations, competition and accomplishments, children never have time to wind down or learn to schedule their own interests. This can leave a child feel very distraught as they reach the actual age of independence and they have no adults there to tell them what to do.


As great as organized sports are, they don’t provide for children what play can.

When given the freedom to really engage in play, children learn to deal with ordinary problems and equip themselves with the problem-solving skills they need, through trial and error and interactions with peers.

Children learn to create rules and negotiate with other kids about these rules, they are actively involved in the social process learning how to interact with others. This in turn helps children develop a sense of inner flexibility that detaches them from the final outcome, as the vision they initially had can change and grow and redirect itself as they figure out how to work together and figure things out.[2] In sports however, the rules already exist so children essentially learn how to follow the rules and play within adult-predetermined boundaries. I am not against organized sports, in fact each of my three kids engage in at least one sporting activity per week, but children do not need more organized sports, what they need, is more un-organized free play (which does not include screens!).


helicopter parent, paranoid parenting, over-protecting

In summary, here is what helicopter parenting can do to your kids... and to an entire generation of over-controlled children:

  • Negatively impacts the parent-child relationship because of the added stress of this kind of parenting on the kids and the parents.

  • Decrease their resilience (you are always trying to protect them from harm so they don’t develop the skills to face difficult situations).

  • Kills their creativity (by being over-scheduled kids don’t have the free time to play, get bored and creative).

  • Harms their social skills (kids need free play with other kids to understand social interactions, not adult-led activities all the time).


References:


[1] The Coddling of the American Mind: How good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure. Gregg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt.

[2] Simplicity Parenting. Using the extraordinary power of less to raise calmer happier and more secure kids. Kim John Payne, M. ED and Lisa M. Ross.


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