Note: A version of this column first appeared in The Olympian, April 25, 2007.
Once upon a time, before I had children, I was home awaiting a visit from a friend, who brought along her 8-month-old son. I hadn’t seen this friend in months and was glad for the chance to visit. But my excitement quickly turned into annoyance, for as we were talking, my friend kept interrupting our conversation to turn to her child, who was happily playing on his own, to call out “Hey, Bud!” or “Whatcha doin’, baby?” The baby would then turn toward his mom looking slightly alarmed.
Now that I have children, I recognize that interruption is a constant of parenthood (though it’s usually the child interrupting the parent). Still, I remember my friend’s explanation for why she was interrupting our conversation and her child’s play. She wanted to stimulate his brain to form as many synapses as possible, giving him a jump on life.
Science has proven that the first three years of a child’s life are critical for brain development. But science has not yet recognized the creature arising from this research: the Helicopter Parent – one who hovers over a child directing every activity, well beyond those first 3 years. As a parent, I recognize the temptation to give a child every advantage. I’ve also started to notice the comic side of that tendency.
How do you know if you’re a Helicopter Parent? To borrow a page from Jeff Foxworthy (since he’s busy with 5th graders), you might be a helicopter if you…
- Never put your infant down, even during nap time (yours or hers)
- Marvel at the contents of your child’s diaper while changing it
- Insist on walking your second-grader to the school crosswalk, which is just across your backyard
- Videotape all your child’s activities, including visits to other children’s birthday parties
- Never allow your 10-year-old to play at a friend’s house without being there to supervise
- Constantly use that computer connection that lets you monitor your child’s activities at junior high
- Fill out your child’s college applications
- Distribute your child’s resume at job fairs
- Consider it a privilege to do your adult child’s laundry
I’m not making these up. They are real-life examples from people I’ve met or heard about. Perhaps you recognize a dad or mom in this list. Perhaps you see me there. (Though my students stared at me wide-eyed when I described having my first-grader pack his own lunch for school.)
Most parents have the best intentions in guiding their children, and that’s what parenthood should be — guiding, not controlling. But some children of helicopters may end up thinking they’re the center of the world because that’s the position they’ve grown accustomed to. Others, given some free time, panic because freedom scares them. Some have told me they’re embarrassed by their parents’ actions. Others admit to rebelling against them. Perhaps the greatest danger is that these children might morph into helicopters themselves.
In those moments when I find myself preparing for take-off, I chant aloud the words of George Carlin: “Parents, leave your kids alone!” And if that doesn’t work, there’s always a chapter of Confessions of a Slacker Mom, by Muffy Mead-Ferro. It works for dads too.