Do the Right Thing

Spirit, science, and health

In Defense of Helicopter Parents

Parents today have little choice but become helicopter parents

Helicopter parents get a bad rap. They are seen as over involved, controlling, and won't let their kids grow up or make any decisions on their own, right? But helicopter parenting is perhaps an unintended consequence of how our culture has evolved in recent years.

Helicopter parenting is defined as parents who hover over their child in such a way as to micromanage and overinvolve themselves in all aspects of their lives.

Helicopter parenting is typically associated with bad parenting, isn't it? I have been guilty myself of thinking poorly of helicopter parents who bubble wrap their kids, micro manage every detail of their lives, and do all that they can to give their kids a leg up on others. As a college professor here at Santa Clara University (but most especially as a former university department chair and academic dean) I have experienced parents contacting me about their child's school performance and conflicts at not only the undergraduate but even the graduate school level. Helicopter parents certainly get their share of bad press and distain.

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Yet upon further reflection, I have much more empathy for helicopter parents than I used to. Maybe this is because I have a teenage son at home in a public but high pressure high school. We now live in an educational environment and culture where parents are strongly encouraged to be highly involved with their children's school activities and performance from the get go. This starts in preschool and continues through elementary and secondary education. Furthermore, with so many schools struggling with budget cuts parents are asked to step up to the plate and help out with many school activities. This is especially true in extracurricular areas such as sports, music, and the arts. Given the increasing pressure to perform well on standardized tests due to legislation such as No Child Left Behind parents are called upon to micro manage their children's academic performance to ensure that they (and the schools) perform well.

So, it isn't suprising that parents continue to be highly engaged with their child's educational experiences even after they leave home. Add in the technology of cell phones and instant contact via social media, email, and the like, and it is no wonder that parents continue to hover over their child's life even after they leave home for college and beyond. It is amazing to think that when I was in college (during the late 1970's) the only way to contact parents or anyone else outside of the campus community was to write a letter and put it in the mailbox or perhaps use a single pay phone that was available typically one per dorm or at best, one per dorm floor. So, you'd have several dozens or even more in line to use a phone that you would pump quarters into for a few minutes of conversation. You can't micro manage someone's life with this type of communication now can you?  

So, I suggest that our culture has evolved in such a way as to encourage and even demand helicopter parenting. They get a bad rap for perhaps many behaviors that they really can't control. To parent in 2011 means having your helicopter pilot's license!

So, what do you think? Do helicopter parents get a bad rap? Do they have much of a choice in 2011?

 

Thomas Plante, PhD, ABPP, is the Augustin Cardinal Bea, SJ University Professor at Santa Clara University and Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University.

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