Thursday, July 31, 2008
Are You a Helicopter Parent?
I received the following inquiry after one of our initial blogs:
I am a Mom of a boy who is 3 ½ and a daughter who just turned 2. I have a recent struggle in my parenting in that I think that I might be doing my kids a great disservice by playing and interacting with them so much. I just love to play with them - that's what I do to engage them. I have been a day camp counselor, ski instructor, led teenage mountain bike trips, etc. So, when I finally had my own kids, I wanted to really be present with them and spend quality time with them. For example, I once told my husband that I saw another Mom bring a book to the park and just sit and read, or that I see other Moms chat and leave their kids to do their own thing. I am always the Mom running around the playground chasing all the kids or playing games with them. My concern is that my kids are so attached to me that they rarely (if ever) leave my side and always want me to play with them.
Wow, what a hot button question for a parent. Wikipedia defines this type of parental behavior as a that of a helicopter parent. Constantly hovering above their child to make sure they are behaving appropriately or are protected from all of the world's dangers and that everyone plays fair or has a equal chance to participate in every activity. In a previous blog, I talked about parents who give their children too many choices. Now we can talk about letting your kids practice new play or communication skills or even to fall down or fail at something. What do I mean fail? Well let's start by saying we need to teach them how to create their own skills, how to play with others, or how to learn how to lose ..... on the playground or in competition.
We have parents call us to discuss our summer sports camps and they inquire if we play competitive games. We answer with enthusiasm, "You Bet!" We believe in healthy competition. It teaches athletes how to win and how to lose. Don't tell anybody, but at camp, the most popular game is dodgeball, a game where you get hit by a flying object and have to sit out until one team wins.
Many parents today are trying to over-structure and control the world in which their child will be operating. I recently received a phone call from a gentleman who introduced himself and said he was calling for his son who had recently graduated from high school and was working this summer at a local city pool as a lifeguard. His son is going to be attending a local junior college and dad (yes, dad!) wanted to know if we were hiring for our winter teaching staff. My first reaction was to tell dad to have his son call me and we would begin the conversation. I realize this young man may be an excellent lifeguard and swim instructor, and just because his dad is hovering and will not let the parent strings detach, I shouldn't hold it against the young man. Are you that dad or mother?
At seventeen years of age, I left home for a college 600 miles away that I had only seen in pictures. I spoke to my parents once a week from the hallway pay phone and began to experience life on my own, far away from the protection of my parent's household. Did I make some mistakes? Certainly, but those experiences helped me to learn and grow and make better decisions. I don't tell my kids, nor did I tell my parents until many years later, that I hitch-hiked from college to Ft. Lauderdale some eleven hundred miles in January of my sophomore year for spring break.
Honestly, I'm not sure that you are the textbook helicopter parent, but I would encourage you to let the reins go and let your kids interact with others and on their own. Let your kids learn how to negotiate with a more aggressive child who is dominating the playground or swing set. Let them play with the other kids while you sit back and chat with the other moms, or become one of those moms who catches up on her reading while her kids play. If your kids fall down - let them get up. If they look at you - give them a thumbs up and go back to reading your book, or just hold the other parent down and say "he'll be fine."
And if you need a recommendation for a good book to read while sitting on a park bench, I've got my recommended reading list coming in a future blog, so keep checking back.