I’m thrilled to introduce the next installment of our Parenting Around The World series! This week, we’re discussing American education, academic pressure, and competition. And be sure to check out the other posts in this Carnival:
Sarah from Left Brain Buddha: “CTFD: The Tao of Parenting“
Stephanie from Mommy, For Real: “Advocating For Your Kids Vs. Being a Helicopter Parent“
Deb from Urban Moo Cow: “I Would Rather He Break His Arm“
And this time we’re also excited to welcome the fabulous Carisa Miller from Do You Read Me? “Giving My Children More Space”
When I first thought about becoming a parent, I thought that I had learned a few things from my years of teaching that would serve me well as a mom: The best children’s literature authors. The way to talk to teachers (as a parent) without annoying or overburdening them. The way to be involved in my child’s education and development that would not be anything like “hover-parenting,” but would be appropriately caring and involved.
I wanted to take the best of both worlds of the two dichotomies of parenting styles: “intensive” or “hover-parenting” and the more hands-off, risk-encouraging form of parenting that I grew up with.
As I read Christine Gross-Loh’s chapter from Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us for this week’s Around The World Parenting Blog Carnival, I realized again how difficult of a task this balance is. I was not surprised by the take-away message of her chapter — we aren’t helping our kids by micromanaging their lives — but I was, as always, impressed by the case that she makes about cultural differences.
“We do not do our children any favors when we do their homework for them, mediate their friends, and hover too close to them as they play. If we want them to be independent, we also have to trust them, let them make mistakes, and realize it’s okay for them to skin their knees. We want to pave our children’s way, but there are some things that simply can’t teach them and that they’ll learn for themselves, through experience.”
Yet again I realize that I’m not successful as this type of balanced parent. I just spent the weekend “hover-parenting” while on vacation with my son. (And this — because I’m just stepping back in the door right now from being out of town on vacation — is why I’m partially re-posting one of the first pieces that I wrote as a blogger.) Especially away from home, and away from the familiar routines of home and everyday life, I wonder if it’s even possible to find the balance between letting my risk-taking toddler son negotiate his own freedom and making sure that he doesn’t take too much risk. As I was chasing him around the beach, I wondered when you let go as a parent.
Because I certainly — as the parent of a two year old boy — certainly haven’t gotten there yet, and it’s exhausting for both of us.
And here’s my summary of a related study that I read this winter and found fascinating that I thought was a great companion piece to this chapter:
Not all “helicopter” parents are the same. Yes, the term has become synonymous with parents who overmanage, spoil, or “hover” over their children to prevent them from facing any hardship or setback. But a recent Australian study suggests that there are subtypes of helicopter parents.
Does categorizing parents really make a difference? Well, these parenting researchers who are worried about the effects of the influence of overparenting on schools and in the culture at large say that recognizing your parenting style is the first step in figuring out the appropriate level of involvement that is best for your child.
Answer “true” or “false” to the following statements:
1.___ I want my child to feel like she’s my best friend.
2.___ When my child has a conflict with another child or an adult, I usually find that my child is right.
3.___ I get nervous when I’m not in constant contact with my child.
4.___ If my child were having trouble with a new seating arrangement in his class, I would ask the teacher to move my child to another seat.
5.___ I have found that most of my child’s teachers’ discipline policies were not appropriate for my child’s temperament.
6.___My child generally needs extra help from me or another adult with his homework because of his learning style.
7.___ I have found that my child gets bored or anxious with lots of free time.
8. ___ It’s difficult to find time in my personal schedule for my own outside interests or friends because my child’s schedule is so full.
9. ___ My child is gifted in many areas, and I spend a lot of time making sure that his special needs are met.
Your helicopter parenting style could be classified as:
- Overly responsive to your child, if you answered true to Questions 1,2, or 3.
- Overly low demands on your child, if you answered true to Questions 4, 5, or 6.
- Overly high and overscheduled expectations for your child, if you answered true to Questions 7, 8, or 9.
Now, obviously, your child could really be gifted or have a genuine learning disability (or any number of unique circumstances) that necessitate a high degree of parental involvement. Or, as psychologist Madeline Levine suggests in Teach Your Children Well: Why Values and Coping Skills Matter More Than Grades, Trophies, or “Fat Envelopes” the norms for parenting could have so changed that we don’t even recognize that we ourselves could be helicopter parents. She argues that just because your child isn’t overscheduled or you aren’t parenting out of a need for your child to obtain riches or material success, this doesn’t mean that you aren’t a different sort of helicopter parent.
According to the Slate article, “We Are All Helicopter Parents,” we may think our parenting style is normal because everyone around us is doing it.
The belief that we can control our children on a very high level and somehow program or train or condition them for a successful life however we define it is extremely prevalent and takes many forms. Do you not allow your children to watch television? Do you allow them any time on the Internet unsupervised? Are you keeping very close track of what they eat? Do you get a little too involved in homework? Do you barely ever hire baby sitters at night? I know parents who think of themselves as very unhelicoptery but who are just helicoptering in different ways. As Levine points out, “It’s possible to feel that things are ‘normal’ when it seems that everyone around you shares a similar belief.”
And the Australian study — published in the Australian Journal of Guidance and Counseling — confirms that helicoptering parenting’s prevalence is widespread, at least among the middle and upper class. The study consisted of an online survey of 128 parenting professionals — teachers, psychologists, counselors. Nearly 65% could describe behavioral examples of overparenting that they have witnessed. These descriptions ranged from confronting other parents when a child is not invited to a birthday party, cutting up food for a 10 year old, bringing special plates of food for a picky adolescent eater to a party, and sending middle schoolers to special camps because they are unable to dress themselves. Only 8% of the professionals said that they could not name cite examples of helicopter parenting from their own experience.
From my own teaching and educational career, I could cite lots of other wild examples. A parent who was found digging through the trash in my classroom because she wanted to read any notes that other classmates were writing about her daughter. Another who would e-mail me suggested seating chart diagrams for each of her daughter’s classes all day so that she could interact directly with only the students with whom she worked best. Parents that I found hiding in the bushes of the school yard, recording observations of their child at recess and the other children’s behavior.
As the lead researcher of the study and Queensland University of Technology professor, Judith Locke, states, more effort at parenting does not necessarily result in a happier, more successful kid. In fact, helicopter parents may be increasingly creating children who are unable to deal with failure and have insufficient coping skills for life outside their homes and families.
Will today’s children miss developmental milestones — being able to walk home from school or crossing the street by herself — that kids of past decades met at much younger ages? A parenting book about six year olds from 1979 suggested that one milestone that should be reached before a child is ready for first grade is being able to walk or travel alone through his or her own neighborhood. Will today’s children be less resilient, more anxious, less responsible, and more entitled?
From my own observations as a teacher, parent, and researcher, I think that we are actually a generation of involved, caring, and loving parents. We truly want what’s best for our kids. What if all of us — and, again, I’m talking about those of us prone to overparenting, since we have a whole other societal problem of children, as Paul Tough has written about, who face too much adversity — try to do less? What if — when our child faces a problem, large or small — our first reaction is to listen and to step back?
An Australian article discusses the effectiveness of simple parenting workshops to attempt to curb the trend of overparenting. And some have seemed to work. Parents of young grade school children were reminded that their children should be able to take independent risks and were convinced that less intervention by parents would result in more confident children.
How do you make sure that your child develops coping skills to become an independent learner and thinker?