Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Helicopter Parenting

Charity Mid Winter Swim
Helicopter parenting! Have you heard the term? I am reluctant to write about this concept as I know it will sound righteous and possibly induce thoughts of,  ‘he thinks he knows it all’ and ‘he’s always on about this’!
Well, I don’t mean to sound righteous and I certainly don’t know it all but I have made plenty of mistakes as a parent and after a long teaching career, observed what works with regard to parenting and what doesn’t.

The term ‘helicopter parenting’ is about being overly involved in your children’s lives. That is, always ‘hovering’ and finding it difficult to allow your children to take age and stage appropriate risks and deal with life’s ups and downs without trying to ‘save’ them from life’s disappointments and challenges.

I have to acknowledge it is sometimes difficult to know when to stand back and when to step in to try and help your children. A classic example is when a child misses out on something which is competitively selected such as a school team. It is normal as a parent to deeply feel your child’s disappointment but rightly or wrongly, you have two choices at this stage.
Firstly to step in and allow your child to see you question the process or even suggest that s(he) is actually better than some of the children who won selection. In this case, if the child does eventually make the team, his/her self-esteem is likely to have been compromised with a prickle of doubt that (s)he is there on merit versus mum or dad’s persuasive skills.
The other choice is to take time to show your child that you understand his/her disappointment and sympathise accordingly but also encourage them not to give up, to keep trying hard to show the coaches that they are keen and capable so when an opportunity through sickness or injury comes about, they will be considered again.
In Time Magazine’s ‘Health and Family Matters’, Bonnie Rochman(*) wrote an article called, ‘Hover no more: Helicopter Parents May Breed Depression and Incompetence In Their Children’.
This article highlights that ‘helicopter parenting’ can be a problem even in young adults’ lives. Bonnie refers to a study in the Journal of Child and Family Studies which summarises the findings of a survey of  297 university age students. According to the study (and this supports my observations), the more parents cross the line and get too involved with their children, the more they risk stealing a child’s opportunity to reach their potential. On one hand we have to be a supportive mentor and model, yet know when to step back and when to step forward to offer advice and intervene. 
Holly Sciffrin, lead author of the study and an associate professor of psychology at the University of Mary Washington, is quoted as saying, “Parents are sending an unintentional message to their children that they are not competent. When adult children don’t get to practice problem-solving skills, they can’t solve these problems in the future.”
 “These parents have the best intentions,” says Schiffrin. “They are being involved to help their child be successful. But as we know from the previous study, that high level of involvement is stressful for parents and it is not benefiting the kids. It’s actually harming them.”
Parenting is such a tough job and at times can be very confusing to know what to do. It is so often a fine line we walk. Some of the best parenting advice I have seen is from D.A. Hutcheson, Head of Nightingale-Bamford School in NY city. She said,
“Life can often be a struggle, and mostly we don’t enjoy that struggle. Yet life would be dull without it. As a parent myself, I don’t like seeing my children struggle but it is in that struggle where children learn the most. Really, as much as possible we should let our children negotiate the bumps and ups and downs of school themselves, rather than sweeping in to negotiate it all for them. That’s the best gift we can give our children----so when we are not around, they can be successful on their own.” 
Sound advice in my view!

* Bonnie Rochman writes about pregnancy, fertility, parenting — the ups and downs of being    a kid and having one — for TIME.



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