When it comes to issues involving parenting, we can almost always count on offending somebody. Still, I would like to address the fairly recent and popular philosophy of “helicopter parenting.”
Heard of this? Helicopter parents are those who consciously “hover” over their children and closely monitor pretty much everything they do, from academics and social interactions to extracurricular activities.
When first hearing this term, many of us are probably thinking it is normal for parents to supervise their children and too many kids are not supervised enough.
While I agree whole heartedly about being actively involved in the lives of children, there is something a little sad that kids today don’t experience that feeling of independence and accomplishment from doing things without parental supervision.
Hearken back to a generation or so ago, and parenting looked much different than it does today. I had loving parents. They were good people who would have done anything for their three sons and daughter.
We lived up North for part of my childhood, in a smallish town in New Jersey, about an hour from New York City. I was young, but I have wonderful memories of walking to and from school, the park, the local pool and the homes of my friends. Many times, I was alone or with my brother, who was two years older than me.
Once, our church had a big yard sale. My brother Billy and I heard that those who couldn’t afford to buy items were welcome to take them home anyway.
We could hardly believe our luck, since neither one of us had any money. On the day of the sale, we happily took our red wagon to town to see what the yard sale had to offer.
For 5- and 7-year-olds, there were many boring items — dishes, pots and pans, clothes and the like. There also were a few toys, which we quickly loaded into our wagon.
After discussing the other “stuff,” we settled on some dishes and pans for “cooking” things in our back yard treehouse. I can only imagine what the church people were thinking seeing us loading up our wagon and happily hauling off everything without paying!
When we got home, we went about the task of unloading our stash. That caught the attention of our mother, who could see us from the kitchen window. She asked us where we got all of the stuff and we told her about the awesome free-for-all stuff at church.
Of course, she was mortified. We were worried she would make us return it all. But honestly, I think she was too embarrassed to go face the other parishioners.
As for us, we learned that the free stuff was only for those who were poor. Even though we had no money, our family was not in that category.
I don’t remember my father ever addressing our unintentional shoplifting, but my guess is he had a good chuckle over our innocent crime spree.
We also went trick or treating without parental supervision. There were always a few parents out in the neighborhood (no doubt future helicopter parents), but mine were not among them.
When we moved to the Deep South, despite the culture shock, we still enjoyed childhoods largely free to experience many “parentless” adventures.
I roamed the woods behind our house, sometimes with Billy, but often alone. There was a lovely creek where we sailed the little boats we had built using my dad’s tools (but not the electric saw, that was off limits).
Once we decided to follow the creek to the end and discovered a beautiful swimming hole of sorts. I am quite sure my mother never knew about that place. We didn’t lie about it exactly, we just never mentioned it.
There is something a bit sad about raising children in the suburbs. Although I don’t think I was a true helicopter parent, our children were almost always in sight.
When they played outside, even in our backyard, I was there for the most part. Of course, if they were outside riding bikes, I was there. Even when we went to a restaurant with a playground, if I couldn’t see them, I would begin to panic.
And yes, I did climb up in the tunnels a few times to retrieve a child or at least make sure they were OK.
Over the years, I spoke with many teachers who said while they were grateful for helpful parents, some took their involvement to the extreme.
Coming from a long line of educators, I drew the line at one thing. I always told all of our four children from the beginning that I would side with their teachers.
Luckily, raising children in Forsyth County meant we had fantastic teachers. They always balanced their teaching with genuine concern for our kids.
Of course, there are always going to be extreme examples, but I think for the most part helicopter parents are just trying to be the best parents they can.
My only advice to young parents may be to just remember that children, like parents, are not perfect. Many times, parents overload their kid with too many activities and too high expectations.
Don’t forget to enjoy the children and make sure they have down time to relax and just be kids.
Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.