Mr. Zafar, a concerned father of a three-year-old, has arrived at his office, completely distressed. His daughter was not admitted into a prestigious preschool. His wife has already filed a complaint at the institution where the toddler underwent a six-month-long programme supposed to prepare her for the pre-school admission test.
Mr. Hassan, Mr. Zafar’s colleague, has other worries on his mind. His teenage son is bluntly refusing to work with the chemistry teacher, whom they have hired for tutoring him in late evenings. He is also not interested in Mr. Hassan’s proposed extra-curricular activities, which would look so good on his resume for college application.
Although the scenarios of Mr. Zafar and Mr. Hassan are to be taken with a good dose of humour, many parents nowadays find themselves in similar situations, micromanaging and over-analyzing the lives of their children. The recent decades have witnessed the rise of a distinct style of parenting, which has come to be known as ‘helicopter parenting’ – paying extremely close attention to experiences and problems of children, particularly at educational institutions, or, in other words, hovering over their heads much like helicopters. It is believed that some of the factors contributing to the rise of helicopter parenting are the increased academic competition, the exposure of child abduction stories in the media and the highly competitive environment of the global economy.
While a healthy parental concern about children is a positive phenomenon, over-parenting can result in such unwelcomed developments as lack of problem-solving skills and self-esteem in children. Some children might become so dependent on parents that they would require ‘helicoptering’ well into their college and beyond, while others might simply rebel against the tight grip of their parents, as they get older.
What are helicopter parents like? Here are some key characteristics:
- Obsession with their children’s education, safety and extracurricular activities;
- Over programming the lives of their children, allowing them no free time for playing and exploring on their own;
- Inability to tolerate that their children might have painful or negative experiences;
- Conviction that their children can be happy only by proceeding through their lives smoothly, and that it is the duty of parents to facilitate it.
As well-meaning parents, we all have the innate wish to protect and provide for our children. However, at some point, we should ask ourselves whether we are doing too much for them. Here are some healthy ways of slowing down the propellers and avoiding the trap of over-parenting:
- Let your children deal with their own problems. Often, in an attempt to save children from negative experiences, parents swoop in and fix the problems kids are facing. By dealing with their own problems, children become stronger. Making poor decisions and learning from natural consequences will help them make right decisions in future.
- Do not overprotect your children. While parents should provide a reasonably safety environment for their children, overprotecting can prove to be counterproductive. Knees will get scratched and the cricket game will have only one winning team. Life holds many valuable lessons to be learned.
- Let your children take risks – within reason. Kids are able to handle more than we think. If the situation at hand has acceptable risk level, let your kids face it head on; however, stand by and be ready to jump in if the potential damage exceeds the lesson to be learned.
- Talk it through. Leave the fix-it practice; instead, teach your children to address problems themselves. Coach them on peer relationship problems or academic issues and allow your kids to mature by experiencing the full range of emotions.
- Encourage your children to try. No amazing adventures or great discoveries have happened without some anxiety and fear in the background. When your children face something scary, put a positive smile on your face and encourage them to try it, instead of empathizing and allowing them to back out of it.
Slowing down the propellers and giving the children space might not be easy. Today’s society loves high achievers and believes in pressure-cooking success. It’s time for human parents to get back to the basics and learn confidence from the instincts of mama-bird, who knows just the right time to kick the babies out of the nest.