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The Informed Parent

Helicopter Parents

by Carolyn Warnemuende, M.S.
Published on Jul. 03, 2006

If you are a regular reader of The Informed Parent you know we strongly believe that parents need to be involved in their children's lives. Effective parenting means, in part, knowing what's happening in school and who your children's friends are. It means being aware of what they watch on TV and what websites they frequent on the computer.

Being an effective parent also means guiding your children toward independence. From the time a baby leaves the womb a parent's job is both to nurture and to let go. Babies who are old enough to begin a schedule are learning independence. When toddlers are taught limits they learn independence. School age children and adolescents who are given responsibility and consequences grow in independence.

Baby boomer parents have had a harder time letting their children learn independence than parents of earlier generations. These children "...have been the most protected and programmed children ever," said Mark McCarthy, assistant vice president and dean of student development at Marquette University in Milwaukee. "The parents of this generation are used to close and constant contact with their children and vice versa."

Helicopter parents, a term devised by educators, are those who are hyper-involved in their children's lives. They spend an inordinate amount of time in the classrooms of their elementary school children. They text message their high schoolers during the day and call or text message their college students several times a day. They phone teachers during off-hours and swoop into classrooms to complain about assignments and grades.

Schools are debating what to do about these pesky parents. Some parents are being barred from coming to school except for prearranged meetings. During freshman orientation colleges include sessions for assisting parents in learning to let their student become independent.

Certain guidelines can assist parents in supporting independence, being appropriately involved in their children's lives, and not being a "hovercraft."

  1. Encourage children toward age-appropriate behavior. Parenting books and articles found in hard copy and on-line journals such as The Informed Parent provide information on expectations at different stages of development.
  2. Resist doing for a child what she is capable of doing herself. Regardless of age, most children are more capable than they or their parents believe. Encouragement and support bring out the best in all they can do.
  3. When you do step in to help with a task, guide rather than take over. Even the most difficult activities have space for a child's hand. Analyze tasks to see where she can succeed on her own and where help is warranted.
  4. Recognize and accept that mistakes happen when learning new tasks. Be compassionate. Mistakes show where more practice is needed. Too often we treat mistakes as having done something wrong. Instead, assist the child in taking a mistake in stride and learning what can be done to achieve a more positive outcome.
  5. When a child says, "I can't," agree that a task may be difficult. Then guide the steps toward completion and acknowledge the result. When children are tired, have a low sense of self, or are not feeling well, they don't want to put out effort. Some children have learned to manipulate adults by appearing helpless. Success depends on timing, consistency, encouragement and support.
  6. If you volunteer at school, keep to your schedule. Trust that if your child needs you a phone call will be made. Children need to learn that they can succeed without your constant presence. Parents need to learn to same lesson.
  7. Always make an appointment if you wish to talk with a teacher or school administrator. School personnel have a huge job. Showing respect by making an appointment to discuss any concerns shows that you are aware of their time constraints.
  8. Unless there is an emergency, do not go to school to talk to your child. School is the child's job. Just as you do not want to be interrupted in your work, children do best when not interrupted in theirs.
  9. If you do need to talk to your child during the school day, call the school office first.
  10. Do not text message high school and college students during the school day. They need to be focusing on their classes and their friends.
  11. Set up a phone schedule with college students. Of course you are interested in what they are doing. They want to talk to you, too. A schedule allows everyone to look forward to conversations instead of feeling they have to.
  12. Create a mantra for yourself when you feel anxious about what is happening with your child. It could be something like, "All is well." Repeat this to yourself as many times as is necessary in order to ease worry and concern.
  13. Create an affirmation to use each day. It might be, "I have taught (child's name) well, and I trust that she makes wise choices." Affirmations assist in keeping thoughts positive. Worry does not help you or the child.
  14. Get involved in activities that interest you and help you grow as an individual. Sometimes it feels like there are not enough hours in the day for parenting, work, and self-care. If parents do not discover activities that bring them joy outside of these other roles, they become single focused. Either work takes over their lives or they become too entrenched in the lives of their children.

When parents learn the skill of letting go at appropriate stages the result is that children usually want to stay close and connected to family as they grow into adolescence and adulthood. Hovering can result in their wanting to pull away. Children and adolescents find ways to exert their independence either appropriately or inappropriately. Always guiding toward independence with built-in structure, encouragement, and support provides the best opportunity for children to grow into healthy young men and women.

A bonus is that parents who learn to provide independence are respected by and welcomed into the school community. Time spent volunteering is appreciated and, when concerns are brought up, they are listened to.

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THE INFORMED PARENT is published by Intermag Productions, 1454 Andalusian Drive, Norco, California 92860. All columns are stories by the writer for the entertainment of the reader and neither reflect the position of THE INFORMED PARENT nor have they been checked for accuracy. WARNING: THE INFORMED PARENT or its writers assume no liability for information or advice contained in advertisements, articles, departments, lists, stories, e-mail question/answers, etc. within any issue, e-mail transmissions, comment or other transmission.
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