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“Hello, my name is Jeff H.  I have been a helicopter parent for the last 6 years, but I have recently seen the light and understand the long term harm I was doing to my children!”

“Welcome Jeff.  We are all recovering Helicopter parents.  There is no judgment here.” 

I look around the room.  We want only the best childhood experience for our children.  We all had the best of intentions.

  • Why would we let our children experience anything bad?
  • Why let them make mistakes if a negative experience can be avoided?
  • Who wouldn’t want to give their kid a leg up?
  • Shouldn’t our kids be the center of our world?

From an early age, I was hyper present, constantly hovering over my children.  For the first 5 years of my son’s life, nothing happened that I didn’t know about.  Secretly, I hated taking my son to preschool because 2 hours of his life would be unaccounted for.  How sick is that?   What the heck was wrong with me?  I felt so normal.

What fuels the obsession?  The constant worry?  Guilt?  Wanting to be better than our own parents?  Perhaps because we have smaller families now, we have more energy to obsess and hover?

Like most ‘addictions’ (a strong word but somehow appropriate), awareness and acceptance is the first step.  We are interfering with natural developmental stages of learning, risk taking, cause and effect and self-reflection (“mmm maybe I won’t do that again”).  These lessons are only effective and memorable when experienced, someone can’t tell them to you.

Our kids needs to struggle, fail, experience frustration, and solve problems on their own to grow.    Failure is not a bad thing.  Stop protecting and preventing learning.

I am better now.  I look around the room at the other helicopter ‘pilots’ and see the relief on their faces too.  We have been freed from this life.  Our children are a big part of our life, but not the center of our existence.   Our job is to guide, encourage, and teach – not hover.

Helicopter parented kids (HPK) do not become leaders, rather simple followers.  They become afraid of the world and can’t do anything without someone else’s opinion or help.   HPKs are unable to deal with failure and do not learn coping skills for life outside their home.   HPKs rarely take risks – why would they?

HPKs feel a huge sense of entitlement and narcissism, “it’s all about me”.  They feel like the world revolves around them, well, they should – you have made them the centre of your universe!

I am now developing a more “Free Range” attitude to raising my children.  I rescue less and let mistakes happen.

I look for opportunities to give space for them to act independently, and make their own decisions, like my parents did for me.

As an 11 year old, I was always riding the Toronto transit system.  One of my vivid childhood memories was going to a movie on Yonge Street on a Sunday.  I chose to spend my return bus fare on a Mars bar.  Without panicking, I ventured into the Eaton Centre and fished out pennies and nickels from the fountains.

I distinctly remember the pride I felt as I put the wet change into the bus slot.  I solved my own problem.  If that whole episode happened today, my parent’s judgement and parenting skills would be investigated.

If you want a sure-fire indicator of the divide between generations, ask people how far from home they could walk at age 8 without an accompanying parent.  omag_200807_supermoms_220x312

A British study, “One False Move” found that 50 years ago, kids would explore a 6 mile radius around their house, today that exploration space has shrunk to only 300 yards.   In the 1970s, 85 percent of 7 and 8 year old kids walked unsupervised to school.  By 1990, that number was below 10 percent!   What happened?

There is no rule that parents MUST deliver and receive their children from school. So why do we all show up there when many of us live so close to the school?  We drive our kids to school, then pick them up, returning them to the safety of our care.  When do they get to LIVE?

I am now looking for ways to show my children that I trust and believe in them.  I don’t want them to think, “If dad is always here, holding my hand, there must be something scary or I must be incompetent and immature!”

Last week, I parked in front of the supermarket, gave my 7 year old son a task and $11.  He triumphantly returned 10 minutes later with 2 jugs of milk and his own treat from the change.

He is now riding his bike home on paths from play dates.  Just this morning, he walked the 1.5 blocks to school all by himself.   His confidence is growing astronomically because of the faith we have shown in him, even the teacher has commented.  I am kicking myself for not realizing this earlier – but hey, no guilt, no bashing about the past.

When my children walk home without me, I can’t worry about “what other parents might think”. But I would hope they see the confidence I have in my children, after all, I am developing “self-reliant-problem-solving” leaders.  How will we turn out the next generation of world leaders if they don’t know how to cross the street!

Only you know if you are a helicopter parent.  Awareness is key.

If you suspect you might be a whirlybird parent, then STOP.

  • Stop delivering your child’s forgotten water bottle, lunch, and/or homework to school.
  • Stop calling the parent that didn’t invite your child to a birthday party.
  • Stop calling the school and choosing your child’s teacher and classmates for next year. They will learn something no matter who they share the year with.
  • Stop calling the hockey coach and debating ice time.

I could keep going but I hope you get the idea.  Stop, because according to the Journal of Child and Family Studies, the effects of helicopter parenting get worse as your child gets older. 

If you don’t stop now, you will be helping negotiate your child’s salary at their first job.  Then, when you get off the phone with the university prof, after challenging a failing grade, you can find a good therapist for your stressed out, depressed, and incompetent 22 year old.

We need to always keep our children safe.   As parents, we need to set limits and hold kids accountable.  Trust yourself and your kids.  Stop this “worst-first” mentality – focusing on what is the WORST thing that can happen.

Somewhere between the circling helicopter and the absent, neglectful parent lies an amazing parent: one that is protective, but also a parent that believes in their child and in the lessons that the world has to teach.

Free of training wheels on her new bike, my daughter told me to “let go!”  She couldn’t have been more right…

Until next time…

PS.. Happy Father’s Day!

Thanks to all of you – Dads AND Moms that continue to support my efforts and this site!  I really appreciate it!

Comments

comments

  • Ken Jun 15, 2013 Reply

    Hi Jeff,
    I like the post and agree with most of it except the walking the kids to school/home and letting them venture from the house by themselves. I still remember the Mindy Tran issue that happened here in Kelowna and I am cautious with my kids. As I remember, Mindy Tran was abducted on the same street that she lived (which was close to my house) and then killed and her body discovered less then 1 km away. Do I trust my kids? Yes! Do I always trust all other adults? No, unfortunately.
    Thanks, Ken

    • MomOf4 Jun 16, 2013 Reply

      I’m with Ken. I don’t trust the adults around us … with so many renters, I don’t even know their names! They move in and move out, have friends come and go. I KNOW there are drug dealers around … I am sure there are a lot of other ways we can allow our kids to build resiliency without putting them in potential harms way.

      AND with some of bullying going on at school, I will BE concerned and BE involved in putting a stop to it. They have enough challenges in their lives.

      My 2 bits.

      • Jeff Jun 18, 2013 Reply

        sent direct from Cain.

        I have only one concern with this article. The child MUST know that there IS something scary, and it is how they deal with that something scary in a rational thought process before a parent in good conscience can send them to school (for example) on their own. They must know that there are “bad” people, “bad” dogs, distracted drivers, wild animals that will eat them. The “Worst” thing that can happen is Death followed closely by child abduction for nearly unspeakable purpose. To keep them safe they must be taught to have the wherewithal to act in dangerous and Potentially dangerous situations. Only then can you send them off with clear conscience to come home safe. Another good way to keep them out of trouble is to teach them about the somewhat mythical old crazy guy that defends his property with a gun… sure it might be illegal to shoot you for trespassing… but that doesn’t matter when you are dead. Children must know that not everyone is a friend and sometimes especially the friendly ones. Pretty hard to be a dad if you no longer have a child.

        Hey Cain, I always enjoy your comments — yes, kids still need to be taught and be aware of strangers — teach them how to ask for help, how to act in situations — yes, these things still need to happen as they likely did when we were children. “Trust your instincts” was what i was told. I want to teach my kids skills, how to read a situation, but not to live in fear of our world…

      • Jeff Jun 18, 2013 Reply

        Hey Momof4 — thanks for your thoughts.

        Yes, different neighbourhoods may have different alarms and levels of vigilance needed, but the world is safe. I am not advocating a disrespect for common sense. We as adults can read situations better, but kids do need safe opportunities to grow.

        The fact that I am no longer a helicopter parent, does not mean I am not involved, concerned, or active in my parents lives. I am just more aware of letting them sprout and learn new skills on their own without me hovering behind to correct or protect.

        So yes, always be involved, just be aware of what we are doing and what we could let our children experience…

    • Jeff Jun 18, 2013 Reply

      Hey Ken,
      Yes, the Mindy Tran issue is certainly a factor — I am not advocating anything reckless. Safety has to always be a priority, but the Mindy Tran tragedy was almost 20 years ago. Media tends to sensationalize these incidents and increase fear and anxiety. Of course a parent would never forgive themselves if something ever happened, but the odds and the stats indicate that we have a better chance of being hit by something from space then to have a child abducted by a stranger (if a child is abducted, it is usually someone known to the child), however I do realize how uneasy it feels to gamble on the safety of our children.

  • doug Jun 17, 2013 Reply

    Jeff, It’s a balancing act isn’t it, between protecting our kids from the side affects of life and sending real messages of belief in our children? Good words Jeff.

    • Jeff Jun 18, 2013 Reply

      Hey Doug,
      Yes, it really is a tough balancing act. I struggle with it everyday. I need my children to know that the world is not a scary place, but it is a safe place that unfortunately has some people that make bad choices… teaching my children to read people, situations, and to trust their instincts is key. How can their instincts begin to be realized if never tested or given a chance?

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