Dear Mom and Dad,
This is the year I’ve dreaded for so long, notorious for its seemingly never-ending workload and inordinate amount of stress. It’s the year that students are told “grades really count,” the year when we’re forced to study into the wee hours of morning to get good grades and when striking a balance between extracurriculars, SAT prep and fun seems impossible. I know you two see my stress and want so desperately to alleviate it, to ease my burden, but giving me space to learn and make mistakes will teach me more than the superficial success that many achieve with parental coddling.
The number of “helicopter parents,” a term describing parents who are over-involved in their children’s lives, has risen dramatically in recent years. Other parents — potentially your friends and colleagues — believe that they are doing their children the ultimate good by paying for tutoring and seeking out lucrative summer internship opportunities. They believe that academic success and a prestigious college education will guarantee lifelong stability and a fat paycheck. Their intentions are pure; parents just want to lessen the pain of transitioning from youth to adulthood, and pave the way for a better life than the one they had themselves.
Yet the startling truth for parents is that they’re actually doing their children more harm than good by obsessively laying out their child’s life. Teens who are sheltered by their parents are often not exposed to the many nuances of everyday life and are therefore robbed of chances to develop crucial life skills, such as self-advocation. When students finally escape the protective nest of their parents’ supervision, they are unequipped to navigate the challenges of the world.
While I wouldn’t go as far as to characterize you as helicopter parents, I do think that you hover a bit too low sometimes. It’s perfectly understandable — you’re worried for my future, and taking AP Biology may just be the deciding factor that gets me into the amazing college that may just get me my dream job. But the fact is that everything is speculative, so while your actions are well-intentioned, acting on your worry probably won’t do me much good in the long run.
“I have heard all too often the cries of my peers, whose parents mean well but cause unintended pain.”
Research conducted by University of Arizona professor Chris Segrin, shows that overparenting breeds narcissism and poor coping skills, which exacerbates the stress of going to college and finding a job. Overparenting does the exact opposite of what parents intend to do — it leaves children vulnerable when they are forced to fend for themselves in real life.
According to the June 2013 APA Monitor, 95 percent of college counseling centers nationwide say that they’re concerned about the growing psychological issues incoming college students face due to helicopter parenting. While I’m nowhere close to having deep-seated “psychological issues,” I have felt the effects of your excessive concern; there is a point when encouragement becomes coercion and inquiries about my friends’ achievements become comparisons to mine, and that is where the stress starts.
My aim is not to complain about how difficult my life is or to air my grievances about you. I have an amazing family, a wonderful group of friends and a passionate, supportive school body. But there are certain areas of my life that I would rather be free to figure out for myself. Yes, I know that majoring in computer science will probably land me a lucrative job and a stable life, but I don’t want my professional life to be estranged from what truly inspires and motivates me.
I have heard all too often the cries of my peers, whose parents mean well but cause unintended pain. The over-occurring theme in Palo Alto and neighboring areas of high achievement seems to be the inability of parents to let their children live a little, and to let us stray what they deem to be too far away from the path to success. Overparenting, which occurs so easily and is largely unnoticed, should not go unaddressed.
I need your continued support and encouragement — I wouldn’t be where I am today without it. I attribute so much of my current success to your constant motivation and love. But I also want to be free to make mistakes. I want to be free to take the wrong path, to trip and fall but to bounce back more resilient than before.