When the wind starts whipping up dirt and debris and the sound of whiny engines and chopping propellers fills the air, take your belongings and run. The helicopter parents have come out in full-force, armed for battle, and they mean business.
It’s impossible to navigate high school without encountering the abrasive blades of a helicopter parent. They’re the ones calling the teachers to discuss a little “grade adjustment” because their darling angel’s report card didn’t quite meet their expectations, believing that if they just argue a bit harder, all will be right in the world. On the Internet, stories abound concerning the extreme lengths parents are willing to go for their kids. After a certain point, the tales all seem to blend together.
Stalking a child’s college campus? Oh, sure. I’ve heard that one before. GPS trackers on kids? No surprise there.
These parents are primarily criticized in web articles and newspapers by their fellow guardians and teachers, who disdain their hovering presence. But their ill effects extend to a greater segment of the population, spawning a generation of youth, like me, who resent the kids whose parents come to bat for them on a daily basis.
We deride those who exist in a sea of college and test prep tutors and can’t make a decision without mommy dearest coming to the rescue. Some of this exasperation comes from a deep-seated sense of jealousy. We crave what we don’t have, and the thought of a little extra pampering has its merits.
Equal, however, are the bitter frustrations at the inequality of life. My indignation stems less from envy than from a sense of grave injustice. I’m fine with handling situations sans Mom and Dad; I just don’t want anyone else to coast without consequences. And even though I know in my heart of hearts that it’s the parents’ fault, it’s far easier to make my peers the scapegoats.
Of course, if you go through my phone you’ll find the thoughtful, essay-length text messages from my mother about the importance of going to bed on time, making me every bit as culpable. I confess! Sometimes my parents hover. It’s a fundamental characteristic of parenthood, along with a tendency to effortlessly embarrass one’s children and blindly love their artwork. But while there’s nothing inherently wrong with parents coddling their children from time to time, it’s become a behavior that’s overly indulged.
Part of the reason for helicopter parenting’s dominance is that the style, at its core, represents a struggle between our real selves and the people we long to be. We’ve spent our entire lives hearing about our impending freedom. But such independence can be scary: What if I can’t figure out how to get along with a roommate, or feed myself? What if I’m the one who breaks the washing machine, flooding my entire dorm and earning the moniker “raging waters”? Relying on our parents seems so much more natural, requiring no conscious effort on our part, and we’re so used to viewing them as the ultimate authority that it’s easier not to change.
When my mother praises the clay snowman I made in first grade, holding it up as an example of my creativity, I cringe a little. But it’s hard to imagine a life without those compliments. They’ve supported me through skinned knees and tears, and to leave them in the lurch seems almost disloyal.
And even if we do break free, the alternatives we face are not exactly comforting. In our society, trying isn’t respected; only the product counts. Second place is tossed out without a second glance, while the success stories, even those propped up by their parents, get the glory. Every list we publish ranking the world’s most wealthy, every book we buy about “The Key to Success” or some other meaningless title — they all reinforce this disparity. It’s hard to want independence with such dismal prospects.
Under the surface, however, helicopter parenting’s effects are far worse than even the most embarrassing laundry catastrophe. As a 2013 study in the Journal of Child and Family Studies revealed, such over-involved parenting can lead to depression by depriving children of the opportunity to problem-solve and confront their own issues.
Each time parents steps in and resolve a predicament, their children lose an opportunity to practice a skill crucial to real-world success. And as the trend of over-intensive parenting gains steam, we forget that there was ever another way to be.
Of course, parenting isn’t a black-and-white affair, and a clean break isn’t always the solution. It’s just as easy to run away from a helicopter as it is to get mangled by the blades, but running away never solves any problems. Soon we’ll be the ones with our own helicopters, but that doesn’t mean we can’t ever return to the launchpad. It’s a matter of walking the fine line between too little and too much, and just like flying a helicopter, it’s a balancing act.