This article in The Cut by Kathryn Jezer-Morton is fantastic. There’s a tension in parenting between, on the one hand, giving your kids space to grow, be themselves, and make mistakes — and, on the other, looking out for them, being time-efficient, and avoiding the opprobrium of other parents.
As my kids get older, I am learning how labor-intensive it is to teach them to be independent, and I’m beginning to think that we have the helicopter-parent/hands-off-parent binary all wrong. Maybe helicopter parenting is a form of neglect, one that might even be comparable in its harmfulness to the kind of neglect that forces kids to grow up by their own wits. The crisis of teen mental health in the wake of COVID can be explained in all sorts of ways, but a common denominator is that many teenagers feel that they have no control over their lives, which is distressing for any human. When you teach a kid to be safely independent, you give them some of that control. Denying a kid that opportunity is cruelty disguised as parental virtue – it’s beyond fucked up and dark, when you really think about it.
I also wonder if we misunderstand some of the motivations for helicopter parenting. We assume it’s an anxiety response, and I’m sure that explains a lot of it, but it’s also the path of least resistance.
“Parents who are very involved, wanting to know what their child is doing in the world — that is often considered part of helicopter parenting, but that isn’t necessarily a problem,” said [Dr. Gail Saltz, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and host of the How Can I Help? podcast from iHeartRadio]. “Being involved is distinct from wanting to help a child make all of their decisions. The problem is ‘I will help you do all the things. I will get involved in your conflicts. I will not let you make any mistakes.’” According to Saltz, even parents of young children should avoid approaching parenting as a troubleshooting exercise. Children become accustomed to this degree of parental involvement. The more time parents spend clearing the path for their offspring, the harder it is for children to adapt to facing obstacles on their own.
Helicopter parenting is also a way of protecting yourself from the judgment of other parents. In fact, its specter can loom even larger than actual threats to children’s safety. The off-piste vigilance of strangers can make an otherwise safe, ordinary situation spiral into conflict and defensiveness.
It doesn’t take only energy and attention to teach your kids to navigate independence safely. It takes a certain willingness to accept that someone out there might think you’re a bad parent. Allowing imagined judgment to cloud our decision making is like letting an internet comments section make our choices for us. Helicopter parenting is the manifestation of overlapping anxieties about the hazards of the world and about the opinions of other people. It’s also a product of the narcissistic delusion that our children’s (inevitable, developmentally necessary) failures are our own.
Source: Are Helicopter Parents Actually Lazy? | The Cut
Illustration: Hannah Buckman