Are you a helicopter parent?

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Two events that occurred within days of each other provoked this thought.

I had been addressing a gathering of 17 year olds in various methods to curb exam anxiety. Being one of the many who had faced severe exam anxiety during every math exam of my school life, I was vociferously advising the kids not to let their confidence levels dip, and teaching them different ways to relax, when one parent rather hesitatingly approached me and asked me to give him hints about how to make his son feel anxious about the approaching exams. He was worried that the son did not care enough!

Two days down the line, I had parents who had brought their son for counselling. This child who had been a ‘topper’ in his class till class ten, had suddenly on entering college become extraordinarily lax. He did not study despite repeated telling, pleading, begging or scolding! Moreover, he seemed to be interested in everything else apart from what was necessary. On the surface of it, both these seemed to be about children who had different problems and differing personalities as compared to the rest, but on deeper questioning, they were quite similar because they were brought up by helicopter parents.

Helicopter parenting was a term first used by Dr. Hain Ginott in his book ‘Between Parents and teenagers’ in 1969. Though not very common then, it gained prominence enough to be included in the dictionary in 2011! Reams have been written about this since then.This term refers to a method of parenting where we are so concerned about our children’s well being that we do not allow them their lives. Parents who hover around their children, cosseting, protecting, interfering and  helping them in activities that they are well equipped to do.

On first look, reading descriptions of such parents  makes us enter denial mode. We assure ourselves that we do not belong to that category and that we ensure a healthy atmosphere for our child’s upbringing. By which we mean that:

  1. We make sure that we know each and every detail of our child’s routine. (well, it is necessary in such times where crimes are rampant—but an unplanned break of 10 mins in a friend’s house makes us sweat buckets!)
  2. We make sure that our little one’s wish becomes our command. Sometimes even before the wish is expressed. We have to give give them the best of the toys, books, gadgets and clothes..(duh..they need to shine, right? And I have the money!)
  3. We need to be an integral part of every school project(by which we mean that we will personally scour every nook and corner of the city to find the best of stuff, sit up the whole night and put up a model which will definitely score maximum marks for our kid (school grades are important, arent they?)
  4. We believe that our kids are the best in everything they do and air these views to anyone who is willing to listen, and sometimes, even to the unwilling. We literally lobby for them.(Afterall, if we do not acknowledge their achievements, who will? And it is not called praising, it just statement of a fact!)
  5. We try to take every precaution to protect our kids from harm, including using bottled water to wash their hands, allowing them to play only where they wont get dirty and consulting the pediatrician every time the kid sneezes (We are responsible for their health)
  6. We have read all books under the caption of parenting and spout theories like mantras. And our kids have to, just have to abide by those mantras(you see, experts have believed that it is the way to go). We are professional researchers in the making.
  7. We try our best to stand ground during a tantrum, but finally give in to the child’s demands(we are tired after a long day at work, and its just a videogame)
  8. We choose which friend the child can have. Preferred ones are those who score in the top ten. If we do not like a friend, then he has no business to even talk to that person(good peers are essential for a good future)

Well, if this is you in a nut shell, then welcome to the world of helicopter parenting!

This phenomenon probably became visible, because of change in family patterns in the past few decades. Moving away from joint family systems to nuclear ones, restricting the size of the family with a maximum of two or three children, the sudden rise of educational capabilities of parents, also the increase in the financial prowess due to dual earning families, globalization and availability of the internet, misplaced guilt about not caring enough and finally the fact that every parent feels that children are figuratively and literally their biggest assets (they sure would have invested a lot of money and time on them). At the same time, parents who are the anxious type, those who had experienced negligence or abuse in their own childhood,or those with type A personalities complete the spectrum.

To argue contrarily, we read about the abuse that occurs in children, the influence of the media and a bad peer group as well the fact that if unmonitored, children have the ability to go haywire. This allows parents to justify themselves into believing that their helicoptering is doing good to the child. Different cultures also have different methods. Amy Chua’s ‘Tiger mother’ describes how typical Chinese parents consider it a norm for their children to excel!

But the effects of this type of upbringing is almost as devastating as the evils that we are scared of. Children of such parents  grow up to be anxious, lacking in self esteem, depressed, ridiculed by peers and have separation issues. They consider themselves as an extension of their parents often parroting what has been drilled into them rather than think for themselves. It kills creativity and independence. And worst of all, these children feel a sense of entitlement. That they are for the manor born. They expect their parents to do every single thing for them, starting from waking them up, dressing them and reminding them to study! I’m not exaggerating, these kinds do exist like the examples I spoke about in the beginning.

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Parenting is something we learn along the way. Parenting manuals help, but ther is no sure fire way of doing the right thing always. I feel that enjoying your child is very important. The more you enjoy your child the more you learn and the more the chilld learns. Listen, play and talk to your child/ren. Sometimes they are right too. Acknowledge that. Set them free, but be watchful. Trust them. Guide them, but let them choose. Let them make mistakes, but help them out of the mess and teach them again. Parenting is hard work, and it never ends, and does not give term end report cards for how you have fared. But, I believe it can be rewarding to see a confident, self assured child exploring things that you never dreamed of. That is definitely an A+.