Helicopter parenting. It is such a common term. What does it mean exactly? As an educator, helicopter parenting – and its newer, even more challenging cousin, snowplow parenting – are problematic. Helicopter parenting, hovering over one’s child and directing the child’s decisions, undermines the child’s path towards independence, which is a salient component of childhood and of our role as educators. Snowplow parenting is a style that pushes all obstacles out of the way of the child, thereby compromising the child’s ability to experience adversity, to learn resilience and also to gain independence. The truths behind helicopter and snowplow parenting are well known and roundly believed by educators.
So, you can imagine my interest – and concern – when I saw a headline last night: The Bad News about Helicopter Parenting: It Works. Several teachers mentioned this headline to me before we left school yesterday, and I read the article with interest last night. You may be surprised to hear that I agree with the article. I agree with the article because what the article describes as effective – authoritative parenting – is effective and is a style that I encourage and attempt to follow myself. Authoritative parenting is not helicopter parenting, and the title of this piece is misleading since it conflates the two. In the article, authoritative parenting is described as using “reasoning to persuade kids to do things that are good for them. Instead of strict obedience, [authoritative parents] emphasize adaptability, problem-solving and independence.” It is the parenting style most favorably described in the book The Self-Driven Child that I recommended earlier this year.
Before reading this article last night, I had planned on writing my This Week letter on another article I read last weekend: Let Children Get Bored Again. This article actually highlights another difference between authoritative parenting and helicopter parenting. I strongly believe that unstructured time and space is beneficial for children as highlighted in the ‘Bored’ article – it is not mutually exclusive with authoritative parenting. In fact, we as parents can use reasoning to help our children know that their being ‘bored’ during unstructured time is actually good for them and that the time is intentional. Unstructured time is at odds with helicopter parenting because of the hovering nature of the helicopter parent.
So, despite the inaccurate and exaggerated headline, I do think there is real wisdom for us as parents in these articles. I hope you will read them.
There was a great turnout for for a parenting forum on “The Art & Science of Parental Leadership: How to Raise Your Child with Love and Limits” that our wonderful school psychologist Rebecca Comizio gave yesterday, a testament both to our collective interest in this topic and to Becca’s expertise. Look for a link to that video in next week’s This Week.
May this weekend be filled with unstructured time for your children and the opportunity for you to explicitly involve them in conversation about why that unstructured time is beneficial.