Go Play or Helicopter

I don’t know if the Delta gate attendant had read the statistics I saw published recently on the negative outcome of helicopter parenting, but he was doing his part in prevention. Citing the need for each passenger to hold his/her own boarding pass to expedite secure loading, he concluded, “If your child can hold a chicken McNugget, he can hold his own boarding pass.” A round of chuckles let him know that his point had been taken.

We’ve come a long way from the hands-off parents who issued the admonition, “Go out and play, and be home for supper.”

I’m all in favor of parents who show up to cheer on their children in musical recitals, sports events, dramatic productions, or wherever their passions take them. No children that I’ve ever known have been hurt by knowing they had parents in their cheerleading corner. That’s not the issue.

The research on helicopter parents, intent on sheltering their children from any difficulties or hard choices, indicates that their children reach college unable to weigh alternatives or fend for themselves with roommates and professors. This week, I read a new study showing an alarming percentage of these students suffering from depression. Their lack of experience in making choices and resolving conflict leaves them feeling helpless. Somewhere between the “Go Play Parent” and the “Helicopter Parent” is a happy medium.

I’ve long contended that every baby should come with the following instructions, “Do not do anything for this child that he can do for himself.” There are times when parental intervention is necessary, but I loved the morning “notes from home” time when a second grader, obviously coached in tact by a parent, made his/her own negotiations with me for some concession. And there was the time my junior high son unloaded at length in the afternoon about a perceived injustice. At the end, I asked if he wanted me to go to the school. “No,” he said, “I’ll take care of it myself,” and he did.

Recently my daughter and son-in-law were asked by other high school senior parents about how they had responded to some of the items on the college forms. They didn’t know. Marissa had filled out her form. Her rising level of competence has a corresponding lowering of anxiety for this grandmother as she strikes out on her own.

Raising independent children is no easy task and requires a lot of wisdom about when to step in and when to back off. Maybe a start is holding one’s own boarding pass.