Monday, July 13, 2015

Why I Hate Articles on "Helicopter Parenting"

If you haven't been paying attention lately, then you might not know that helping your children, or signing them up for any kind of class or sport, is out. What's in? Letting them run around unsupervised, like kids back in the good old days. According to multiple articles from sources like Slate, the Washington Post, and the New York Times, this will make kids happier and teach them to handle problems in the real world. The only problem? I suspect it's all a load of free-range BS. Why? Let me count the ways.

1. Massive Privilege 

Let's face it, most ordinary parents don't have the time, money, or energy to be true helicopter parents. It's not as though after school tutors, music lessons, or sports are exactly free. As a private violin and viola teacher, I'm well aware that lessons, instruments, music books, and other necessities cost money. Especially nowadays, how many people can afford to load up their children's schedules with activity after activity? Most ordinary people stick with one or two activities for their kids, not a crazed schedule of events (though it may sometimes feel that way). The other issue of privilege is time. If both parents work, it's likely difficult to find the time for all these activities anyway. I have one daughter, and even scheduling summer swimming lessons becomes tricky when I have to juggle my teaching schedule. In short, I suspect the helicopter parenting phenomenon is concentrated among wealthy or at least upper middle class families, not ordinary people. 

2. Cry Me A River 

The poor, poor little rich kids are apparently so depressed because their parents are controlling, demanding hover monsters. They can't figure out anything themselves cause mommy and daddy intervene all the time. All those activities didn't help at all, except for that whole "getting into Havard" thing. Or in the case of the Dallas "afluenza" teen, the "getting out of jail" thing. Does no one consider that these depressed college kids are adults who are capable of uttering the word "no" to their eager parents? I find it hard to imagine these excellent sheep never had any moments of rebellion, so if they don't have the courage or desire to strike out now, perhaps it's more to do with entitlement and privilege than being incapable. BTW, if the Ivy Leagues are so plagued with whining, entitled brats and their ennui, maybe they should start enrolling more students from middle class or poor backgrounds. I have no doubt they would have way fewer helicopter parents if they didn't give such a boost to legacy applicants. Most poor and middle class kids had to earn their achievements for themselves. 

3. Finding Your Passions 

As a music teacher, I don't see any benefit to forcing students to study instruments they don't care about. It's stressful for everyone, including me, and it takes my time and energy away from the students who love music. But in order for students to discover their love of music, they need the opportunity to try it in the first place. When over-privileged people start acting like kids don't need music classes or activities, because "free-range," that gives me shivers. I know it's not the privileged, over-scheduled wealthy students who'll see their orchestra programs cut; it's the poor and middle class schools that suffer from a lack of interesting activities, from music and arts to computer programming clubs. Then when these bored, under-stimulated poor kids act out, they'll suffer hideous consequences because they don't have wealthy helicopter parents to save them. School activities might be a wretched forced march when you're checking off items on your "get into Ivy League" to-do list, but for other students they're a chance to find their passions, develop valuable skills, make friends, and feel successful. Music and arts programs in particular have been proven time and again to keep kids from dropping out of school.

I used to teach in a terribly poor, almost entirely minority middle school. Do you know the number of times parents complained to me about their children's grades? Never. Not once. I had to call parents again and again, send letters home, and hope that someone would show up to parent-teacher conference night occasionally. The kids may have learned independence, but they also felt alone. Without parents' help and encouragement, many students struggled and fell between the cracks. So please don't think that there's anything wrong with helping your kids. Sometimes they need it, no matter what the pundits think.


  1. Most of all, I hate terms like 'helicopter parenting'. Seems that everyone latches on, sheep-like, to whatever the 'in' concepts and phrases are - I'm not even a parent so don't seek such articles out, but I'm fed up with seeing them too! BTW, I agree with this article.

    1. I agree! It's tiger moms one year and helicopter parents the next. I wish we'd give parents more space to just be themselves and find a parenting method that works for them.