Do you know what a helicopter parent is? Wikipedia defines a Helicopter parent as a colloquial term for a parent who pays extremely close attention to their child’s or children’s experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions. Are you one?
I don’t know if I am. I do think extreme parenting is more common place now though than in previous generations. What do you think a parent of small children 30 years ago would think of the following?
- Reading numerous books about pregnancy and then about babies. How to get them into routines, how to feed them, how to entertain them, how to stimulate them.
- Attending music or play classes with an infant.
- Over sharing photos and anecdotes about labour, sleepless nights, toilet training and funny things our kids say on Facebook.
- Driving our children everywhere. Walking them to the school gate and waiting there when they come out even as they reach double figures.
- Queueing in the middle of the night to ensure our child gets a place in the swimming class or tennis class or art class. ( True story, not something I could ever do myself, but, happens annually not far from here)
- Spending a fair proportion of free time driving children to said activities, waiting for them or volunteering in said activity.
- Monitoring everything our children do,everything.
The above are just a couple of things previous generations might scratch their head at. Do you do any of the above? I do and have done.
Three recent parenting stories that made headlines got me thinking. The first was the story of the mother who got her teenage son an iphone for Christmas. It came with a list of conditions. 18 of them. It’s a list explaining how he can and can not use the phone and how she will always know the password. Parents shared her list on social media. It popped up several times on my news feed and on different news sites that I read, with the general consensus seeming to be in agreement with her.
The second story was that of 21-year-old American student, Aubrey Ireland, who successfully obtained a stalking restraining order against her parents. She claimed her parents were stalking her and that as they were paying for her college fees they wanted to control her life. Ireland claimed that her mother has always been “overly involved” in her life and that her parents had been diagnosed with co-dependancy disorder. The judge agreed with Aubrey and the restraining order against her parents was granted. Another story that appeared around the world on news and social media sites with the general consensus being the parents were crazy. Apparently Aubrey Ireland’s mother used to Skype her in her dormitory through the night to ensure she was where she said she was. Extreme parenting at its strongest?
I am not condoning Aubrey Ireland’s parents actions. Clearly they need to step back from her life but I can also see how this situation ended up happening. It’s a leap to go from monitoring your teens internet and mobile phone usage as the parent with the 18 point condition list to Skyping your 21-year-old through the night to make sure she is where she says she is. A big leap from one to the other but I can see it happening and I also think this case of a restraining order against parents not being a one-off.
We talk and share and write about our children. We catalogue their achievements and their day-to-day activities. We drive them around.As they get older we monitor their online activity, read their text messages, check their email accounts?Then they are eighteen and we stop. Can you see why some people don’t stop and then bang next stop a restraining order. I can.
I have no plans to be Skyping my children in 15 years time checking their whereabouts. My youngest child will be 18 the same year I am 50. I have plans to spend my 50th birthday, child-free on a beach in Goa, dressed inappropriately and drinking inappropriately not monitoring my children. I’m hoping I’ll be helicoptering over cocktails not my kids and feel like I have done my job. That’s the plan anyway. Maybe Aubrey Ireland’s parents had similar plans though, that worries me.
The third story was that of American blogger Lisa Long. Lisa wrote a powerful blog post entitled “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings. Her post is honest, heartbreaking and desperately sad. It is beautifully written. It tells her of her experience of life with her mentally ill teenage son. She changes his name in the blog to protect his anonymity but uses her own name, which cancels out her sons anonymity. This was another item that was shared on social media and news sites across the world. It was received with mixed reaction. It’s a powerful piece on an issue that needs more attention but what about her sons privacy? He is still a child, he didn’t give permission for it to be told but its Lisa Longs story too, should she have blogged anonymously? I am sure she had no idea her story would be read across the world when she wrote it but it has.
Again this is an extreme example but what are our children going to think in 15 -20 years time? Are they going to enjoy looking back at our Facebook posts about their day-to-day lives? Facebook may be gone but once something is on the internet it can always be found again. Are they going to laugh at the stories or be embarrassed that their mother or father put a photograph on the internet of them doing something the parents deemed as cute but they might deem as horrifying? Do we need to be more aware of their privacy?
Or am I over thinking of all of this in true over thinking over extreme parenting time style? When I was my six I walked home from school with friends. The thoughts of my tiny six-year-old walking home from school with friends fills me with fear. Granted there is a lot more traffic on the roads than 30 years ago but there is no less amount of weirdo’s around, we are probably just more aware of potential danger , whether its real or not. Maybe its time, as she approaches her seventh birthday, to give her a bit more freedom. Let her leave my line of vision for a few minutes a day or maybe it’s not. Again maybe I am over thinking. I am going to get on my helicopter and move off a bit though, for their sake and for mine.
An anonymous quote sums up what I hope to achieve as a parent
There are but two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is roots, the other, wings.
I’ve got the roots sorted. I need to start thinking about the wings more.