Helicopters Landing: Overparenting Trend Taking a Turn?

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Perhaps I have been team parenting too long! With our five kids and their six different sports, we are two worn-out parents!! Just this evening, as basketball season opened for my high school aged daughter, I, once again a designated team parent, was rushing around trying to get the team information booklets assembled and the team pictures mounted in the gym. I had already emailed the team roster complete with parent’s cell numbers and my co-team parent had already prepared the team dinner and arranged for team T-shirts. As I was on the ladder in the gym, hanging the last framed photo, I concluded that I am now too old and tired for this!

I decided that, as of this year, some changes are going to take place. I am just no longer willing to do all of the extreme activities that I used to do for my kid’s teams—no more homemade snack treats for every game; no more pimped-out photo buttons for each parent; no more giving my cell phone number to every other over-zealot who wants to call me late at night in order to arrange a surprise delivery of “Spirit Packs” first thing in the morning. No more craziness! All of these parent sport perks for kids might be appropriate for the young starter teams of 5 and 6-year-olds, but for high schoolers?!?  I am thinking not!

The Internet only helps us compulsive parents be better at our compulsion. It facilitates our efforts in ways that allow us to go over the edge without even realizing it. We can obsessively research teachers, trainers, coaches, and programs. We can email our fellow team parents with ease, at all hours. We can amass pictures on Flickr and Photobucket and share them instantaneously, so that those team scrapbooks can be ready to hand out at the End-of-Season Party! There are team management sites, like mysportsite.com, that promise to “give your team the winning edge”, and where the dedicated team parent can make sure everything anyone ever wanted to know about her team is available to all. There are local forum sites for club and high school sports where you can shower praise on your team and child. Or if your bad sportsmanship on the sidelines is not enough, you can go online right after the game and unload your opinions about the other team and players. You can get into little “who’s better” battles with the parents of your child’s opponent until the wee morning hours---all in the name of involved parenting. We are sports ‘helicopter parents’ online and off. We don’t like that name or its negative connotation. But it’s what we have become.

At our parent meeting after the first game, my co-team parent and I make the announcement that we are “streamlining” the parent involvement part of this coming season. We tell this notorious group of over-doers that we are no longer showering the girls with snacks. We are cutting back on extravagant team dinners and no longer spending a small fortune on the pimped-out parent buttons. To our surprise, all of the parents do a collective sigh of relief and unanimously approve the down shift. Go figure.

When you have been parenting so long that you flow from one parenting trend into the next counter-trend, you’re not so conscious of it. But here it is-- the dawning of the “less is better” parenting approach. Nancy Gibb’s article, The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting takes us on her tour de force of the overparenting trend-- how we got to be overly concerned, overly indulgent and overly protective parents, and how we are beginning to change our tune:

[T]here is now a new revolution under way, one aimed at rolling back the almost comical overprotectiveness and overinvestment of moms and dads. The insurgency goes by many names — slow parenting, simplicity parenting, free-range parenting — but the message is the same: Less is more; hovering is dangerous; failure is fruitful. You really want your children to succeed? Learn when to leave them alone. When you lighten up, they'll fly higher.

Even parents who are not as old and tired as I, are beginning to question the extreme nature of their involvement in their children’s lives. But helicopter parenting, that propensity to hover over our kids’ every endeavor, is so common and pervasive, that it’s hard for parents to break free. Gibbs credits online networking with empowering parents to recover from their helicopter habits:

“Among the most powerful weapons in the war against the helicopter brigade is the explosion of websites where parents can confide, confess and affirm their sense that lowering expectations is not the same as letting your children down.”

A perfect example of this kind of online exchange happened between Christie of Childhood101, Cath of SquiggleMum.com and Kate of Picklebums.com, when they chatted online about helicopter parenting:

Christie: … I cannot understand how we are so adverse to letting our children do what we did as children? I walked to school, I climbed (and fell out of) trees, I rode my bike in the street.

Cath: I have relaxed more with my second child but I find it hard to find a balance between my teacher training (eagle eyes on playground duty) and my desire to let my kids learn by exploring, falling, and getting up again.

Kate: I am a worrier so I am prone to over thinking the risks but I try really hard to realise that and step back from it. I often say, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?

(For the full conversation, go here.)
Their engaging exchange reflects the growing acknowledgement that in order for kids to grow into self-sufficiency and independence, they must be given the space and the opportunity to do for themselves. These moms also reflect how hard it is for us parents to retrain ourselves to let go.

To be sure, helicopter parenting is far better than absentee parenting. There are even some experts who argue that the conditions of our time justify continued involvement with older kids and young adults. The researchers sited in the Boston.com article, For Some, Helicopter Parenting Delivers Benefits believe:

because the economy is so challenging and “late adolescence and young adulthood  are such minefields today--emotional, social, sexual, logistical, psychological—that there are valid reasons for parents to remain deeply involved in their children’s lives even after the kids are, technically speaking, adults."
Still, more parents are reaching the conclusion that their over-involvement may be doing more harm than good for their children. More of us are coming to terms with the reality that children, teens and young adults can only be so safe and so prepared. We must let them live their own lives.

Midway through my daughter’s basketball game, when she was resting on the bench, she got my attention from across the court and signaled that she was thirsty.  I directed her to look at the big cooler of water at the end of the bench. She signaled to me that she didn’t want water, she needed a Gatorade from the concession stand. I, once again, signaled her towards the water cooler. And instead of responding in my usual manner--jumping up and running to the concession stand to buy sports drinks for entire team, I resumed my conversation with my husband.

 I suppose my daughter has not yet received the memo that this helicopter has landed!!


Are you a helicopter parent?  How about a recovering helicopter parent? Do you find online support for your hovering habit or your decisions not to hover?

Talk about it in the Family Connections Group now.


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