Are you an overprotective parent?

17:00, Aug 23 2012

The first myth is you are not a helicopter parent if your child is not in a zillion extracurriculars.

In the recent clamour on whether this generation of parents is hovering too much and overmanaging and spoiling their children, I've heard parents say, "But we don't know any actual helicopter parents."

They say this because they don't know anyone who fits the obvious caricatures - that is, anyone who schedules Mandarin classes for their 5-year-old and shuttles them off every Saturday morning for theatre- to-express-yourself classes.

The overabundance of extracurriculars is only one small part of the larger, disturbing phenomenon Madeline Levine chronicles in her voice-of-reason-ish new book, Teach Your Children Well (Harper/Harper Collins).

The belief that we can control our children on a very high level and somehow programme or train or condition them for a successful life, however we define it, is extremely prevalent and takes many forms.

Do you not allow your children to watch television? Do you allow them any time on the internet unsupervised? Are you keeping very close track of what they eat? Do you get a little too involved in homework?

I know parents who think of themselves as very unhelicoptery but who are just helicoptering in different ways. "

2. Helicoptering is a natural outcome of our increasingly competitive society.

The problem is that if you are anxiously trying to make your child into a successful adult, you are most likely communicating anxiety - and not success - to them. New York Times reviewer Judith Warner put it this way:

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These are parents who run themselves ragged with work and hyper-parenting, presenting an 'eviscerated vision of the successful life' that their children are then programmed to imitate. They're parents who are physically hyper-present but somehow psychologically M.I.A. The point is that you most likely cannot make your child succeed according to narrow, conventional standards, and if you do manage, you may be crushing something else more important out of them.

3. If you are not that materialistic, you can't be a helicopter parent.

The idea that you can turn your child into a creative person is another equally pernicious form of helicoptering. I knew someone who used to put out art projects for her children at breakfast so they would have something educational to do while she poured the cereal. This sweetly crazy practice is somehow connected to the frequency with which people talk about their children as "gifted" and the need for bright children to be geniuses.

4. Helicopter parenting is about too much presence.

Well, it is , but it is also about the wrong kind of presence. It is the imposition of the parents' fantasy of how they want their children's lives to be.

5. Sacrificing your own life for your children is a good or noble thing.

From behind the therapist's door, after decades of experience treating privileged kids, Levine has this to say on the subject:

You should hear what most kids say about this . . . While you think you are giving your kids everything, they often think you are bored, pushy, and completely oblivious to their real needs. But let's look at this very simply: if you're willing to give up your own life and identity, what is the message you have sent your kid about the value of other people, mothers in particular?

6. Helicopter parents are bad or pathetic people with deranged values.

As both Warner and Levine point out, helicoptering is generally the product of love and concern. It is not necessarily a sign of parents who are ridiculous or unhappy or controlling. It can be a product of good intentions gone awry, the play of culture on natural parental fears. Slate Katie Roiphe is a professor at New York University. Neil Rosenthal is on holiday.

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