We adults know best, right?

JANINE RANKIN
Last updated 12:00 20/02/2013

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OPINION: When I first heard the term, "helicopter parent", I assumed it was a criticism of laid-back parents who just buzz in and buzz out of their children's lives. Drop in and drop out, fairly ineffectively.

Or perhaps, and this is particularly pertinent this week, they just let things drift along until they have to make like a rescue helicopter.

This is what I did when I arrived home to find the off-colour, golden-haired teenager in the grip of a fever, burning up in the hottest room in the house imagining she was shivering under a double layer of duvets.

I panicked quietly.

Windows open, cold flannel on the forehead, panadol, fan on, water, another cold flannel and more water.

Followed by out of the bed, a back rub, a change of sheets and restoration of calm.

But I was surprised to read deeper about this "helicopter parent" phenomenon and find that it is quite another quality of choppers involved.

It is about their ability to hover.

Given that the term "helicopter parent" was first used in America, even before my children were born, I feel a little shame-faced about my ignorance.

Clearly, I have not been paying sufficient attention to the musings of the experts, who could have better informed my make-it-up-as-you-go approach to raising children.

But, on the other hand, it could be that I have been wise to keep parenting manuals and parenting advice at a distance, and hope that my instincts and a sprinkling of common sense will be enough to help my children grow up reasonably untraumatised.

However, I felt obliged to do some research about the helicopter issue.

I took an on-line quiz that told me I was doing fine and had found a healthy balance somewhere between over-protecting my kids, and leaving them to their own devices.

I could do better, though, the results suggested most politely.

I could nudge the offspring a little less gently in the direction of developing their own independence.

The answers I gave invited such an interpretation.

But anyway, having established that I am not a helicopter parent, for reasons that are the opposite of what I had assumed, I can now mock.

My interest was alerted by a recent clutch of articles about how over-involved parents are organising their grown-up children's tertiary education and daily schedules.

The children of such parents, surprise, surprise, are more likely to be depressed and less satisfied with their lives than those whose parents had a party to celebrate when they left home.

The syndrome includes, but is not limited to, behaviours such as choosing study courses, micro-managing study regimes, contacting tutors, providing daily advice on household chores ("Just bring your laundry round at the weekend, dear") and generally checking up on the offspring all the time.

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It is a natural progression for parents who started planning their children's careers before they even started school, making sure they went to the right schools, had the "best" teachers, had individualised learning programmes and did their homework every night; and blamed the teachers, quite loudly and personally, when the offspring failed to flourish.

Technology has made the offences easier to commit, the cellphone obviously a much more effective umbilical cord than anything that was previously available. (That was not an original thought either).

I can see how it would be possible to fall into any or all of these bad habits.

Of course parents worry about the kids.

It is a fundamental part of the job description.

We also feel guilty when we abandon the kids to figure things out for themselves and things come unstuck.

Perhaps I should not have allowed my daughter to become so ill before interfering.

Firstly, I let her come to a family celebration even though she had confessed to being a little bit sick, with a cough for emphasis, when she should have stayed indoors.

I let her stay on without me, outnumbered by probation officers who said they would look after her.

All weekend I let her carry on with her theory that an illness ignored was an illness overcome, until I ended up having conversations with a laptop.

I am not making this up.

She lost her voice so comprehensively, she became dependent on a voice device she found on the internet somewhere, that spoke to me in disembodied American.

"May I have some ice cream please?" "Thank you mother."

"Ha ha," I typed in.

"Hunga," it replied.

Eventually she grew tired of the effort required and slumped into bed.

Would it have made any difference if she'd rolled over and given in to being sick earlier?

Well, I don't know.

Parents don't always know best and perhaps it's best to admit it sooner rather than later, and leave the kids to figure things out for themselves.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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