'Helicopter parents' need to give children room

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If you are a parent, can you remember what your thoughts were when you saw your newborn for the first time?

I have been privileged to be at the birth of many babies. The wonder and miracle of birth is for me, enhanced by the reaction of the new parents to their newborn. As you look at the silent interaction between them you can just see what is going through their minds — “I love you, you are so precious, I will protect you, I will give you everything.”


If you are a parent, can you remember what your thoughts were when you saw your newborn for the first time?

I have been privileged to be at the birth of many babies. The wonder and miracle of birth is for me, enhanced by the reaction of the new parents to their newborn. As you look at the silent interaction between them you can just see what is going through their minds — “I love you, you are so precious, I will protect you, I will give you everything.”

There is no doubt that we all want to give our children the best start in life and, to that end, we make sure our children are fed well, protected from infectious disease, we read to them and nurture them as best we know how.

But is it possible to protect or give our children too much? Is our society so obsessed with success that we are losing the ability to stand back and allow our children to be children?

We all know parents whose children seem to be doing supervised, extra-curricular activities from dawn until dusk. Parents complain about how busy they are ferrying children to and fro, monitoring progress and encouraging improvement.

Talking to them it is obvious that they think they are giving their children the best start in life. As one said: “We have to accept that our children are growing up in a hugely competitive world. So it is all very well to let them ... make playdough snakes all day, but will that get them into the best schools or colleges?”

It is easy to make fun of these statements and we might think it is unnecessary to push our children to achieve in every area, but there is no doubt that part of us is petrified that, if we don’t, they might be left behind.

The message we are told is clear: unless we parents are involved in every part of our child’s emotional, social and educational development, he or she will be left behind in some way. As all those who are parents will know, there is no better way to instil panic into our hearts than to suggest that we are being negligent in some way and that we could do more.

Well, I have some thoughts that might still your negligent, beating hearts (they did mine!) and if you recognise yourself as a ‘helicopter parent’ (think about it), they might help you gain a bit of perspective.

Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at Kent University in England warns: “Today’s children are scared. They have absolutely no idea how to lead independent lives because their parents have been with them every step of the way.”

He is suggesting is that our children have lost the ability to grow up independently. According to Furedi, parenting has been redefined in the past decade or so. He notes that today there is a ‘relentless attempt to supervise children’, and that this seems to touch every aspect of their lives.

This may seem like a trivial example but I have seen families where the children have had their clothes put out for them every day, who at the age of 5 or 6 are unable to decide what to wear as they have never had to.

A side-effect of this constant supervision and organisation means that children are never bored, have less and less free time and therefore never have to be creative or ‘find’ something to do. Ironically, while their time is organised usually in the interests of ‘learning or gaining new experiences to expand their knowledge’ the reality is that left to their own devices (without a screen in front of them) most children will learn far more about the world around them exploring it on their own.

It is worth noting, that in a recent survey, 77 percent of children between the ages of 9 and 13 wished that they had more free time. An additional aspect of ‘helicopter parenting’ is that, if children are not left alone to make mistakes, they are never going to learn how deal with and recover from failure or learn from their experiences both essential skills as they grow up into adulthood. Relevant to this discussion is the hot potato topic of homework.

Apparently, on average, parents spend up to seven hours a week helping their children with homework. As one parent commented: “If you know that all the parents are helping their children with their homework, there’s no way that you’re not going to.

“Your children won’t be competing on an even playing field, otherwise. It may be principled to let them do it on their own, but in the end they will look as if they’ve done worse than the others.”

Personally, I can’t believe that astute teachers can’t tell those children who suddenly seem to spell everything correctly and have perfect grammar and math abilities when their classwork doesn’t match up.

Furthermore, what happens when tests and exams are on the horizon and there is no parent hovering to make sure words are spelled right and sums done correctly?

So how can we best help our children to fulfil their potential but also allow them to enjoy the fun of childhood and finding things out for themselves?

Furedi says the answer is positive encouragement: let your children know that, whatever they do, you are behind them — but let them get on with it. Don’t watch their every move, correcting and commenting as they go.

Let them make mistakes, work things out for themselves. Another experienced mother commented: “Remember the principle of healthy neglect. Allow time for doing nothing around each other”.

So perhaps, to continue the helicopter metaphor, what we all need to do is fly off!

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