Opinion: Are Helicopter Parents Coming in for a Landing?

Filed under: Opinions

It's crunch time in the world of high-school seniors, and I'm seeing some very jittery clients as those once distant college application deadlines are now just around the corner.

Loss of sleep, appetite and sanity are rampant, as essays get reworked and revamped and no extra-curricular activity is accidentally neglected.

I'm talking about the parents.

Much has been said about the merit of focusing on which college a child attends, and whether it does or doesn't affect their future success and happiness. While I have strong opinions about this, what interests me even more is the near-maniacal anxiety levels I see as parents come face-to-face with the harsh reality that their days of being able to control their child's destiny come to an end.

Some moms are still notoriously known to call their sons in the dorm to wake them up for class in the morning, or to micromanage their daughter's choices of classes during registration via text messages.

But help -- in the form of sanity -- is on the way.This week's cover story in Time magazine is called The Growing Backlash Against Over-Parenting. Sunday's New York Times had a story about how parents are finding Dog Whisperer Cesar Milan's insights to be invaluable as they raise their children. Lenore Skenazy, once called "America's worst mom" for allowing her 9-year old to ride the subway alone, is now being hailed as a national hero for debunking many of the myths that have motivated parents to raise children under a cloud of fear and constraint.

As a therapist and educator who has worked with parents and kids for decades, my heart is lighter as I watch these trends taking hold. Kids need to be kids. They need to play, they need to clean up after themselves and they need a calm, confident parent who is willing to be what I call the captain of the ship in their lives -- not as buddy or pal, but as the one in charge.

Our kids don't need us to replace the toy when it breaks, or to call the other mom when they don't get invited to the birthday party.

They do need us to help them deal with their disappointment and sadness when difficult things happen, so they can adapt and move on.

They don't need us to make sure they're endlessly entertained by TV, video games or devices that provide an unwavering dose of stimulation and faux joy.

They do need to develop a tolerance for engaging in simple conversation (including eye-contact) and playing outside.

And they don't even need to like us. If we're doing our job, then our kids are doing theirs, including emptying the dishwasher, washing the windows or watering the garden.

The truth is, we're not raising children. We're raising adults. If we want to launch our kids towards a life that will be genuinely successful and fulfilling, we need to let them bump up against frustration, loneliness and boredom so they can find out that they can survive when things don't go their way.

It's not easy to take a step back or a deep breath, especially for parents whose kids have college applications due in a few days. But the interesting thing is, sometimes the less our children sense our need for them to step up to the plate, the more they tap into their own desire to do so. The most loving thing we can do to help our kids when the seas of their life get stormy, is to allow them to discover their own compass so they can find their way, long after we're no longer steering the ship.

AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

Have a question for AdviceMama? Submit your question here.

ReaderComments (Page 1 of 1)


Flickr RSS



AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.