I was a camp counselor this summer and I loved telling my kids that pine cones were nocturnal hedgehogs, or that the sun was made out of fluorescent cheese. I even encouraged them to run half marathons with me in the mornings. Every day left me inspired because the growth of children is palpable. Camp was a place to learn, and more importantly a place where failure was okay. The importance of encouraging independence and knowing when to have a hands-off approach to parenting is crucial to allowing children to thrive.
Our current generation relies on our parents more than ever. Be it mobile bills, Netflix or customary homemade dinners, we’re constantly asking our folks for more. It is no longer abnormal for children to live with their parents past college graduation. This can be juxtaposed to previous generations where independence is seen as a virtue. As a result of independence and self-responsibility being ripped from our cultural fabric, we lack many skills adults of prior generations have. Our generation is more childish, more infant-like and as a result we lack resilience, patience and are increasingly self-absorbed.
Helicopter parenting refers to parents who act as a battering ram, and instead of allowing children to overcome problems by themselves, instead remove the challenges their children would otherwise overcome. When a child struggles academically or does not engage with a teacher, parents have grown increasingly trigger-happy, calling for negative repercussions to the teacher or increased tutoring for the child.
On the surface, this may appear to be a good thing. Timmy is back-on-track to get into Yale, it was an abnormality and peace has been restored. In the short-term, it appears that Timmy has been helped. However, something more insidious is happening. By removing obstacles from our child, we’ve neglected to teach them to struggle. What may start as benign may end up becoming malignant as Timmy struggles with social skills and lacks the internalization and maturity necessary to approach and resolve his issues. Sometimes the correct course of action is to allow children to empower themselves and expect that they have the responsibility to solve their own problems. Being unable to solve small problems deprives children of the building blocks to approach more challenging problems. (Un)Fortunately, (to some) a parent’s staunch conviction in the value of their child does not make them into a CEO, a doctor or a lawyer. Here’s the rub: Without the ability to overcome small obstacles, it becomes functionally impossible to overcome larger ones. Rather than emerging successful, children become crippled with anxiety, insecurity and self-doubt when it comes to facing tough decisions because they have not built upon the skills necessary to do so.
Helicopter parenting is not a victimless crime. Being taught that a resistance-free lifestyle is normal leaves young people incapable when they approach adversity. If one removes the tutorial-mode of childhood without providing the mechanisms and skills to adapt to the world, I’m unsure of how the child will function without their parent leading them through life.
Helicopter parenting uses up a lot of parents’ fuel too. While their child learns helplessness, parents struggle too. The amount of mental energy put into worrying about your child is overbearing. While that can be rationalized as a self-sacrifice in service of your child, one should recognize the toll on themselves. You are your own person, and you deserve time to think about yourself.
Finally, the repercussions of helplessness go beyond a family unit. An entire generation of Americans is blind to the prosperity and opportunity that surrounds them because they are constantly expecting someone to serve as a cheerleader. I’ve been extremely lucky that I’m outside the reach of helicopter parenting and I hope talking about it will help the fuel tank of overprotection sputter out.
Isadore Johnson is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org