Monday, November 20, 2006

Helicopter Parents

They hover. They lurk. They guard. They shield. They defend.

I think sometimes that if they could, they'd resort to shrinkwrapping their kids to protect them.

Helicopter parents scare me.

They're not really a new phenomenon, although they do seem to be increasing in number and intensity in recent years, as described in this Wall Street Journal article. But helicopter parents don't just suddenly emerge as their children go off to college—they've had years to develop the intensity and skill with which they try to micromanage their kids' lives, from indulging all those new-parent worries about minor rashes through the proper ways to learn to read to managing the half-dozen or more AP courses essential to the perfect college application package.

(There are, of course, plenty of homeschooling parents who are also helicopter parents — after all, there are as many parents who choose homeschooling to control their kids as there are those seeking to allow their kids more freedom. But homeschooling families are not by definition helicopter families, and we homeschoolers can be just as appalled by these parents as everybody else.)

It has to be exhausting to be a helicopter parent, always on the alert for danger and opportunity. What are they thinking? How long do they mean to keep it all up? Do they really believe their kids are so incapable of handling life for themselves?

The really startling characteristic of most of those I've dealt with is how unable they are to admit that their kids can or should be expected to be responsible for anything. A few days ago, I had a remarkable conversation with a woman who believed that expecting her nearly 18-year-old son to verify some personal information about himself with an organization he'd been working with for four years was unreasonable. As far as she was concerned, the effects of his failure to correct an error when given the opportunity to do so were not a reasonable consequence of his neglect but completely due to the organization's malice.

Seems to me that she fell down on the job. If she felt her son wasn't competent to handle things, why didn't she take care of them herself? If he's not responsible and she's not responsible, does she really expect the rest of the world to fix things for them both?

I don't think it's just the kid who needs to grow up.