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The Helicopter/ Neglectful Parent Dichotomy: Which is Better?

Posted by on May 31, 2013 | 8 Comments

Read these two articles:–please-dont-help-my-kids

Parent (or non-parents), answer the following questions in the “comments’ section:

1. Briefly (25 words or less) share your opinion on each article.

2. Which parenting style is closer to your own style?

3. Why do you think this topic is such a hot-button issue? In other words, why do we care so much about how other parents parent?

Also, feel free to comment or ask follow-up questions on other people’s comments.


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  1. HeadDoc
    June 2, 2013

    I am a child psychologist and a father of 3. As most of the posts seem agree, it is about balance. To the first article, I would say, yes, of course, parents should be engaged with their children and take a genuine interest in their lives, while, yes, of course, parents need to be able to take breaks and let their kids try to make friends and test themselves during play time. To the second article, yes, of course, learning to strive and struggle and surpass one’s own personal best is a great lesson to teach one’s child, while it should be remembered that asking for help when we genuinely CAN’T do something alone is also a very valuable skill to have (interdependence, as opposed to independence), which kids learn by occasionally getting assistance when they ask for it. I lean more toward minimalism (hey, it doesn’t just apply to footwear!), except in the realm of emotions. Be present emotionally when your kids are expressing their feelings, and they don’t suffer when you challenge them. As to why people care about other peoples’ parenting, um… children tend to often grow up to be full-sized adult-type people, people who work late trying to cure cancer while volunteering on weekends, people who are in prison for life for horribly violent, monstrous behavior, and all of us in between. Teaching children how to be adults (directly, or indirectly, by example) is pretty much the most important thing any of us do, by a long shot. If we all lived our lives as if a 5-year-old were watching us, and was going to ask a thousand questions about what we were doing and why, the world would be a much better place, I think.

  2. Matt
    June 2, 2013

    I agree with the first article. I am often guilty of being with my child while my brain is somewhere else entirely. Not good.

    I agree with the second with reservations. We need to teach kids independence *and* be there for them. It takes wisdom to know when to do which!

    I am a reforming helicopter parent. I did too much for my firstborn for too long. And now he expects help with everything and gets upset when I don’t give it how he wants it. Consistency is huge to kids. They spot inconsistency a mile away and get frustrated when they don’t know how you will respond.

    Why is it such a “hot button?” Because humans (i.e. parents) are proud and egocentric. It is not enough to be right, we want to be shown to be right. And we assume different is wrong, when many times (but not always), it is simply different.

  3. Dave
    May 31, 2013

    1. iPhone parent: The behavior described in the article really has little to do with helicopter vs. hands-off parenting. Merely observing and cherishing your child’s little accomplishments does not make you a helicopter parent. As children get older, my experience is that they look less and less for parental validation, so enjoy it while you can.

    2. Hands-off parent: Agree with reservations. At the youngest age, kids may not know the boundaries of safety, so I’m okay with spotting my toddler as they climb a taller ladder. But I will let/make them climb, and will (and have) become more hands-off as they gain common safety sense. I don’t think however that a teaching moment requires putting your child at risk of a broken neck.

    As Bryan points out, a mix of helicopter and hands-off parents can lead to conflict or stress, at least with the parents. When in someone else’s turf, I think it’s okay to put a tighter leash on your children. They do after all need to learn that the rules change depending on social situations. At least I believe this. The freest of free spirits out there may disagree, but that’s okay. Their ‘wild’ children probably are not going to be invited in my home anyway 🙂

    This all comes down to the fundamental question: are you a good parent? The extremes of the helicopter/hands-off continuum will look unfavorably on your worth as a parent if you are on the opposite extreme. Being a good parent is central to our worth as a human being. ‘Good’ parents raise children who will be successful in life and will hand down their genes to a larger following generation. I.e. There is probably an evolutionary impetus to this association between parenting and self/social worth.

    To be clear, I am talking out of my ass here, but as a commenter on a blog (or a blogger for that matter), that goes without saying.

    • Bryan
      May 31, 2013

      It’s not even helicopter vs non-helicopter parents. The problem is when one set of parents are MUCH more permissive than others. The other parents may not even be extremely strict.

      • Dave
        May 31, 2013

        Agreed. Unlike you, however, I probably wouldn’t let my son live life as a commoner in Queens, even with the supervision of a super long-fingered ex-talk-show host.

  4. MIranda
    May 31, 2013

    I found aspects of both articles that resonated for me. I think that my parenting (four kids over the course of 19 years) has aspects that look [superficially] like both helicopter and neglectful parenting. The crux of the issue for me is “What do the children want?”

    If they are yelling “Mom, watch!” or asking me not to leave, to stay nearby and support them, then I will do that. That’s true even when my 12-year-old doesn’t feel comfortable doing an overnight trip with a group on her own and wants me to volunteer as a chaperone so that feels supported. I will be as supportive and as engaged with them as I can if that legitimately seems to be what they need and want.

    On the other hand, when my kids want independence, I try my very best to let go. When they’re trying to climb and tree, when they want to play on their own outside, when they’re happily engaged in trying something on their own and haven’t requested oversight or assistance, I’ll leave them be. And that is true even when that kid who needed me along on overnight trips at 12 tells me just two years later that she wants to backpack through Southeast Asia with some adult friends for 2 and a half months. Then yes, I’ll get her malaria pills and a plane ticket and gulp down my instinct to protect her from all risk and let her go.

    Kids are programmed to move from intense dependence to full independence over the course of their development. Some move slowly and steadily. Some move on very different trajectories, slower or quicker than average, all in a rush or vacillating at times. My job as a parent is to respond to exactly where my particular children are on the spectrum at any given moment in time — to read their cues and provide the parental response that serves their needs. Whether that looks like I’m helicoptering or neglecting is an function of particular circumstances.

  5. Bryan
    May 31, 2013

    I haven’t read either article, but I can answer your last question as to why parents care about how other people parent. I see it a lot in parents of younger kids (from about age 2 to when they start elementary school). It’s always frustrating to have one parent in your circle of friends that just doesn’t see fit to keep track of their kids in any given situation (especially when you’re having people over to your house and their kid is running wild). The reason of course for this is that kids tend to not only follow the pack, they will also follow the lone wolf if it seems like he’s doing something they want to do.

    In other words, it’s not so much that I care how other people parent, it’s that I care how other people parent if my kid is going to be around theirs (or their kid is behaving inappropriately).

    • Bryan
      May 31, 2013

      To summarize my earlier post, it’s always frustrating to have one parent in a group that just won’t say “no” as often as they reasonably should. Sooner or later, your kids will start asking why you say “no” when someone else’s parents don’t.