Parent, but don’t be a helicopter!

 

Photo by Paul Proshin
Photo by Paul Proshin

 Helicopter Parenting…Have you ever heard of this term? I became familiar with it a few years ago at a conference. The gist of the term-coined by Dr. Haim Ginott in 1969-describes parents who have a tendency to ‘hover’ like a helicopter, over their children in an attempt to solve, repair, protect, prevent, or rectify for them, essentially invading their space, not allowing them to learn how to or even do it on their own. It’s understandable, we want them to be successful and we want to steer their ship for them until they are able to do it on their own, much like when we taught them to use a bike without wheelies.

     I had never considered myself a helicopter parent, at least not when my children were smaller. But, parenting teenagers has a whole set of maniacally twisted rules that we mostly fail to comprehend, but we try, don’t we? I became painfully aware one day when I popped into my daughter’s room for various reasons that involved helping her or reminding her of things she needed to do. I asked myself if it is due to the impending empty nest – she’s my youngest – or the fact that I feel disconnected from them lately. A whirling of blades (pun completely intended) has passed over my life and hovered there too long.; too many changes and still rolling in. But, I instantly became painfully aware of it. I remembered myself nodding emphatically at the conference, as the presenter spoke, and thinking it would be a terribly thing to be; Helicopter parenting? Never! I still feel the way I did then, but don’t know how to approach this. So, as always, I go and do some soul searching (or internet researching in this particular case).

How, then, can we possibly stop ourselves from drive-by hovering? There’s hope! Here are a few things we can do:

 

1.- Worry, worry wart, BEGONE!

     Apparently, I worry too much. Worry overload is extremely harmful, and it’s very different from being concerned. A healthy dose of concern should be in our parenting repertoire, but worrisome anxiety-yes, it’s the A word-plays a devilish part in protecting our children without being over-bearing because we would like to guard them from facing difficulties or getting hurt in any way. It can also include a preoccupation for their future regarding school, friends, relationships, etc.

Insight: Ask questions, and LISTEN! Discuss safety issues or responsibilities, in and outside of the home or school. Talking is always at the top of my agenda when it comes to dealing with issues that arise with my children. They don’t always want to talk, and I’ve learned that’s pretty OK.

Which brings me to point two…

 

2.- Pestering with verbose pressure

    I talk a lot. My children point it out and I laugh. Whenever I want to cover a point with them, I try to give as many references, examples, metaphors, and so on. It’s my own need to understand a person that makes me try to explain fully, so things are clear. As a result of my endless preaching, it feels like pressure to them, and they tend to become frustrated. But, that’s how we should go about it, isn’t it? I couldn’t be more wrong! I realized they don’t need this; they need guidance not an encyclopedia on life. So, I’m learning to edit — and verbal editing can be just as or more difficult than editing writing. It has been a challenge not to overwhelm them with rants about how this way or that can be better. I might be right, based on my own experiences, but I have to keep reminding myself that it’s their lives they have to live, not mine.

Insight: Be succinct. Say what concerns you and discipline if needed, but leave a door open to talk if they want to. Open doors are engaging. When we try to impose ourselves with our opinions, we close the door ourselves. <— constant mental note!

 

3.- Responsible teens. What’s that?

     I’m pretty easy going with house chores and get scatter-brained with my own routine and To Dos, which makes me fall off the consistency wagon. For example; I may ask them to finish homework or do a chore and will forget for a while, then, I’ll ask again, but will have a hard time punishing them for consequences if the task is not completed. I’ve written notes to myself to keep track of grounding and task schedules! It works, though. Attempting to help them be responsible individuals, I become a walking-talking alarm clock. They might need constant reminders for completing simple tasks like doing the dishes or taking out the trash. The culprit (in my case)? An absence of clear consequence.  

Insight: Stick to your guns! Set boundaries and be consistent with consequences (Phew!). If they over step the boundaries, there should be repercussions. Life is like this anyhow. Responsibilities are part of everything we do and taking the time to do what we must allows us to have freedom to enjoy leisure time freely.

 

4.- You can’t do that? Allow me!

Independence in our children is scary. We tell ourselves if we already know how to do certain things, why not give them a hand? But, how did we learn in the first place? I become impatient when something is bothering them and I have an idea (or two) about how to go about a task or study for an exam.

Insight: Your methods and ways of dealing with the world and yours and not theirs. In other words, help them process, analyze, and think for themselves by assisting when requested. Don’t solve! As tempting as it is, you will not be there when they have to find their way through a city they’re traveling in, or having a test in their college algebra class.

 

All in all, I understood that it’s about being present in need and guidance, not overbearing and excessively strict, taking a step back (and having a little faith in their own abilities), allowing them to deal with things on their own. The opposing criteria for Helicopter Parenting is termed Free Range Parenting – coined by author Lenore Skenazy at her website, which allows them to be completely free to do as they please and letting them fall and pick themselves up, without little if no supervision. The idea, as I understand it, is that children have to ‘blossom’ into adulthood on their own and without forceful influence, such as with traditional schooling or standard set of ideas and principals. I don’t particularly agree that Free-ranging is more beneficial than Helicoptering, but as I inform myself, I realize it’s a healthy spot in the middle that might be the best place to hover when parenting teens, or even younger children. Balance…ah, who knew?

I may have to read my own advice as a reminder every so often. It’s not easy to change a particular behavior we have been accustomed to and were raised by, but it is possible once you are aware of how it affects your children if we have a real interest in giving them a chance to have a safe, complete, exciting, joyful life-experience.

 

Do you have any other tips or comments on this matter? Comment below or drop me an email!

 

Read more on this topic here.

 

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