With millions of kids across the world heading back to school each September comes homework, assignments, bullies, paper bag lunches, sleepless nights and – the anxious parent. In recent times a new term has been put into use to identify parents who are constantly involved in their children’s growth and development in an overbearing—hovering—type of way. These parents have been named Helicopter Parents.
With society increasing its pressures to raise the perfect child, it has been noted that these types of parents are on the rise and what is worse their controlling ways seem to be doing more harm then good where a child’s development is concerned. From an enlightened perspective, a being cannot force their will upon another, even if it thinks that they are doing it out of love. Smothering another by controlling its every move is not in the best interest of the child. A lot of parents need to grasp that message for the benefit of their children, themselves and society as a whole.
In this essay I share with you a list of 8 Back to School Resolutions for Parents, which were written by Ken Haller, a pediatrician from the Saint Louis University. In addition to this I want to provide you with explanations of his tips and how to incorporate them on a practical level to maximize the benefits for you and your children.
The Helicopter Parent
So are you one of them – you know, the “helicopter parent”?
The answer really depends on how you interact with your child in all of their daily routines that lead to their growth and development. Since children spend most of their day in a school setting, a lot of your actions hence, revolve around how you deal with their school life.
If you are more the type of parent that allows your child to explore life and problem solve for themselves with gentle guiding ways, then you probably have nothing to worry about. However, if you are the type of parent that constantly makes decisions for the child and solves all their problems, then you might be guilty of being the “helicopter parent”.
This term may still be new to a lot of parents, but do not get caught up with the label. The idea of parents who constantly hover and monitor their child’s every move is anything but new in our society.
Ken Haller M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, states:
There have always been parents who would fit the definition of helicopter parents. They used to be called “overprotective parents,” but the idea of parents who hover over their children to shield them from possible distress is as old as parenting.
Many parents who fall under this subheading get offended at hearing this and think that they are doing the right thing out of love for the child and how dare anybody say otherwise. From a psychological standpoint however, children brought up in such a way grow up to have worse skills in the areas of communication, problem solving, initiative and in general life skills – just to name a few. Hence we must all understand that this type of behavior does not serve the child.
We all know that parental involvement is key to a child’s success in school, but there is a point at which that parental involvement turns to full fledged control and is actually hurting not helping the child to develop in a constructive and healthy way.
Dr. Haller also states that:
Being an advocate for your child is a noble thing, but at a certain point, parents need to step back and let their children become advocates for themselves. That’s the only way kids will be able to learn the skills they’ll need to take care of themselves when they become adults.
One of the main reasons according to Dr. Haller why this has gotten so out of hand today is that today’s parents feel more empowered to question the authority of other adults whom their child encounters, such as coaches and teachers. This behavior itself is detrimentally negative as children from very early on pick up this trait from their parents and do the same where authority figures are concerned and then we wonder why we hear that our kids or youth today are “out of control”.
Dr. Haller explains:
Questioning is not bad as long as parents are willing to listen and there is true dialogue. When it results in uncompromising demands, however, it can become a real barrier to the child’s maturity and self-reliance.
Hence Dr. Haller has put together “8 Back to School Resolutions for Parents” to help them evaluate their role in their child’s lives and make adjustments that will set their children up to succeed.
Back to School Resolutions for Parents
The following are Dr. Haller’s resolutions with further explanations from me:
1. Encourage your children to discuss their problems, but let them come up with their own solutions. Problem solving is a great way for children to learn and grow.
We all know that it is easier to just tell the child the answer or what to do, but as any good teacher knows when a child asks for an answer you should not give it out, instead work around it in such a way that allows the child to discover the answer for themselves.
So why do parents instinctively give their kids the answer – three main reasons really. One, because it is easy and takes less time. Today’s parents are busy, no surprise there and rarely do they have enough time to spend it engaging in quality discussions with their kids. Two, you need a lot of patience to help the child arrive at the appropriate conclusions, and after a whole day at work for most parents, patience is the last thing they have. Three, most parents do not trust their kids to know what to do and feel they always need to tell them the “right” thing to do. However parents must not forget that the “right” thing for them is not always the “right” thing for the child.
2. Steer clear of battles such as disputing your child’s grade, discipline, placement on a team or squabbles with friends. Instead, enable your child to properly deal with his or her problems by asking him or her what should be done and offering possible solutions.
Again here dialogue is the key and for that one needs time. Allow your child to fully express themselves and keep an open dialogue so they can always feel comfortable coming to you for help or advice. But in order for this to happen, the child has to trust you that you will not call their friends, their teachers, etc. when they have a problem and embarrass them.
For example, when your child tells you that they have not been invited to a party do not automatically go on a rant and start calling and yelling at the person who did not invite them. Find out the details of the situation and always get other perspectives on the story, but most importantly try to stay conscious and not get lost in your own ego.
Too many times too, kids come home and complain about a grade. What a conscious parent would do first is discuss and find out from the child what the actual expectations of the assignment were and how the child prepared for it, not call and yell at the teacher. Although there are some poor teachers out there, most are in the profession out of their love for kids and teaching, hence you have to trust they know what they are doing and they are not out to get your child – there simply isn’t any reason in that. 9 out of 10 times you have to put the accountability on the child and find out what they really did for their part in such a situation.
3. During homework time, be available to answer questions and clarify instructions. Avoid giving the answers or doing the work yourself, even if the assignment seems too difficult. Remember your job is to create a situation where your child can succeed. Provide the necessary supplies; create a quiet and well-lit study area and set aside time for homework.
Great advice here and so often missed. From an educational perspective, you would not believe how many parents, especially in the lower grades do their children’s homework, assignments and projects. One has to shake their head in amazement. There is no way a conscious parent would do that as they would see that this does not serve their child one bit! What is the child learning? Definitely not the subject matter or accountability. Some parents think, “oh it is just this one time to help them out”. You really have to get the fact though that even from one event there could be a damaging effect.
See, what so many parents are scared of is having their child fail at something – but it is those types of experiences that we actually need in life too, that strengthen us and teach us coping skills. Hence children whose parents do their tasks for them and solve all their problems for them grow up with very poor problem solving and life skills which cripple them when they get out into the working, adult world. Children have to be taught to learn to deal with things when they don’t work out the way they thought they would.
4. Respect teachers’ schedules by making appointments and using e-mail. Your child’s teacher will be happy to meet with you, but he or she also needs time to teach and prepare for class. If you want to be involved, ask your child’s teacher how you can contribute to the classroom.
This point speaks for itself. If you are the parent who walks into a classroom and demands to see a teacher, step back for a moment and ask yourself if you would do that to you doctor, dentist or lawyer. We are all “busy” and at a time when communication could not be better, scheduling appointments could not be easier.
Also do not get all upset and offended if a teacher does not call you back right away. Remember, they have a job and a life too and you do not know what circumstances may have gotten in their way.
5. Teach your child to respect the authority of teachers and coaches. While it’s OK to question teachers and coaches, do not bad mouth them, break their rules or make excuses for your child.
This is another golden rule. In today’s society people complain that children are out of control. Parents want teachers to keep the kids in line and yet when they do, they usually get yelled at or harassed for “how dare do you treat my child this way”. Well folks we cannot have it both ways. Either you trust the teachers to discipline your kids in a loving and fair way as you would or do not complain that youth today are rude, selfish, mouthy, violent, etc.
Probably the number one thing that got lost here somewhere in the past few decades is respect for fellow humans but especially ones that are trying to teach you and take care of you. Hence as a parent from a very early age you should dialogue with your child on appropriate behavior and boundaries where the child-teacher relationship is concerned. If you hear your child complaining about a teacher, communicate with them the other side of the story as well and the most important lesson here that can be taught is EMPATHY. Relationships are not one way streets and when children are taught to empathize with the other being respect and kindness naturally follow.
6. Hold your children accountable and let them suffer the consequences of their actions. Especially by middle school, it is important to make your child responsible for studying, bringing homework home and turning assignments in.
I cannot say enough about ACCOUNTABILTY. In our society it seems adults and children alike are lacking it big time! We seem to want to be able to do what we want, when we want with no consequences. Well the universe and hence life do not work that way, there are consequences for everything.
A lot of parents think they are doing their child a favor by shielding them from all pain, but the truth of the matter is they could not be doing them a greater disservice. The earlier the child learns that there are consequences for every single one of their actions, the easier in fact their life will be. This goes for how they think, act and view the world.
7. If you’re concerned that your child is the victim or bullies or peer pressure, discuss your concerns with your child. Brainstorm appropriate responses, but try not to interfere at school unless your child is in danger.
This is probably one of the toughest things to do as a parent. It is not easy to stand back when you know your child is being picked on and under no circumstances should bullying be tolerated as it can have negative consequences on the social development of the child.
However, it still needs to be handled in such a way that allows the child to feel empowered not feeling that mom and dad will solve everything when a problem arises. Most important is not to let your child become a victim of a bully in the first place. This can be done by talking a lot and early on with your child about their personal boundaries and examining some situations they may be faced with. In these types of dialogue the child should be encouraged to say what they would do, i.e. propose as a solution. In many cases just having a good, ongoing dialogue at home that fosters confidence and smart problem solving skills can avoid the child being the victim of a bully.
If however it has come to the point that your child is bullied, having the child solve the problem themselves should still be the first choice. Most important is to foster self-confidence and make sure the child is comfortable talking to adults about what is happening. The child should never be put down in these cases and made to feel weak or embarrassed. It is thus important to again talk through some options of what the child can do to feel empowered and stop the bullying.
8. Remember that your job is to prepare your child to be a responsible and capable adult, so decrease your involvement over time and let your child live his or her own life.
Ah, this is another hard one for parents…you mean I can’t control where they go and with whom, what classes they take and what their future career will be… Well in a one word answer, no. At least not if you want your children to grow up to be healthy adults who can handle any situation successfully and do not grow up to resent you.
Parents have to understand that when they constantly make the decisions for their growing children, especially when they get to the teenage years, the children are literally miserable. They may act out in anger, rebellion, depression, laziness, aloofness and all sorts of other ways. Now it is at this point that a conscious parent should realize that this is not the reason why one has children – to make them feel miserable. And the phrase “I know what is good for them” isn’t one that a conscious parent would use, because the truth is you are not them. You do not know on a deeper level what needs and desires this being has and what types of experiences they came forth upon this Earth for.
It is hard for parents to let go, trust and allow their kids to make their own choices, but nevertheless it is a healthy and necessary part of life. It is too bad that most parents do not take examples from nature, where animal parents are instinctively wired to teach the little one to succeed and literally “push” them out on their own. Human parents, some especially, have this insistent desire to hold onto their kids for as long as possible by making them dependant on the parent. In the animal kingdom, which by the way let us not forget we are part of, these types of offspring would be defined as complete failures.
Parents ultimately have to understand that they are the “guardians” and not “owners” of their children and there is a time to “guard and protect” and a time to let go and let them be independent. In the long run kids from such families are less likely to rebel and take up dangerous habits and more likely to have long, close and friendship based relationships with their parents.
Many parents think that if they are not totally immersed in the child’s life, the child will “leave” them or not “need” them anymore. The truth is, the more a parent tries to hold on, does not guarantee the child staying close, in many cases in fact, it pushes the child away even more as the child longs for their own freedom in life.
On a final note, do not confuse letting go and child independence with neglect. It seems today, we have parents highly concentrated in the two ends of the spectrum: on one end the hovering type of parent who can’t seem to back off and on the other end the neglecting parents who can’t seem to get involved in the child’s life and offer proper guidance and support.
Although we can always implement new changes at the fresh start of a new school year, know that you do not have to wait. Each moment is an opportunity to re-examine your beliefs and ideas when it comes to your children, and your parenting style. Each moment can be used by us to transform old habits that are limiting our and our child’s evolution, into new habits that promote positive growth.
Take yourself back to when you were planning and creating your children and immerse yourself in that feeling. Now remember it each and every time you look at them and interact with them. They are not here to be mini-slaves, mini-versions of you through whom you try to live out the life you did not have, nor are they here simply for your control. They are beings who came to this Earth to delight and experience the physical realm for themselves, and hence offer them your guidance, but do not hinder their creativity and experiences.