Have Overprotective Parents Really Ruined a Generation of Kids, or Is It All Hype?

Are we really a generation of helicoptering, overparenting, overprotective, crippling-our-kids-by-doing-everything-for-them, parents? Are we running behind all our toddlers while they climb up playground slides, pressing preschools to give them Ivy League resume building skills, and guarding them against any opportunity to develop autonomy or self-effectiveness? Do we only care about college, and do we measure our success by whether our kids get accepted to Harvard or Stanford? 

As I write this, my kids are not overscheduled and no adult is hovering to keep them safe. 2 kids are at a traditional summer camp where they are hiking and making crafts, singing songs and swimming, all while supervised by a group of teenaged camp counselors. They have no electronics, no email, and no cell phones and they don’t much care. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a scrawled letter or two by the end of the week. A third child has been running in and out of the house sopping wet this morning with a friend, lobbying for a sleepover, giggling at pop culture references, all after eating an impressively large pancake for breakfast. Nothing here seems much different than my own upbringing, except perhaps the latchkey kid part. But even those still exist in my neighborhood.

Articles and books tell me how my peers (and I?) are parenting from conception and I think, “Is this a real thing?” Is some author, somewhere living in a world where constant helicoptering, overscheduling, intruding, and otherwise invasive parental behavior is not only present, but is commonplace? Because I’m a parent, and truly, my life is not like this. I did not drive frantically across the city on the day I found out I was expecting a child to register for the best preschool. I don’t write my children’s homework essays or do their science fair projects or lash out at teachers when my child gets a bad grade or a note in his or her communication log alerting me to a discipline problem. And save for a few difficult parents (or more often, a few isolated misunderstandings or profoundly bad days) I don’t see other parents in my community behaving this way either. 

So this leaves me wondering, am I just blessed to live in a better community? Or has the whole narrative about how our generation of parents is helicoptering just been overblown? Perhaps much of what has been written is dramatized, highlighting the worst examples and adding quite a lot of embellishment. But why?

In the era of 24-hour news cycles, parents hear about every rare disease, every child abduction, and every fluke head injury, so perhaps many parents have a heightened sense of danger. Maybe we should be letting our kids walk to and from elementary schools alone. Maybe we should let them play in the park unsupervised while we work our shifts at McDonalds. Parents these days may be fearful, and restricting previously “normal” activities for children.

But isn’t the sensationalized fear of our “helicopter” parenting culture just the next in a series of overreactions and overdramatizations in the world of child-rearing? Now we should be afraid of being afraid?

Parenting is about facilitating growth. In some instances, developing kids need parental oversight and protection. In other instances, kids benefit from exploration, independent discovery, and self-driven problem solving. But as the pendulum begins to swing away from “overdoing” and toward backing off, let us parents not forget that our role is all about being mindful and making sound, sane, in the moment decisions based on what is best for our children, in their given stage of development, to support the shaping of each child’s skillset for emotional health and lifelong independent adulthood. And no simple soundbyte captures our job fully.

Posted on July 6, 2015 .