I recently took an online test to determine if I am a helicopter parent. Ironically, it was a helicopter quiz! After every question, it gave me immediate, condescending feedback about whether my opinion was right or wrong. And with several of the questions, I didn’t like ANY of the options; they were all too helicopter-y for me. Let me give an example from the quiz I took:
When my child brings home a poor grade, I:
- Run directly to the phone to call the teacher. When she doesn’t answer, I call the principal.
- Talk with my child about the grade and contact the teacher to discuss ways we can help my child improve her academic performance.
- Yell and scream at my child and tell her that if she doesn’t bring up her grade, she’ll be grounded.
Uhm, how about 4? I am not even aware my kid has a poor grade. We operate under a strict “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy! Apparently the quizmasters never thought of that one.
Helicopter parent is a colloquial term for a parent who pays extremely close attention to a child’s or children’s experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions. Helicopter parents are so named because, like helicopters, they hover overhead.
A recent Time article talks about the side effects of helicopter parenting: kids who are incompetent and depressed. We have to allow the little chicklings to peck their own way out of the egg or they do not have the strength to survive, as this wise and adamant person said online:
Do NOT help your chicken out of its shell!!! It needs to do it by itself! If you help a chicken out of its shell then it could get sick or even die. The chicken knows what to do. Some people think that its ok but don’t listen to them!
So it is with children. Although they may not become sick and die, they will not develop into adults (or chickens) if they are not allowed/forced to learn how to fend for themselves. This parenting style is also creating a lot of “rubber band” kids: kids who return home to live after college rather than finding their way in the world. Look, if my parents hadn’t sped off so quickly after dropping me at the Y, I might have come home more often too. This rubber band phenomenon is worse thanks to the high unemployment rate in the wake of the global economic crisis and the tendency of Mormons to marry in infancy college.
I have observed a lot of overprotective parenting behaviors in the church and among the rising generation of parents in general. Especially when the parents are nutjobs view the world as a dangerous place full of moral perils, they may be overprotective nutjobs. Here are a few things I’ve seen among LDS teens heading off to college or missions:
- Children with zero non-member friends.
- Kids who don’t know anyone from a culture or background that differs from their own.
- Teens – or even older – who have never kissed anyone.
- Kids who are totally unaware of basic pop culture because of very limited exposure to TV, movies or music. Not just an ignorance of Godfather references. I’m talking Harry Potter!
- A girl in her twenties who didn’t know the basics of how babies are made.*
Is this why the incidence of depression is so high in Utah? Do parents teach their children that they need to be taken care of and are not capable of thinking for themselves? The difference between a behavior being helicopter parenting and normal good parenting all depends on context and the age of the child (trust should increase with age). What is appropriate when a child is in kindergarten becomes overparenting by middle school.
Helicopter parents want what is best for their children: academic success, achievement, for their kids to be treated fairly, for their child’s specialness to be recognized and acknowledged, for them to feel safe and protected. Parents start with good intentions and end with bad behaviors. Part of growing up includes learning that life isn’t always fair, that kids need to take feedback and make improvements to do well, that they have to advocate for themselves at times, and that they won’t always have a safety net.
Do kids leave their restrictive home environment and go straight into an episode of Girls Gone Wild? Or simply wet themselves when they have to learn to feed themselves or fight their own battles?
The church itself sometimes behaves like a helicopter parent:
- Strictly correlated materials and a prohibition from using outside sources in teaching.
- Adults as well as youth being encouraged to follow the standards set out for the youth.
- Members are sometimes encouraged to police each other. Certainly those attending BYU are encouraged to do so, as the honor code stipulates turning in other students for violations.
- Women can’t meet without a man present. Men can’t teach children without another adult present.
- Being told (erroneously but still frequently) that “once the brethren speak the thinking is done.”
- Members meeting with leaders regularly to account for their tithing payments and temple worthiness.
- Some of the instructions in the White Bible on the mission felt pretty helicopter-ish. So did many all of the BYU rules.
- The Word of Wisdom could be seen as too restrictive to prevent extreme abuses that are rare.
Does this result in our being perpetually dependent rather than developing our own spiritual power and personal revelation? Does it result in morally reckless behaviors for those who leave the church (like those Amish kids on Rumspringa)?
- Are you a helicopter parent? Why or why not?
- What helicopter parent behaviors do you see at church or in the community?
- Do you see the church “overparenting” its members? Or do you see us given more than average trust and freedom (e.g. lay clergy, missions, members do the sermons)?
*But she had great hair and an unbeatable Primary Voice. I did threaten to beat her, and it didn’t stop.