This is How our Social Media Obsession Gave Birth to the “Helicopter Parent”
noun, informal noun: helicopter parent; plural noun: helicopter parents
- a parent who takes an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child or children.
This generation has seen the rise of a new kind of parent. Gone are they days when wild children roamed neighborhoods in packs until the street light went up. Remember when kids walked to school with their lunchables (that they packed themselves)? What if they don’t have a winter coat? (Gasps in horror). Remember when that forgetfulness was met with a shrug and a “too bad you’ll learn”? Today’s kids must be watched every moment. Now children get custom lunches packed in their BPA free Bento box, they must not be allowed to make a mess, be cold, go outside without a grownup, make a mess, climb trees, make a mess…
They must be kept safe. Our helicopter kids must be warm. Their gut health is of the upmost importance. They must have a helicopter parent hovering over every move. The helicopter parent cannot make a mistake, the pressure is to much
No wonder we feel like we are constantly failing our children.
The Millennials and Generation X aren’t just having kids, they are birthing a new style of parenting: the helicopter parent.
And it’s hurting our children.
You see, helicopter parents are realizing that when they micro-manage their children’s environments, their behaviors, their choices, that their children are “making” safe “choices.
But the problem is, it isn’t the children’s choice at all. Today’s kids aren’t learning to make their own choices, manage their own environments, discover outcomes (favorable or not) based on their behavior choices. Because they aren’t making decisions themselves.
Pat Morrison, in her article “How Helicopter Parenting is ruining America’s Children”, states it best:
“When children experience a setback — they don’t know their homework assignment — that’s not your problem to solve. The best way for a kid to learn is to have that uncomfortable feeling, [to experience] consequences that are tiny in the grand scheme of things. Some will say something idiotic like, “Oh, my kid’s drowning, I’m just supposed to turn around?” Of course not. Where your child is in a situation potentially damaging to life and limb, of course you’re going to protect them. The trouble is we’re acting like everything is life or death.”
Why is it so important for these helicopter parents to make choices for their kids? Why do they feel so much pressure to pack the perfect lunch, to style their kids hair just right, to hover on the playground, because the child may fall, may hurt themselves. Pat makes a great point- it’s not an internal parenting conundrum- it’s society’s. Because in a world where people are calling the police for 10 year old’s walking home from the park, today’s parents have to be extra vigilant.
And it’s social media’s fault.
Social Media’s Role in Changing our Parenting Style
Now, I love social media. As a childcare provider, I love having the ability to connect with other adults, share ideas with other providers, and gleaning new ideas. In a lot of ways, social media has made me a better parent and provider. I mean, Holy Information Batman!
But with that information comes opinions. About EVERYTHING. Misinformation, click-bait titles, and parent shaming have parents spiraling. As we scroll, we form opinions. This parent shouldn’t do this, they could have done that. Can you believe she lets her kids eat at McDonalds? The Horror! No first day of school pictures? What kind of mother is she? And so it spirals. And spirals.
Until we lose our village.
Because we sit in silent judgment behind our phones, we feel it. We feel the judgement of others, a heavy weight on our shoulders that begins to shroud every decision we make. Whether we mean to or not. We see people tear apart the mom (even though dad was there, too) in every horrific case we read on Facebook. Remember the child who fell into the Gorilla exhibit in Cincinnati? The finger pointers really came out of the woodwork for that one.
Or worse- remember the child who was drug off by an alligator at Disney? Remember how the social media trolls attacked her while the family was mourning? They shamed her- where was she, why did she let her child go so close to the lake? And on and on.
It’s no wonder this generation is turning into a generation of helicopter parents. Can you imagine grieving for your child while the rest of the world tears apart your parenting? I just CAN’T! Where did our kindness go? Our love and support? No one scolded and shamed Baby Jessica’s parents. It’s no wonder we have turned into a generation of perfection obsessed helicopter parents. Its not safe to be anything less.
But there wasn’t Facebook then.
Here is what we can do:
Give our Kids Space to Explore
It was a lesson that I learned early on, although I frequently have to remind myself to take a step back. I ask myself- does this really matter? It was my mother in law who taught me. My firstborn had crawled under the kitchen table and gotten stuck. I scrambled to remove my child’s unintended prison when my mother in law stopped me. “She got herself in there, she can get herself out.” So I held my breath and waited- and sure enough, my Imp squirmed her way out and went on to explore other things.
This lesson has carried on into so much of my childcare philosophy. When toddlers who are barely walking attempt to climb the ladder on the playground, I step back, hold my breath, and let them go. And you know what? They can do it.
It’s amazing what our children are capable of when we give them the trust and independence to try. When we helicopter parent, we steal that sense of confidence from them. Encouraging children to take risks helps them to develop into strong, confident, and capable adults. And isn’t that a goal we all want for our children?
Start Accepting our own faults
This is my own personal Goliath. I see it in my daughter. My fears about failing her as a parent are oozing out into the WAY I parent her. Slowly, like an out of body experience that I can’t stop, I watch how my judgement of myself as a parent eeks out into unintentional judgement of her. I feel it, when I watch in horror as she refuses to cheer with the rest of her squad, when she tries tor run out to the bus without her beautiful wild curls brushed neatly, when she screams so loud that I’m certain our entire neighborhood can hear her.
When did I care so much about what other people think about my kid? About my parenting? It’s damaging my confidence as a woman, as a mom, as an example to my young and mold-able child.
The only way I can see to overcome this sense of guilt and shame is to accept it. Accept that my kid is human and developing impulse control and social emotional communication skills. Understand that I’m not a perfect parent, but if I love my kids and laugh at my faults, its a better lesson for my children than any perfect parenting technique I can implement. Trust that my children can make good and safe choices, if only encouraged and loved to do so, instead of being told.
The best thing we can do for our children is to stop hovering, and start trusting ourselves.
Stand Up when other parents are belittled
I see it all the time, constantly. Strongly voiced opinions pouring out on news articles and in parenting groups. “I would never” “How could you” “That’s terrible”. Don’t scroll. Point it out. Call out the shamers. Make an open call to love and lift up one another. Support the struggling mom. It doesn’t matter if you disagree, if she’s wrong. Just. Be. Kind.
A good rule of thumb is: If you wouldn’t say this to someone’s face, don’t say it on Social Media either. Hiding behind a screen isn’t an excuse to be cruel or judgmental. We just need to love each other.
Lifting the stigma of judgment and mom shaming would go so much in building our confidence as parents and caregivers. It could encourage parents to have the confidence to not only trust themselves, but trust their children to learn and make their own mistakes.
After all, if we don’t set an example of love, kindness, curiosity, and confidence, how can we impress that upon our children? If we lift each other up as parents, maybe we can stop helicoptering and fear-mongering over our children as well.
Other Articles You May Enjoy:
- Reasonable Risk Taking- Why your children need to take them, by Balanced and Barefoot
- Respect, trust, acceptance- Magda Gerber’s therapeutic approach to childcare, Janet Lansbury
- Bottle vs. Breast and the Fight to Not be Ashamed, Breastfeeding World
- The Effects of Helicopter Parenting- Psychology Today
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