Saturday, 19 February 2011

Hover Parent

Helicopter Parenting Vs. Free Range Parenting is a false dichotomy...

I have thought about this, quite a lot over the years --not the least because I have fielded criticisms from both ends of the spectrum: that I am overprotective and neglectful. It's really, really funny when they're both from the same person...
The phrase I've always used is benign neglect... but I think I need to work on that a bit. I have felt it wasn't quite right for a long time, but haven't really sorted it out in my own head yet.
I believe very strongly that a great many of the problems we see with kids, young adults and society is a massive lack of appropriate supervision. Not someone guiding the kids' activities or telling them what to do or how to do it (of which there is an overabundance, and all of it lacks respect), but someone actually watching them --their development, their discoveries, their forays into the social landscape. 

99% of what goes wrong in any child-on-child interaction could be prevented by anyone with half a brain watching it escalating, long before it gets out of control. What we usually have is someone studiously ignoring them until they're too annoying, or too violent, to un-ignorable and then meting out punishment which appears to be mainly about having interrupted the grownups.
What I'm suggesting is not the same as helicoptering over what's going on all the time, leading kids to this activity or that, or interfering with their play and discovery, telling them what they're learning or quizzing them endlessly... and it is certainly not stopping them from overreaching themselves, trying hard things, becoming frustrated or otherwise engaging in the wide and messy world. 

It is over-managing so their fragile little selves won't have a bump or a bruise ever that I've always been extremely sarcastic about. I don't need my kids not to have a sad. I don't need my kids to feel they're entertained 100% of their day, and whether they are or not is frankly none of my business. In fact, I think the worst of helicopter parenting is that 'your feelings are my fault' aspect that is, in my view, intrusive into a child's private life in some cases to the point of abuse.
My kids were not out 'on their own' when they were 8, 10, 12 or 14... I was with them. Not necessarily doing what they were doing --but there. And almost always the only adult there. I was writing a book, or reading, or writing stories or chatting with whoever was there including other people's children just like they're people, but I was there. 

We had a lot of parents hovering around the gym/dance studio/sports field until the kids were 8 or 10, then I was alone -- unless there were younger kids in the program. 

My kids didn't have a curfew, ever. They were expected to be home (or picked up) when they were done what they were doing. They were expected to have a reason to be out, including a destination and an activity. 'Hanging out' and 'being home later' was not on the menu. They were dropped off and picked up, very often with their friends in the car...
It's tempting to say, now that they're 19 and 21, that they're 'this way' because of how I handled them... but I suspect they came as themselves and are still themselves. If anything, I'll take credit for their total lack of nervous habits, but otherwise it's all them. However: here we are... they're adults and I do not worry about them. I trust them, know them very well, and believe they can handle absolutely anything that comes their way.
I believe this is because I stood back and watched things develop, instead of driving their lives (or padding the world with bubble wrap) --there to help if they needed it, there to stop things that were getting out of hand, and there to watch them handle things well, very often. 
Photo Used with Permission (Creative Commons, Attribution)  Seven News Helicopter over Perth's Swan  River by Michael _Spencer

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