Parenting used to mean having children, raising them, and then sending them off into the world fully equipped to make decisions on their own, and quite possibly start the parenting journey themselves. There was mom and dad, grandparents, teachers, friends’ parents, and an endless list of babysitters that were utilized by every parent in the neighborhood. Parenting meant sending kids out into the woods, off on their bikes, or over to a friend’s house to spend hours doing whatever it was that kids did (probably getting into mischief, but that was cool). Parenting meant making sure they knew to be home before the street light turned on and that they didn’t go to any of the sketchy places around town.
Parents didn’t know everything their child was doing. For the most part, they really didn’t care. They would spend that time doing household chores, catching up with their friends (who were most likely their child’s friend’s parents), working, relaxing, or taking a much needed night away. It was normal to be away from kids. It was normal to let them roam, test limits, and learn from mistakes all on their own.
It’s pretty amazing that 1969 was the first mention of a parent acting like a helicopter in the book Parents and Teenagers. It’s a term so loosely thrown around these days. Parents who don’t let their kids climb the stairs on their own at the playground are deemed helicopter parents. Moms who rush to pick up their child after a stumble are called helicopter moms. Dads who don’t let their kids explore the rough terrain of childhood are presumed helicopter dads.
Helicopter parenting can be taken to an entirely new level when technology is inserted into the picture. In 2014, the LG KizOn was introduced as a way to track kids. It could send location information to parents, but also offered a direct call feature – as it’s target demographic was preschool or primary school-aged kids, the youngest family members who more than likely couldn’t remember a phone number if it was ever truly needed. So far, the KizOn hasn’t made its way to the U.S. but it poses the question, “How many parents would or are already tracking their kids’ every move with technology?”
While things like the Owlet Baby Monitor seems like a great idea to track a baby’s vital signs throughout the night, does it start a trend? Is the next step to download something like Family Tracker and know exactly where kids are at all times, create geofencing so alerts pop up each time someone leaves designated areas, or Automatic that monitors teens driving speed and habits? What is happening to good, old fashioned trust and communication? Setting limits and putting rules into place for kids has always been a part of parenting. But, to then also let kids navigate the cause and effect of not choosing to obey, or just plain listen to, their parents was also the norm.
In adult relationships, it’s not recommended to keep such close tabs on a partner. While a healthy relationship is viewed as one that would willingly give access to certain things like Facebook or email accounts, it’s not usually something that is viewed as a necessary step in a healthy relationship. Partners trust each other enough to let there be some areas of unknown. Sure, this could get them in trouble. However, more often than not, it’s the continuous poking and prodding, distrust, and need to validate a content state that gets people in trouble.
The same could be said for parents and children. Parents should allow their children to learn and grow at a rate that’s acceptable to everyone. Kids included. The constant need for parents to know exactly where kids are, what they’re doing, who they’re interacting with in person and online creates a level of paranoia for all involved. An open dialogue might be a better place to start. To learn where kids interests lie. To understand the limits they’re most likely to push. Helicopter parenting to keep kids away from potentially dangerous and confusing situations becomes an entirely new game when parents never let kids grow.
Parenting is not a skill to learn, although there’s continuous learning going on: about yourself, your child, your partner. Parenting can be boiled down to gut instincts. It’s going to go terribly wrong at some point. It’s going to go mind-blowingly right at many more others. It could be called a skill, and one could say that parenting can be learned, but for those who do it, they’re the ones who will tell of its inability to be categorized in such layman’s terms.
Helicopter parenting can be lumped into a category of parenting that doesn’t allow children to learn the ways of the world. There’s no opportunity to fail and failing is a cornerstone to development. Taking a step back in tech and in real life provides kids with the opportunity to self-regulate and control certain aspects of daily life. They learn the beauty of independence, success, and consequences. Yes, consequences.
Let’s be honest, there’s a difference between spying and coddling, and monitoring and supporting. Helicopter parenting is to spying and coddling as parenting is to monitoring and supporting. It’s important to provide for kids in the best ways possible. It’s important to offer them every opportunity to be safe. It’s important to shield them from the worst life has to offer. And, it’s important of let kids become capable adults. It’s important to let them get hurt, cry, be disappointed, and fail. It’s important to let them rise above these less than perfect moments. It’s important to open them up to a world that they can navigate on their own one day. You know what they say, experience is the best teacher.