Helicopter Parents: Leave Your Kids Alone.

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Too many of us overparent. 


We all want our kids to crawl first, walk first, speak first, read first, be the best athlete, finish first in everything, play a musical instrument, have the lead in the school play, win a pageant, be named the best-looking and funniest, finish in the top 1 in their class, and have 857 trophies (none that say “Participation”) in their bedroom.

Our society has come to believe we can control our children’s futures by controlling every aspect of their childhood.

Raising a child isn’t a competition.  It isn’t about winning and losing.  It’s about preparing kids who have the ability to make their own decisions when they enter adulthood.

To learn how to make good decisions, they have to experience what happens when they make a bad one.

A high number of activities, tutors, traveling teams, does not indicate future success in life.

We are failing our kids.

Not by failing to provide them opportunities, but by providing them far too many.

To be a good parent we need to give our children the gift of failure.

It’s okay to strike out.

The world won’t end if you’re cut from the basketball team.

You don’t have to play 75 summer softball games as a 3rd grader to be successful in life.

Eating school lunch is fine.  Mom doesn’t have to bring fast food to school.

C’s on your report card aren’t the end of the world (if you did your best).

Not being the most popular person in high school isn’t a bad thing.  It’s probably a good thing.

Being first isn’t nearly as important as being a gracious winner.  And even more importantly, a gracious loser.

We do everything in our power to keep our kids from feeling badly.

We try to protect them from:  teachers, illnesses, bad grades, tap water, demanding coaches, criticism, and high expectations.

If they fail, we feel like we’ve failed.

Except that’s not true.

We are holding them back by pushing them forward too quickly.

Parents want 3 year olds to act 5.  And 5 year olds to act 10.  And 10 year olds to act 16.

It’s too much, too fast.

They need a childhood.

They need some free time.

Kids should ride their bikes, eat dirt, drink out of a garden hose, get yelled at by coaches, pick their own teams, and solve their own disagreements.

They need mom, dad, their stepparents, and grandparents to allow them to find out what happens when you turn in a late assignment.

And it’s not having mom call and blame the teacher.

And it’s not the end of the world.


This TIME Magazine article explains this concept much better than I can.  The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting.

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12 Responses to “Helicopter Parents: Leave Your Kids Alone.”

  1. Erica
    on Dec 3rd, 2009
    @ 8:29 pm

    Loved your post, and the article at Time. I actually met the “Free Range Mom” at a get together here in Chicago over the summer. She is a level headed, thoughtful, parent who isn’t afraid to let her kids make mistakes or fail. I sure wish there were more parents like her!

  2. Dave Meister
    on Dec 3rd, 2009
    @ 8:32 pm

    I have liked reading your blog for your self depricating humor and keen insight to the funny and sad things we witness as educators. I must say that this post is one of my favorites! Good advice for a father raising two kids…thank you! You have hit on the issue that makes educators pull their hair out (not a reference to your head by the way). How many times are schools blamed for not preparing their students for the next step in life when it is the simple fact that many young people have not had the chance to stand on their own and fail a few times before they leave the nest for college or their first real job? We are doing our kids a great disservice when we hover in and try to make sure our kids experience no discomfort. I need to remind myself this regularly when I look in the mirror. Thanks!

  3. Pam Franklin
    on Dec 3rd, 2009
    @ 9:28 pm

    I agree 100%. I have teacher friends who go to the guidance counselor and choose their children’s teachers. Totally ridiculous! You have to learn to deal with pinheads – you might as well start young!

  4. Tim
    on Dec 3rd, 2009
    @ 11:13 pm

    Boy howdy! What’s this? A mostly serious post? Sarcasm is muted, perhaps even minimal? Who’s guest blogging this stuff?

    Seriously though, totally agree! Good post…. I remember the day my mom was yammering at me about an F in Geometry (No, I probably didn’t do my best) but it occurred to me that she was worried about how my grades reflected on her so I said, “What is the big deal? It’s my F and the teacher knows it.” She never yammered at me about grades again, and I never got an F in Geometry again… (Of course I dropped the class and figured out who the easiest geometry teacher was…)

  5. Hugo
    on Dec 3rd, 2009
    @ 11:27 pm

    Personally, I must echo Dave’s sentiments on the value of this post for a father of three young boys. It’s definitely a balancing act that I and my wife and have been working at since our first son was born. I imagine there’s still much that lay ahead on our road to raising happy young men who make solid decisions and are able to learn from the hopefully less frequent but equally valuable poor ones.

    Professionally, it’s rather timely as I just sat through the first of what is usually two half day sessions of reviewing and commenting on report cards. And as rewarding as it is to go through and comment on each and every one of them it never escapes me that one of our recipients will undoubtedly misinterpret something I or the teacher has written. A small part of me always thinks that I’ll be able to chip away at this “overparenting” when we receive the call inquiring about Johnny’s report card. At least this year I’ll have some of your insights to aid in the discussion.

  6. Michelle Howell-Martin
    on Dec 4th, 2009
    @ 3:17 am

    I totally agree! I have even known parents who will lie to the principal in order to get their child’s teacher/grade changed. It’s unbelievable! Thanks for this post!

    P.S. Of course, my children are totally perfect….not so perfect grades and all!

  7. Charlie A. Roy
    on Dec 4th, 2009
    @ 3:55 am

    Great post. I’ve heard it argued and perhaps it’s a stretch but that the growing divorce rate is tied to over parenting. The argument goes that kids at one time were pretty much left along by adults. They roamed the neighborhood, played in the parks, and above all learned to handle their own disputes as part of growing up. Sometimes words did the trick other times a punch or two and the inevitable forgiveness session that came afterwords. (I’m not advocating childhood violence as a means of social change) But this process allowed children to learn life skills that became valuable towards solving problems later on in life. In a marriage you have to work through problems, let downs, etc. If you’ve never had the opportunity to experience adversity the first bump in the road can become a deal ender. I’ve seen the same scenario with some of my younger employees. They expect everything to go perfectly and are horrified when it doesn’t. Sometimes so horrified they are paralyzed with fear. We need resilient people. If letting them ride their bike down the street without fifty pounds of tupperware strapped to their body then by all means let it happen.

  8. Natalie Schwartz
    on Dec 4th, 2009
    @ 6:30 am

    Many of the teachers I interviewed for my book expressed their concerns about parents who are excessively involved in their child’s education and make inappropriate demands that are detrimental to the child. A high school history teacher told me he had to make up a special exam for one of his students that offered three multiple-choice answers rather than his usual four. He had students in his classes who were allowed to take a test over and over until they achieved a B. I spoke with an English teacher who told me one of her students consistently refused to do her homework, and the student’s parents pressured the teacher to overlook the missed assignments.

    However, it’s important to make a distinction between helicopter parenting and parental involvement. Studies show parental involvement has a major impact on a child’s academic success. The key is to encourage parents to get involved in a supportive and positive way. I write articles and conduct workshops for parents and teachers to help them build successful partnerships. My blog also covers this topic. While over-involvement impedes a child’s personal growth and academic progress, positive involvement is critical to a student’s success in school.

  9. mcorbett76
    on Dec 5th, 2009
    @ 7:21 am

    I had a former teacher (apparently former for a reason!), come to school for Parent-Teacher Conferences, who arrived after the end of the 6:00 session of course, and told me I could not give her child a D in the first 9 weeks because I had never informed her of her child’s D in the class. I told her all of our grades are online and accessible via home internet or at the local library right down the street for our school. She kept saying she would talk with our principal and get it changed. My thinking was if she actually got her child to school on time (as my class is her first period) and made her attend 95% of the time, her grades woiuld go up quite a bit! She also blamed me for not telling her that her child had missed two tests, which the child never came to make up. One might think this child is in 2nd or 3rd grade based on this conversation but she’s in high school. All I can say is thank goodness this woman is a former teacher and not an active one! I can’t imagine what she would be like with other people’s kids if this is how she deals with her own.

    P.S. Great blog, totally agree!

  10. Patrick Anderson
    on Dec 5th, 2009
    @ 5:07 pm

    I think you went a little overboard on this post. Anyway, I will read it all when I get home. I have to get Taylor to piano lessons, play practice, and I need to call her teacher because she corrected one of her papers and gave her an A-. Scotty has baseball practice, swim team, basketball practice, and his principal is going to hear about mean 5th grader who took the basketball away from him during recess. But, while the kids enjoy their 3 minutes of free time tonight, I WILL read the rest of this post.
    P.S.- We are sorry we missed you in Chicago. Maybe one of these days.

  11. Angie
    on Dec 8th, 2009
    @ 10:52 am

    I refuse to let my kids sign up for anything during the summer (except maybe a camp where they go away for a week.) An important part of growing up is the vast boredom you experience during the summer and the creative ways you come up with to deal with it.

  12. Megan V
    on Dec 15th, 2009
    @ 9:48 am

    I think this post is great — I feel like so often these days parents are trying to get overinvolved in their student’s education. I think it is important for parents to be involved in their child’s education, but there is a huge difference between mediating and overpower their child’s educationg and being involved in the education. I hope that every good parent knows what is going on in their child’s education, but I also think it is important for the students to figure out things on their own — to explore and be able to learn for themselves. I think it is extremely important for students to learn how to do things on their own including dealing with school issues. I know that my parents help me out when I am really struggling with school and such, but they make sure I have made an attempt at fixing the issues on my own before jumping in to help. Students need to learn on their own, and when their parents constantly do the work for them — how will they learn?

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