I just got off the phone with my daughter Kristen who called to say she only has one more mid-term exam before she and her friends head off for Spring Break. She is ecstatic and I’m ecstatic because I will see them all on Friday. Ten of them are headed to South Padre Island thanks to Kristen’s most generous Godfather Lester, who is once again letting her and her friends enjoy some sun and surf for a week at his beachside condo. They are driving to Austin on Friday and leaving bright and early Saturday morning. I can’t wait to see them all, even if just for a brief moment.
It all takes me back to my days at OU and the Spring Break five of my girlfriends and I took to South Padre. I don’t remember how we arranged for the rental house on the beach and am still amazed and grateful I could even afford it, but I do remember us piling into my friend Lynn’s dad’s long Cadillac and heading south. Carlos and Charlie’s? We were there. Sunburnt and slept in? We did both.
Now, I’m old and Kristen’s the one headed to the beach. I’m on my Spring Break this week, and what exciting things am I doing? Well, let’s see. Today I did some returns and went to the grocery store. I plan to do some organizing and painting this week, and I am going to get in some golf and hopefully a pedi. Boy how times have changed!
It’s tough to let your “little ones” go, but go and grow they must. Many have a hard time doing so and constantly hover over their kids. These so-called “helicopter parents” take it upon themselves to do everything for their Suzy and Billy and put themselves smack dab in the middle of every aspect of their lives. This is not a new phenomenon and many say “helicoptering” is at an epidemic stage. A recent study to The University of Texas found that 40-60 percent of parents qualify as helicopter moms and dads, even into the fourth year of college!
This terrifying trend is not of benefit to anyone, with the following resulting:
- Kids grown up unable to make their own decisions or solve their own problems, and they also have inflated senses of themselves, are self-centered, frequently feel entitled, and are often immature and take longer to “grow up.”
- Employers are reporting that these kids are less equipped to hold their own in the workplace and many end up moving back in with mom and dad or relying on them financially…and not because of the economy!
- Moms and dads view their son or daughter as just another accomplishment in their lives, rather than people with their own thoughts and feelings.
- Parents who base their own self-worth on their kids’ accomplishments actually have worse mental health than those who base it on other factors. They also have less joy and contentment in their lives.
- Over-parenting simply sucks the fun out of family life.
Why then, is helicopter parenting so prevalent? Today’s competitive world of toddler athletic teams, high school grades, and college applications has somewhat lead parents, so afraid of their childrens’ failures, to take their kids’ lives into their own hands, leaving no room for them to fail and learn from those failures. In addition, some studies show the guilt of working moms can push them into helicoptering whenever they have the chance, as does society’s distrust in school systems and media outlets. It’s also a sad testament to society in that parents are often judged by how many school events they chair, how many teams they coach, and how many friends their children have.
It was not always easy for me to not hover, and it’s still hard. Remember, Kristen is my one and only! Just yesterday Smitty informed me we need Kristen’s W2 form from her summer job last year for tax purposes and to call the business and get it. Yes, I could have, but I immediately told him it was her responsibility to do so, which I let her know in a text. Do I talk to my daughter almost daily? Yes, but at least half of the time she’s calling me! I still use the “everybody but you” quote I’ve borrowed again and again from her cousin Michael whenever she pulls the “everybody is…” or “everybody has…” plea on me, and I am forever grateful that her elementary school did not allow parents to request teachers. I firmly believe kids get the teacher they are supposed to get and besides, what if the teacher I requested didn’t work out? I’d feel horrible. If a certain teacher wasn’t her favorite, so be it. I hope it made her stronger and better prepared for the real world. I can’t request her college professors and she won’t be able to choose her future bosses!
It’s sad, because most overinvolved parents have good intentions but their preoccupation with every aspect of a child’s life is nothing but detrimental. At some point, that child needs to be responsible for making sure he or she has all their equipment and clothing needed for an activity, they need to set their alarm and get themselves up in the morning, and they need to turn in their homework. The older they get, the more they need to be responsible for.
So, is there a chance you are doing too much for you kiddos? First of all, do you say “we” when talking about them? “We” have practice tonight, “we” have a test tomorrow, “we” are applying to Vanderbilt? If so, you probably need to reevaluate your involvement. I’ve always liked the “Parenting with Love & Logic” book and formula of allowing your child to fail as long as it’s not a life or death situation. If they insist on not wearing a coat and it’s cold outside, then don’t make them wear a coat. They’ll learn to deterine when they need a coat on their own if they indeed get cold. It will only take one freezing morning at the bus stop or car pool line to teach them! Let them make “minor” decisions like what to wear to school when they’re little so they learn to feel confident in their decision making abilities then later, when decisions involve drugs, alcohol, or sex, they will have the tools to feel confident they can make the right choices. Kristen has made some bad choices in her life, but I know in my heart of hearts that she learned from them and would never repeat them. It’s okay to protect your children, but keep in mind sometimes they also need to fight their own battles and stand up for themselves, again, unless true danger is involved.
This is not to say parents don’t need to be involved. Today’s adolescents have more alone time, are more isolated, and are more unsupervised than any generation before them. In society after society, kids learn how to deal with life by watching the grown-ups in their lives but today, that generational connection is broken. Kids now turn to their peers and, even worse, social media and TV, to get their doses of reality and morals. It’s paramount for parents to stay involved in their kids’ schooling, activities, and friendships. Drive them where they need to go, encourage their friends to hang out at your house (under supervision), and eat meals together at home. Even The Mediterranean Diet that I recently wrote about encourages eating as a family…it’s not only smart, it’s healthy!
Most kids genuinely want parents in their lives. They don’t want to disappoint us and want to make you proud. We need to be firm but fair. “Because I said so” just doesn’t fly anymore. We also need to be good examples, as our kids learn how to handle things by how we handle things and by how we treat others. Our kids, regardless of what they say or do, generally still want us to be there for them, to love them, and to guide them. Kids need mentors and those who do are significantly less likely to engage in violent or risky behaviors. They also want independence and they want your trust.
Trust is earned though and they need to learn that early on. Start with baby steps. The more trust your child earns, the more freedom you’ll give her. Feeling like you have faith in them builds their confidence so, unless you have a specific reason for not trusting your child, experts generally say you shouldn’t snoop through their backpacks, purses, phones, or computers. I know this is hard and I always say “go with your gut,” but if they discover you’ve done so and found nothing incriminating, your credibility could be significantly damaged. Your kids will never open up to you if they think for one second you are judging them and they won’t come to you for help if they feel you don’t respect them. Like trust, though, respect is earned. Sometimes all you need to do is be there and listen. Acknowledge what they say with an “I understand, but…” or “Good idea, but what if…” rather than deriding them. Asking their opinion also goes a long way. In the car is the perfect spot. You drive. They talk.
Think about this too: your kids need to see that you have separate and interesting lives outside of your interaction with them. This will allow them to not only develop their own interests and ideas, it will enable them to grow up without feeling guilty about leaving you behind with nothing but an empty bedroom and a shelf full of soccer and dance trophies.
Our focus as parents should be that our children are learning, are working hard, and are developing skills that will enable them to be valuable contributions to society. Having fun is important too! Teaching them to be responsible and compassionate people should be our goals, not that they make every team and every A. As Michele Borba, author of “The Big Book of Parenting Solutions” says, “In 25 years will your kids be talking about how many miles of carpool you drove every day?”
I have not been a perfect mom; far from it. But, I can honestly say Kristen grew up learning how to fend for herself. Since elementary school she had a down-pat answer if someone asked about weak left side. And, as much as many of you probably think I was instrumental in her being accepted to OU, I wasn’t, unless they counted me being an alum. Nope, it was her grades and her tenacity. Growing impatient and worried, she called the Dean of Admissions (without me knowing it!) and asked what it was going to take to get accepted. Next thing I knew, she had an appointment with him and was on her way. Is she perfect? No way! But, I’m happy to say she’s the perfect combination of grace and grit. Now let’s hope both are evident on the beaches of South Padre!