When you’re an involved, engaged parent, you can sometimes be accused of crossing the line—of being a “helicopter” or “lawn mower” parent. Yet, involved parents are very different than these other two types of parents. Lately, I’ve learned the differences between these types of parents. Here’s a breakdown for you:
1. Pay too close attention to and orchestrate their kids’ entire lives. They talk a lot—and give too much advice.
2. Hover over their kids so that their kids don’t make any mistakes or suffer any pain from experience.
3. Raise kids who are overly dependent, neurotic, and less open.
1. Mow down all obstacles they see in their child’s path.
2. Smooth over any problem their child has.
3. Make sure their kids always look perfect (and if they aren’t, they’ll intervene and make it better right away).
1. Know their kids well and stay connected to them. They listen a lot.
2. Give their kids space to grow up well while monitoring what’s happening to them.
3. Allow their kids to make mistakes, suffer the consequences, and allow kids to solve their own problems.
When kids are young (age 5 and younger), it’s important for parents to be with their kids most of the time (unless the kids are in child care) while the parents work. Kids need this constant contact in order to grow up well. As kids go to school, however, they need their parents’ support and encouragement, but they also need the space to find their way, to figure out who they are, and to solve their own problems. It means that the parent is letting the child be in charge of his or her life—rather than the parent always being in charge.
Parents often get accused of being helicopter parents when their kids are between the ages of 5 and 18. These parents intervene too quickly. They get in the way of their kids’ development. They end up raising “teacup kids”—kids who can easily shatter at the tiniest stress.
When kids go off to college, overbearing parents are often called “lawn mower parents” because they aren’t close enough to hover but can mow down people through phone calls, e-mails, text messages, letters—and even showing up when they get overly stressed about what’s happening to their kids. College officials even have a name for lawn mower parents who go too far: “black hawk parents.” These are parents who act unethically, such as writing a college paper for their student when the student runs out of time.
When you have a child who has special needs, an involved parent sometimes looks like a helicopter parent. Yet, parents of special-needs kids know how important it is to advocate for their kids. They sometimes have to intervene in order for their kids to be safe, get the services they require, and to connect with trusted, caring adults who can support their kids as well. Special-needs kids who grow up well have parents who are very involved in their lives but who also give them the space to develop in their own way.
My kids are quick to say, “leave me alone” and “get your own life” and “why are you meddling in this?” when my parenting steps over the line. I’m happy when my kids point this out because it shows me that they’re not teacup kids. They’re kids who know what they need—and don’t need—from me. They’re kids who are finding their way, figuring out who they are, and solving their problems while I support them on their journey.
Rachael Rettner, “Helicopter Parents Have Neurotic Kids,” msnbc.com, June 3, 2010.
Nancy Gibbs, “The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting,” Time magazine, November 20, 2009.
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