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Are You a Helicopter Parent?

The decision to have a child is momentus. It is the decision to forever walk around with your heart outside your body - Elizabeth Stone

As a child, my parents were unflappable about safety. I played, unsupervised, with a posse of neighborhood kids, rode in seat-beltless cars, skated near fragile ice over frigid pond water, and walked to and from school (gasp) alone! My parents weren’t lacking love, care, or responsibility, but were reflections of the Mad Men era – a time when smoking, littering, and a laissez-faire attitude toward child rearing was the status quo.

I’m not suggesting that we take up smoking, littering, or neglecting children, but besides the obvious risks, there were surprising benefits to a hands-off style parenting style. I learned to test the ice, fight my own battles, and navigate my personal threshold of fear. Because I was allowed to play both sides of a limit, I developed an internal compass that has pointed me toward (mostly) good, safe decisions since.

Was I just lucky?

The world can be a dangerous place. More than 12,000 children are killed each year in car, suffocation, or drowning accidents. Parents must manage the threat of predators, environmental toxins, and disease. In response, modern American parents have tipped the balance on child safety. We’ve got car seats, nanny cams, and a dizzying array of safety gadgets that have, industriously, made a significant dent in the number of injuries to children by preventable and tragic accidents.

They have also scared parents to death, and created a new kind of beast. The emergence of the term Helicopter Parent, for parents who hover, like helicopters, close to their children, whether or not they are needed. Ironically, over-parenting makes children less safe, as it is responsible for the development of emotionally fragile children who lack independence, problem-solving skills, and confidence.

Danger is real. Precautions and common sense attention to safety is needed. Hyper-vigilance, however, can be paralyzing to children and parents alike. We must work to find a balance between keeping children safe, and allowing them the space to grow into confident, independent and empowered beings.

Freedom with Supervision

Allowing children freedom doesn’t mean letting them play in traffic. It means creating safe spaces in the yard, in the park, in the house, to make their own choices, decisions, and yes, mistakes. This is the foundation of learning how to be safe, and developing the critical skill of problem solving and self-reliance.

Choice with Limits

Allowing children to make choices doesn’t mean that they can choose never to eat another vegetable. Caregivers can allow children to make meaningful choices - the kind that empower and nourish them. Let children be in charge of their art, their music, their clothing, and their games. It’s great way to dissolve power struggles, and engender confidence at the same time.

Responding to Toxins

We are lucky to live at a time where we have access to information about what’s contained in the products we purchase, where and how they are made, and what harmful effects on humans and the environment might be associated with their use.

Since I’ve started paying attention, I find myself feeling continuously compelled to push myself toward better, healthier, and more informed choices. All I had to do is pay attention. New legislation called CPSIA (the Consumer Product Safety Information Act) has regulated testing for lead and phthalates in all children’s products.

Other toy, clothing and product information is widely available on myriad websites like Healthy Child, Healthy World (healthychild.org) and Mindful Mama (mindful-mama.com). These informative sites have a wealth of information, articles and discussions about healthy choices for families and the environment.

Keeping children safe while still encouraging healthy development is about informed choices, thoughtful consumerism, and for caregivers, finding that deliciously sweet spot between terror and complacence.


Let the Children Play said...

Great post. Stepping back and allowing our kids to take risks in their play is an important skill for us to learn as parents and educators. Facing and overcoming challenges in early childhood helps kids to develop resiliency, to make decisions and to feel good about themselves and what they can do.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. Since reading Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods, I have wondered where the balance was between allowing children to explore and learn on their own in a natural environment, and what might be considered neglectful. I am encouraged to know that I am not the only parent wishing to allow my children the freedom needed to test their boundaries, and challenge themselves.