Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Attacking the Helicopter Parent

Sometimes, life is complicated. Take the case of the helicopter parent. You know who I’m talking about, the parent who is constantly present and hovering, who tells her (usually it’s a mother) child what to do, what to wear, what to say, who to see and so on. See this Slate article.

Apparently, these parents want their children to go to the best schools—which parent doesn’t?—and do not care if their children are really happy.

One wonders whether this is a veiled attack on the Tiger Mom?

Once we address the matter more closely, we run into a number of difficult questions.

Consider one obvious point. I could be wrong, but I had been led to believe that today’s mothers are not just stay-at-home Moms; they hold down jobs; they pursue careers. Unless they work part-time or hold down a job in which they can control their schedule, it is difficult to understand how they can be hovering over their children day and night.

Consider another point, one that the jeremiads against helicopter parenting and high achieving children often neglect: namely that there’s more to growing up in America than one’s relationship with one’s parents. For all I know an overly protective parent might feel a need to protect his or her children from the ambient American culture, which is saturated with sex, drugs, alcohol and rock ‘n roll.

How many children, upon entering college find themselves surrounded with a culture of decadence and depravity, one that their parents have successfully shielded them from, but that now is assaulting them?

Parents are being assailed by stories about the hookup culture and the rape culture, about drinking and drugs at the Bacchanalian festivities called Spring Break, about sexting and worse. Why would they not feel a need to protect their children from today’s American culture? If they do, why is it their fault?

Rather than blaming helicopter parents for making their children sick, why not consider that these parents might be thinking of what is best for their children? Perhaps they understand that the culture rewards high achieving students more than it does well-rounded children.

In addition, the attack on helicopter parents does not seem to consider the importance of the school system. When teachers shower everyone with empty praise, don’t they undermine the will to achieve? If the school system is indoctrinating children in political correctness, a parent might very well feel that his or her child should work on STEM subjects, the better to escape the brainwashing.

Also, if a young woman, as the story is told in the Slate article, has been harassed by her father about majoring in economics, a subject in which she has little interest or talent, isn’t this father just being the good feminist? Isn’t he treating his daughter as if she were a boy, as if there is no significant difference between her and a boy? His problem is not helicoptering, but being too politically correct.

Moreover, ask yourself this: What does a teenage girl hear when her father tells her that she must have a major that will prepare her for a lucrative career? Does she hear that her father is not sexist or does she hear that her father believes that she will have to care for herself because no man will ever want to support here?

It’s nice to see parents as omnipresent and omniscient figures that do everything for their children. It makes for an interesting narrative. And yet, the children who are accepted into Stanford and Yale took their SATs all by themselves.

Surely, the attack on helicopter parenting is an attack on a culture of achievement. And yet, American students are not notorious overachievers. Compared their peers, they tend to underachieve. These parents might be trying to protect their children from the ambient decadence, to help them to achieve in a culture that is militating against it.

And besides, since these helicopter parents are invariably mothers, why are we still inclined to blame everything on mothers?


priss rules said...

It's true that our culture is saturated with mindless hedonism and depravity.

The problem is that heli-parents(most of whom are Democrats and urbanites) are afraid to outright condemn this culture. Why? They would sound unhip and uncool to their kids and in front of their 'progressive' peers. Consciously, heli-parents are libertine Liberals. Subconsciously, they are fretful parents worried about the culture of decadence. What to do? Since saying NO is uncool, they say YES to all the constructive activities so that their kids won't have time to indulge in destructive excesses like imitating Miley Cyrus or Lena Dunham.

In the past, when the culture was more decent and conservative, allowing kids to partake of popular culture did little harm. Kids watched stuff like Shane and Best Yrs of Our Lives. Kids listened to Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole.

Today, pop culture is sewage coming out of TV and internet.
But all that stuff is made by Liberal Hollywood and promoted by 'progressive' media filled with homosexuals. So, 'progressive' Heli-parents are afraid to outright condemn it. Their strategy is to fill their kids with busy activities that are more dignified, like ballet lessons and music lessons. And trips to museums.

Saying YES to dignified activities is the new way of saying NO to deranged pop culture that encourages kids to get tattoos, binge-drink, and emulate porny rap stars.

priss rules said...

I think the classic tiger mom is different from the ideal helicopter parent in this way:

Tiger Moms tend to be politically incorrect. They talk tough, play tough. They say GET GOOD GRADES or no eggrolls for you. Amy Chua got in some trouble because her parenting style wasn't 'progressive'.

In contrast, Helicopter parents tend to be politically correct. Even as they steer their kids away from depravity and excess, they are ever so eager to instill them with all the sanctimonious tripe that happens to be fashionable at the moment: like 'gay marriage'. (But then, homosexuals are sort of like the 'new white' or 'new middle class' since they've been instrumental in gentrification of cities by hiking property rates and driving blacks out.)

Tiger Moms are all about achievement and grades.

Helicopter parents are about success too, but they believe in creating more 'well-rounded' children, at least according to current ideological orthodoxy.

Tiger Moms are likely to tell their kids to study and learn highbrow stuff like violin.
Helicopter moms are more likely to enroll their kids in girls soccer and jazz dance class.

I think one difference between boomers-as-kids and boomers-as-parents is the former were big rebels and latter are big control-freaks. Prior to the boomers, Americans weren't very well-educated. They got basic learning and had to grow up fast and raise families. So, they didn't have a lot of IDEAS about child-raising. They just did the basic stuff of parenting.

But boomers grew up with lots of freedom, learning, ideas, and commitments. So, they rebelled against their 'materialistic and crass' parents. They demanded more freedom for themselves. But precisely because they think they know so much, they were more mindful of raising their kids right and instilling them with the proper values and ideologies. Traditional parents expected kids to behave well and go to church on sundays, but that was about it. But for boomer parents, everything became 'political'. It's like feminist parents fretting in 1000s ways about how to raise their sons and daughters correctly. Also, Political Correctness put greater emphasis on what you can think and say.

Boomers-as-kids were like first born who had to explore much of the world on their own.
The children-of-boomers are like second born who are always being led around by first borns who insist on showing the way. Boomers were also like first born children because a part of them never wanted to grow up.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Stuart, I have to disagree with you on this one. While I find your laughing connection between the overachieving dad and the aspiring feminist girl, I see the downside of this in terms of resilience. I teach at one of the top art schools in the world, and I see the consequences of parenting trends firsthand. Not always the helicopter parenting per se, but the consequence of children being over-programmed and over-tested. Over-programming leads to a lack of free time to think creatively and just relax. So many of the young people I encounter have no idea what to do with idle time. Scott Adams wrote a great piece for the WSJ on this topic:

The other part is their being over-tested. This is key. The U.S. may not be great at math and science, but we are strong in the area of creativity in just about every economic dimension you can think of. I agree the problem with math and science instruction is standards, and testing is meant to enforce standards. But we also have to encourage creativity and expose children to different ways of thinking and communicating. If we do not do this, we will lose the greatest economic advantage we enjoy in the global economy. What I see in my classroom is young people who are largely unable to think. They are unable to suffer through vexing problems with a lot of grey -- a lot of humanity. They think in binary, dualistic terms. Things are either great or evil, etc. That is how they've been schooled. With so much funding tied to testing performance, teachers teach to the test. And this may be good, particularly in underperforming school districts. But there's a dark side: the students assume there is a right answer to everything. This binary mindset is killing creativity.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

I draw a distinction between the Tiger Mom and the Helicopter Mom...

The Tiger Mom wants their child to achieve and work through obstacles and problems to get to a result. Piano and violin are the two stereotypical pursuits that are mentioned. This is good. Kids learn to play a musical instrument. They are held to standards. They learn rules. They learn how to work within those boundaries. They fail, get back up, and try again. This builds resilience. Standards build work ethic, precision and clear expectations. They build confidence. But there is a fine line to where I would think we want that student to venture into the creative. Can they function as a jazz pianist with a improvisational jazz band and take the principles of their musical training into a different realm of structure, flexibility and individual expression? I don't know. All kids are different. Not every pianist has to be a jazz pianist, but jazz piano demands a different level of thought that is analogous to the creative demands of the real world: having knowledge, working on a team, choosing intuitively, acting in the moment as your spirit directs you. But this does not take away from the value of the Tiger Mom, it's just a new level of possibility.

The Helicopter Mom is different. She hangs above it all, minutely watching her child and the people who interact with her child. I don't think many people -- particularly talented educational professionals -- operate very well when they are being constantly observed and told how to do their jobs. Follow someone around long enough and with enough detail and you'll have a hefty catalog of stuff to pillory them with. This is what happens with teachers and sports coaches who encounter the Helicopter Mom. Ultimately, I teach my students in a very different way than most: I teach socratically, I am demanding, and I push each person differently. This is unique when contrasted against our modern education system. If I don't meet that Helicopter Mom's standards and beliefs, I'm going to be fighting her every step of the way. And when she reports me to the administration, I'm screwed. Consider "Dead Poets Society."

The bigger challenge of the Helicopter Mom is the child's growth, personal desires, capacity and self-expression. They're HERS. It's the same thing I mention above: constant surveillance. This reduces the child's choices and range of experience. When they are programmed every minute of the day and constantly observed, they get no room to explore. Then they get their first opportunity (i.e., college) and they go nuts. They've been shielded from choices because their choices have been made for them every step of the way.

Yes, we live in a sick culture with a lot of dangers, but do we really believe those dangers weren't available before? The 11 o'clock news is all the proof a Helicopter Mom needs to justify her behavior. Yet what she really seeks is control. The Tiger Mom may be seeking challenge and structure for her child's learning. That's not what Helicopter Parenting is about. It's a negative outlook based on prevention, not creation or possibility. And I'm told the "Apache Helicopter Moms" are coming!

It's like the proverb about how you hold an egg. If you hold it too loose, you drop it; and if you hold it to tight, you crush it. Either way, you break the egg, one of the most amazing and durable designs found in nature. I'm suggesting that kids are the same way, and Helicopter Parents need to get another hobby.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you, priss and iac for clarifying the distinction between helicopter parents and tiger moms. I recall that when the Tiger Cub, daughter of the Tiger Mom, was applying to college, she was pretty much on her own. Since she was a senior in high school, her parents disengaged. I would also mention that I was trying to argue that it is wrong to blame this on parents... they are trying to protect their children from the surrounding culture. One must note that the Tiger Mom, being culturally Chinese, could provide a well-developed alternative to modern American culture. More American parents will find it more difficult to do so.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Agreed. Unrestrained exposure American culture is toxic in comparison to the Chinese culture because the American culture is so individualistic without developing a commensurate level of responsibility. If everything is taken care of by your Helicopter Parent, you never learn skills of independence and self-reliance. It's the opposite of what were called the "Latch Key" kids of Generation X, who had little supervision and guidance, and had to become independent and not form reliable bonds of security that make for a balanced life. Now many of those Generation X parents are "Apache Helicopter Parents" who are making up for all their coming-of-age errors by preventing their own children from having those experiences.

Thanks for the distinction about the Tiger Cub and the college application process. I've never read the book, so I did not know, but it does sound refreshing from the standpoint of building a solid foundation, which is what I was advocating. The Helicopter Parent is a full-time presence in the child's life because of the surveillance and an under-developed ability to make choices in the midst of factors that aren't black-and-white... the parents version of black-and-white. What is also dangerous is this move to children living with their parents for long periods of time after college graduation. They're not moving on with their lives. Is this a problem for the Helicopter Parent or their child? I suspect it is the latter.

Reminds me of a great quote by Walker Percy: "You can get all A's and still flunk in life."