The school year is in full swing, and with that comes greater involvement in our children’s lives. After the summer months at camp, where children have the freedom to make decisions for themselves’ about the friends they choose, the activities they participate in and the challenges they take on, we are back to home life. A life that includes, trying to navigate busy schedules of school work, extracurricular activities and social plans. Parents quite naturally want to get involved in their children’s lives to ensure their overall happiness, but how much involvement is valuable? This is the time of year that many “helicopter parents” come out. These are parents that take an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child. Like helicopters, they hover overhead. As all parents, they love their children and want only the best for them, but this style of parenting can often backfire to produce children who are nervous and unable to navigate the world on their own. Helicopter parents have the best of intentions, but over involvement can often put a child at a disadvantage to develop the confidence and resilience they need to succeed in life.
Director and author, Carolyn Daitch, PhD, says “with this style of parenting, parents typically take too much responsibility for their children’s experiences, specifically their successes and failures”. They rescue kids at the first sign or difficulty of disappointment. Helicopter parents do tasks the child is fully capable of doing on their own. They may be selecting a child’s friends or after school activities, completing homework assignments the child is struggling with, or talking to a teacher or coach on behalf of the child. Though the child may feel that they need mom or dad to step in, the more valuable lesson is to encourage the child to advocate for themselves and communicate how they feel directly to the teacher. Empowering kids to gain skills in communication and develop a healthy self confidence will take them far in all areas of life.
Technology today does not make it easy for parents to take a step back and not know the daily activities of their kids. Cell phones, texts and emails, keep us in constant communication with our kids, their schools and activity leaders. Sometimes it’s hard to tune out. Parents know too much and kids become dependent on constantly checking in. The greatest gift we can give our children is the freedom to make their own decisions and find a way to accomplish tasks on their own. We can encourage and support, but it’s important to let your child know you believe in them to take on challenges and persevere. The message that they can handle things on their own, bumps in the road and all, will give them the confidence and coping skills they need to navigate all of life’s challenges. Indiana University psychologist, Chris Meno, say that “over-involved helicopter parenting is taking a serious toll on the psychological well being of college students who have not begun to negotiate a balance between asking for consultation and independent decision making”.
One fabulous resilience building environment is sleepaway camp. Camp is the perfect atmosphere to navigate social situations and take on healthy challenges. It’s often life changing for kids who rarely have the opportunity to step out of their comfort zone and problem solve on their own. Mom and dad are not there to rescue them from any struggles or discomfort, and campers accomplish amazing things that they take full pride in. Camp celebrates the victories and encourages kids to keep trying no matter what. Breaking free of cell phones and constant accessibility to parents, also allows kids to make decisions and learn to trust themselves. So, while loving your kids and wanting only the best for them, keep in mind that sometimes the independent road is the best road to take, obstacles and all. Teach kids to trust their own judgment and feel proud of their decisions. It will make the overall journey a happy and productive one.