The Myth of the Helicopter Parent

The Myth of the Helicopter Parent - Parenting Like Hannah
Photo by Kodewulf

Everywhere you turn, parents are being criticized for hovering over their children. If you believe the media hype, every mother in America is sitting two feet away from her child at all times, ready to make everything perfect. A trip to a local playground or middle school, however, will reveal the reality of modern parenting.

Here is the ugly truth. Many parents are absolutely content to focus on their personal happiness and allowing their children to basically raise themselves.

I have watched countless parents fly through the mall with tiny two and three year olds running as hard as they can (ten feet behind the parent), while the parent is absolutely oblivious to the fact their child could have been lost in the crowd or grabbed by a stranger. I have seen parents give their children whatever they want in an effort to keep them quiet.

I have listened to parents extoll the virtues of their child’s school, unaware that one of the leading journals read by the “best” teachers often promotes humanistic theology as best practices in the classroom.  These parents, who will defend their child’s school as being different from the rest, have never read any of their child’s textbooks and have no idea what the teacher is actually teaching the child in subtle or not so subtle ways about ethics, morality and absolute truth. (Christian schools are not immune – I have seen some very interesting discussions amongst Christian teachers, too.)

Little Johnny can barely get his parents’ attention. When he does get an audience of sorts, the parent is often distracted by an iPhone, computer or television. Problems and concerns are brushed off until Johnny is at the end of his rope. Suddenly, tears and screaming are needed for the child to be heard. The parent snaps back into reality and processes that his child is in desperate need of parental help.

Feeling guilty on some level, the parent swoops into action like the super hero a parent “should be”. (Ironically, the complacent parent evidently believes the plugged in parent is some sort of super hero, rather than merely a struggling parent, who has shifted priorities.) Suddenly, the “helicopter” super hero parent appears.

This super hero parent, must right all of the wrongs in the child’s world. The bigger and broader the action needed to accomplish this feat the better. After all, the parent must convince the child, the world and himself/herself that this child has been important all along. Every wrong must not only be righted, but even perceived wrongs and slights must now all break in the child’s favor.

Once the child’s world has been made perfect again, the superhero parent can slide back into the comfortable role of selfish complacency. Now don’t be confused. Those parents at PTA meetings and soccer games can also be superhero parents. Simply shuttling children from activity to activity does not prevent you from being complacent about your child’s life.

Likewise, micro-managing your children’s lives and making all of the decisions for them can be a sign of the super hero parent. This particular hero has decided to reveal himself proactively in order to minimize the need for his services during a more inconvenient time. Once the child’s world is “set” perfectly, the parent can retreat into his own world where the child is a mere blip on the screen.

How do you know if you are a plugged in parent and not a complacent superhero parent? Every parent will be a little different, but here are some important questions. If you can answer them easily, chances are, you are at least marginally plugged into your child’s world and can make a positive influence. If you check your answers with your child and they are way off target (and yes I know at a certain age even a favorite color can change overnight!), you may want to check your superhero uniform and shift your priorities.

Here are questions the average plugged in parent can answer without much thought:

  • When was the last time you had a meaningful conversation with your child which lasted more than an hour and did not involve her being punished or lectured?
  • Who are your child’s friends (by name) and what is one important (from a child’s viewpoint) thing that has recently happened in the life of each of these children?
  • What is your child most concerned about right now?
  • What is one philosophical principle your child has learned from a teacher at school?
  • What biases do your child’s textbooks have – especially in history, government, economics and science. (Everything written has a bias. Not all biases are unbiblical, but even some Christian authors have a bias that is unscriptural.)
  • What is your child being taught in Bible classes at Church? Not just the topic, but what specific principles?
  • What does your child believe about God? Absolute truth? Prayer? Baptism?

There are probably a lot of other questions we could ask ourselves to make sure we are plugged into our children’s lives in meaningful ways. Not to make life perfect, but to ensure our children are building solid foundations of godly principles upon which to base all of their future decisions. So hang up that super hero outfit and really get to know your child. Get to know her friends. Understand her teachers’ perspectives on life. Don’t strive to make your child’s world perfect when he is in crisis mode. Rather work to make sure you are plugged into his world enough to make an eternal difference in his life.

Do you have other questions you regularly ask yourself to make sure you have not become complacent about parenting? What are they? I would love to hear about them as you share them with other parents in a comment below.

Published by

Thereasa Winnett

Thereasa Winnett is the founder of Teach One Reach One and blogger at Parenting Like Hannah. She holds a BA in education from the College of William and Mary. She has served in all areas of ministry to children and teens for more than thirty years and regularly leads workshops for ministries and churches. She has conducted numerous workshops, including sessions at Points of Light’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service, the National Urban Ministry Conference, Pepperdine Bible Lectures, and Lipscomb’s Summer Celebration. Thereasa lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband Greg, where she enjoys reading, knitting, traveling and cooking.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.