Overparenting: Are you a Helicopter Parent, Drill Sergeant or Laissez-faire?

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Overparenting
WikiWorld Greg Williams cartoon Helicopter Parent

This cartoon was created by Greg Williams in cooperation with the Wikimedia Foundation.

NOTE to READERS: Today, University of Michigan sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker returns to the OurValues project he created seven years ago.

As a college professor, I occasionally will get a phone call from a student’s parents. Mom (or Dad) isn’t calling to thank me for a job well done, but to complain about her kid’s grade in my course and try to change it to the “A” the son or daughter deserves.

The first time this happened I was shocked. Shouldn’t the student call me? Why was Mom calling?

It was my first encounter with helicopter parents. Do you know any? Are you one?

The term helicopter parent first entered the lexicon around 1970, but it wasn’t till some years later that it became a popular label for parents who are over-involved in their children’s lives. It’s easy to spot one if you visit a middle or high school.

“You’ll see them hovering in and out the front door, carrying field-trip permission slips, homework assignments, band or orchestra instruments, and coats,” write Foster Cline and Jim Fay. “Helicopter parents watch for their beloved offspring to send up a signal flare, and then they swoop in shield their children from teachers, playmates, and other apparently hostile elements. Unfortunately, they also shield their children from any of the significant learning opportunities offered.”

Later in their children’s lives, these parents are the ones who call college professors like me. (Cline and Fay are the founders of the popular Love and Logic program and books that teach parents how to raise responsible, independent children).

Helicopter parents aren’t the only practitioners of overparenting. Drill Sergeants are another, say Cline and Fay. Like Drill Sergeants in the military, these parents bark orders and demand obedience. They make all the decisions for their children. They expect their children to obey orders, and when they don’t, the parents mete out punishments. One of the biggest problems with this overparenting style is that children never learn to think for themselves or make their own decisions. One adolescent I know whose parents are Drill Sergeants does very well academically but literally can’t decide what to eat for lunch.

The opposite of overparenting is another type of style, what Cline and Fay call “laissez-faire parents.” These parents believe children will raise themselves. Some laissez-faire parents ignore their children, rolling their eyes at their antics and poor choices. Others try to be their children’s best friend, doing whatever it takes to make them “happy” and never holding them accountable for their actions.

Do you recognize these parenting styles?

Are you guilty of overparenting? I know I am.

As a parent, what’s your advice for raising healthy, responsible, independent adults?

Your opinion matters …

Talk about this series with friends. OurValues is designed to spark good conversations on important issues of the day. You are free to share, print out or repost these columns to foster discussion. Start, today, with a note on social media sharing your thoughts—and consider leaving a comment, below, as well.

Comments: (5)
Categories: Uncategorized

Overparenting: What caused it? Consider these 4 factors …

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Overparenting
Cover of How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott Haims

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Overparenting is a recent phenomenon. Baby Boomers were the first generation of overinvolved, overprotective, over-directive parents. There were, of course, many instances of overparenting before this, but Boomers were the first generation to make this a widespread cultural practice.

How did we get there? What caused overparenting?

In her new book How to Raise an Adult, author Julie Lythcott-Haims cites the convergence of four key factors, each of which arose in the 1980s:

1. Stranger danger–Fear of childhood abductions rose with increasing awareness of the possibility of such abductions. A made-for-television movie, Adam, about a horrendous childhood abduction, was watched by millions. Milk cartons featured the faces of missing children. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was created.

2. Academic achievement anxiety–Around the same time, Boomers became concerned that American children were not doing as well in school as schoolchildren in other places. This resulted in more homework, more after school academic programs, more emphasis on achievement on standardized tests, more homework, and a premium on getting excellent grades.

3. The self-esteem movement–More and more, Boomer parents focused on the self-esteem of their children. They encouraged every tiny act and praised every minor achievement. “Participation certificates” boomed—everyone a winner.

4. Play-dates–Play was no longer an unsupervised, unscheduled, spontaneous event. Rather, play was scheduled as dates, and children’s play behavior was observed, directed, and controlled.

Together, these four factors gave birth to the two overparenting styles we discussed yesterday: helicopter parents and Drill Sergeant parents. Often, both parenting styles were used in the same household in an attempt to produce safe, happy, and successful children, adolescents, and eventually adults. But these attempts often failed to produce the intended results.

Do these four factors ring a bell for you?

What parenting style did you use?

What style did your parents use?

Stay tuned this week as we continue to discuss overparenting, and conclude with the advice of experts about good alternatives!

Start a conversation …

OurValues is designed to spark good conversations on important issues of the day. You are free to share, print out or repost these columns to foster discussion. Start, today, with a note on social media sharing your thoughts—and consider leaving a comment, below, as well.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Uncategorized

Overparenting: Should you let your child FAIL?

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Overparenting
Cover of Foser Cline and Jim Fay Parenting Teens with Love and Logic

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Letting a child fail is unthinkable for parents who strive to prevent every hurt, fix every problem, and make sure every endeavor is a success. Helicopter parents intervene whenever and wherever to make sure their children don’t taste failure. Drill Sergeants won’t tolerate anything less than success. Perhaps only laissez-faire parents, who abdicate their role as parents, will let their kids fail.

Is there a happy medium?

There isn’t.

A happy medium assumes that a mix of the three types, each in moderation, is the key to raising self-confident, responsible, and motivated kids. The problem is that each type is inherently flawed. A happy medium doesn’t get around that. The helicopter approach prevents children from learning from their consequences; rather, they learn to blame others for any failure they experience. Children of Drill Sergeants don’t learn to make decisions because their parents make (or made) all the decisions. And, the third option? Abdication is not the same as having children learn from their consequences.

Children learn from the consequences of their actions and decisions, as co-founders of Love and Logic Foster Cline and Jim Fay argue. This means letting your child fail. Children learn to be responsible by making decisions and accepting the consequences, good or bad. They learn to make good decisions by making mistakes (as well as good decisions). Children learn self-esteem when they accomplish things on their own.

Of course, parenting has to be appropriate for the age and development of the child. When they are young, we can give them small choices to make. For example, “Would you like to wear your red shirt or your blue shirt?”

I learned about the power of choice because I was lucky enough to take a course on Love & Logic for young kids. My son is now 13, and this summer I started reading Cline and Fay’s Parenting Teens with Love and Logic.

Cline and Fay offer a parenting model for raising teens: the Consultant.

These parents “ask questions and offer choices. Instead of telling their children what to do, they put the burden of decision-making on their kids’ shoulders. They establish options within safe limits.” Their book and online resources offer a wealth of concrete examples, advice for specific situations, moral support, and even words you can use. I am far from an expert, and I often fall back on one of the other parenting styles, but when I can be a Consultant to my teen, I see how it’s better for him—and better for me. And, yes, this does mean letting him fail, as painful as it is to see.

Should children learn from their consequences?

It is best in the long run to let our children fail?

When all the other parents are overparenting, how can you still let your child fail?

Ask your friends …

OurValues is designed to spark good conversations on important issues of the day. You are free to share, print out or repost these columns to foster discussion. Start, today, with a note on social media sharing your thoughts—and consider leaving a comment, below, as well.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Uncategorized

Overparenting: Does being a Consultant Parent work?

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Overparenting
Tapping_pencil

Photo by Rennett Stowe, provided for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Yesterday morning I got an opportunity to practice Foster Cline and Jim Fay ‘s Parenting Teens with Love and Logic. The evening before, my 13-year-old asked me to get him up early so he could finish his math homework. He needed my help, he said. I said sure thing, and contemplated my options.

What role should I play?

This week, I discussed three common parenting models and their causes: Helicopter Parent, Drill Sergeant, and laissez-faire. Given the time constraint—and the importance of getting an A+ on the assignment—the Helicopter Parent would have given the answers or even done the homework. A Drill Sergeant would have kept the teen up all night if necessary to finish the homework, adding a good tongue lashing about the importance of doing homework in advance. And, the laissez-faire parent wouldn’t have bothered to get up early.

I decided to apply the Consultant model. Specifically, I decided to only ask questions. The first question I asked was, “What kind of problems are these?”

I learned that the assignment involved coming up with an equation made up of four 4s that would sum to 1, another equation with four 4s that would sum to 2, and so on up to a sum of 20. You could manipulate the 4s as you wished. Need a 1? That’s 4 divided by 4. Need a 2? That’s the square root of 4. And so on.

He had done most of the problems, except for a few. For these, the math teacher gave the students a clue: each required the use of 4! (four factorial) So I asked, “What does 4! mean?” He told me that 4! is 4 X 3 X 2 X 1 or 24. So I asked, “How can you use that?”

And so on. Question after question after question.

When he solved the last problem, he exclaimed, “I got it!”

Instead of heaping on praise (which would implicitly communicate that I was surprised that he got it), I said, “You got it.”

It won’t be long before the math he does is beyond my knowledge, but I can always ask questions. And, I know that I will revert from time to time to one of the other parenting roles. But I’ll keep trying to be a Consultant.

Does the Consultant model make sense to you?

Start a conversation …

OurValues is designed to spark good conversations on important issues of the day. You are free to share, print out or repost these columns to foster discussion. Start, today, with a note on social media sharing your thoughts—and consider leaving a comment, below, as well.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Uncategorized