December 9, 2009

Ray's Romper Room - "Helicopter Parenting" versus "Slow Parenting"

Every parent wonders if they're doing the right thing in raising their children.  There tends to be alternating mood swings behind "my way or the highway" and "I'm preparing them for future lifelong therapy" for most folks.   In the end, though, I think kids find their own way.   It might be right out of the gate, it might be later in life, but one hopes that a bell goes off when they need to take care of their own lives, start their own families, and otherwise attempt to get their cumulative shit together.  When they leave the nest, you'll have hopefully given them tools, varying levels of instruction, and an always-available emergency contact number.

According to Wikipedia, "helicopter parenting" is:
so named because, like helicopters, they hover closely overhead, rarely out of reach, whether their children need them or not. In Scandinavia, this phenomenon is known as curling parenthood and describes parents who attempt to sweep all obstacles out of the paths of their children. It is also called "overparenting". Parents try to resolve their child's problems, and try to stop them coming to harm by keeping them out of dangerous situations ... Some college professors and administrators are now referring to "Lawnmower parents" to describe mothers and fathers who attempt to smooth out and mow down all obstacles, to the extent that they may even attempt to interfere at their children's workplaces, regarding salaries and promotions, after they have graduated from college and are supposedly living on their own. As the children of "helicopter parents" graduate and move into the job market, personnel and human resources departments are becoming acquainted with the phenomenon as well. Some have reported that parents have even begun intruding on salary negotiations. An extension of the term, "Black Hawk parents," has been coined for those who cross the line from a mere excess of zeal to unethical behavior, such as writing their children's college admission essays.
"Slow parenting" on the other hand is:
a parenting style in which few activities are organised for children. Instead, they are allowed them to explore the world at their own pace. It is a response to Concerted cultivation and the widespread trend for parents to schedule activities and classes after school; to solve problems on behalf of the children, and to buy services from commercial suppliers rather than letting nature take its course.

The philosophy, part of the Slow Movement, makes recommendations in play, toys, access to nature, watching television, and scheduled activities. The opposing view is that such children are disadvantaged because their parents do not provide as many learning opportunities.
How many parents admit to being helicopter parents? How many want to consider themselves as slow movement followers?  Myself, I'm a pretty firm believer in unstructured play.  My two kids get more than enough structured activities day-to-day, so every other weekend with daddy can be free-range, free-form jazz compared to mommy's marching band practice.   The issue, though, is whether the laissez-faire, let-them-fail-occasionally, and figure out their own boundaries, approach works in the long run. 

How much risk is good?  How much failure and disappointment is too much for a kid?  Obviously there is a middle ground between the helicopter parenting approach and total hands-off.   I wonder, though, whether my approach is more of a response to the ex-wife's stage mother manipulation, and less a true belief system.  Curious.  Wondering if any readers have opinions on this.


  1. Great blog and topic. stumbled upon a few days ago. Divorced dad of two teenagers. They were young when we split.

    My two cents:

    When I first became divorced, I overcompensated with leniency and let my children do as they please, partially to spite the ex. It worked out just fine until aspects of my personal life began to change. Now, if I had to do it over again, I would still be lenient and allow them unstructured play, but I would set some basic ground rules. My vote is for the middle-ground approach.


  2. Hey Dan:

    Many thanks for writing, and thanks for sharing your situation. I've been divorced for about four years now, and my situation has mirrored yours from the beginning. I'm working to set more ground rules, because the early leniency is leading to problems. My ten-year old daughter sometimes expects me to play maid and gets petulant and puffy when asked to do things like just put her own clothes in the hamper and dishes in the sink. I'm having to cut off TV time and Nintendo time in order to reinforce boundaries and encourage personal responsibility. But it's a continual learning process, one improved by communications with others in similar circumstances. Hope you'll keep reading and commenting.


  3. You deserve the same respect that they give to their mother. Create ground rules and stick to them. Start with small things. My children had the bad habit of eating in the bedroom. One day, I told them that we would eat dinner in the dining room from that day forward. No ifs, ands, or buts. Immediately after dinner, any leftovers were put away and plates were placed in the sink. Everyone had to help. It's a simple, family-oriented routine.

    We, the weekend parents, have a tendency to let things slide at times. If you set rules one weekend, but give in the next, it will make things all the more difficult. And it only gets worse when they become teenagers.


  4. Oh, I dread the teenage years like The Black Plague.