You have probably heard the term helicopter parent at some point in recent memory. The big example I can think of that made quite a news story was regarding some parent that called her child’s university to complain about the salad bar offerings. Sure, that’s an extreme case, but after my last few trips to the museum with my girls, I’m losing all hope for humanity.
I grew up in a neighborhood full of kids. My two siblings and I were allowed to roam as far as we wanted as long as we could still hear my mother’s ear piercing whistle – which was pretty far. We had roller blading races and tree climbing competitions, we played street-wide manhunt while our parents sat around the campfire on summer nights. I also grew up with twenty-six cousins. And my aunts and uncles had no qualms about disciplining nieces and nephews.
It is a fact that people today are having fewer children, and also that many are starting families later in life. Of course both of these things affect how a person parents. I was 31 when my first was born. And 32 when my twins were born. I’m sure I would be a much different parent if I had my girls in my 20s. My parents married at 21 and had three kids by 24. I remember my mother being question by a movie theatre employee who didn’t believe that we were her kids.
The last few trips to the Children’s Museum have really hurt my heart. There is a spectrum of engagement that people have with their children – and maybe the best way is a sliding scale. Not the mom at the mall play center that was so engaged with her phone she didn’t see her son run out of the play area and down the corridor and then her barely walking daughter climb over the back of the chair and almost fall off. But I also think it’s important not to stay at the other end of the spectrum. I’ve seen so many parents overly involved in their child’s play. To the point where the child isn’t even playing but following his parent’s directions. Let’s go over here. What does this do? Does it light up? What happens if you touch this? See this ball? It goes right here.
It. Never. Stops.
The child who has a parent like this has no chance to satisfy his or her own curiosity, to figure out how something works, or to try and fail.
At the Ecotarium a couple weeks ago I passed a mom and dad with their daughter. She looked to be about the age of my oldest. They pushed her in her stroller to each exhibit and then sat on the floor with her told her how to play. They didn’t give her any chance to interact with other kids or to explore what she wanted to. My kids were running amuck in the play area, laughing and shrieking, doing what they wanted. And I felt awful seeing this poor kid stuck doing what her parents wanted her to do.
Right now, as I’m writing this blog, my oldest is playing with bristle blocks and the twins are sleeping. There are times every day that I will sit on the floor with my kids and play. But when I do, I don’t direct them in what they’re doing. I don’t build for them, I don’t instruct them on how to play, and I don’t spend the entire time engaging in baby talk with them. I will point things out at museums that they may like, or show them how to do something when they are frustrated, but mostly, I just hang back and watch.
They are kids. They need some independence. A child who never has the chance to try and fail is the child that will have a meltdown when they can’t get something to work. This is the child that becomes the middle schooler whose parents make study flash cards for, or whose parent writes their admission essay to private high school (yup, I’ve taught kids like that). Okay, so maybe it won’t all turn out badly, but why the over involvement? Why do parents do this?
And yes, every instance that I’ve noticed in the past few weeks involved a single child (not siblings). But I have friends and relatives that have only one child and they are down to earth, realistic, don’t take crap from my child, kind of people. So what makes one parent a helicopter parent and another not? I have no idea. But a parent that does not give their child freedom to play on his or her own, to try and fail, is truly doing their child a disservice.
This notice hangs in multiple places in the Children’s Museum. And I think it’s trying to say the same thing that I am – just let your kids play!
Also, ignore the piece of hair stuck to it… this placard is at child level in the water room. Some poor kid probably got stuck to it.