Helicopter Parentz N the Hood

We’re infantilizing our kids into incompetence.~Lenore Skenazy

image bubble wrapped kid

One of my goals as a mom (besides supporting my athletically gifted meal-ticket son, and ridding him of  Social Anxiety) is finding the parenting middle-ground.

What I’m seeking is much less neurotic than the Stealth Fighter Parents, and nowhere close to the neglectful, Invisible Parents I’ve too often seen within the hybrid field of mental health and education.

I want the responsible, relaxed, and skinned-knee-no-problem model. Maybe you can advise me in the comments section ;).

Let’s start with the Helicopter parents (born post 1964 with more disposable income, time, and resources), who can’t get out the door and into the Volvo without the Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, macrobiotic fruit rolls, and MD Moms Babysafe Sunscreen Towelettes SPF 30. They hover over their child’s every activity with the laser focus and determination of a fighter pilot zeroing in on that dual-immersion Montessori teaching Mandarin, so Madison and Caleb can compete in the global market.

Meanwhile, across town is the teen-as-mother type with all her baby daddy woes who struggles to find time to practice the alphabet with Junior because she’s so wrapped up with the drama overflowing in her inner-city neighborhood. She blames daughter Princess for her lost adolescence and smirks when the 1st grade teacher warns of mean girl behavior in the classroom.

Yes, there’s plenty of children raised in-between the stark and the sparkle. But not enough. I would love to see the cell-phone-as-umbilical-cord wielders step up and be part of the solution.

“I will not be assigning much in the way of writing homework this year. I’m not interested in your writing abilities,” said my son’s 4th grade teacher at Open House this past fall.

And not to be passive-aggressive, but I did spy the parenting cohort who advocated for cutting recess time in favor of more test-prep, squirm a bit.

What’s wrong with a little dirt under the fingernails and drinking non-filtered water from the fountains of public schools and the local Parks and Recreation?

Since when did playtime become a bad thing?

“If you look at what produces learning and memory and well-being in life, play is as fundamental as any other aspect,” says Dr. Stuart Brown, a psychiatrist and the founder of the National Institute for Play.

Across town the inner-city youth play too often, and often, too dangerously. Lack of adult supervision is a factor.

But just as you don’t have tabs on your kids’ whereabouts when you’re inside watching Real Wives,’ neither do you see that which is directly in front of your nose. What if there was less hovering and more visibility?

I think it’s about finding perspective and letting go of the anxiety that drives adults to hire tutors to correct their five-year old’s “scissor-holding deficiency,” when many poor kids can’t grip a pencil.

Personally and professionally, I find it depressing to invest so much effort making sure your kid reaches state benchmarks when he has yet to learn how to tolerate boredom, or to read others’ social cues. Johnny will have to problem solve even if he makes it into Yale Law School in fifteen years.

I’m not bashing the intentions of the Helicopters, who may very well care about, and feel sadness for the less fortunate.

But action is so much more powerful than pity.

And there’s plenty of folks who worry that over-protectiveness leads to underdeveloped youth.

You may breathe a sigh of relief because Ava is spared the hardships of the Juniors and the Princess’ of this world. And while she will not mow lawns or scrub toilets for a living, she just may end up in my office for help with panic disorder because she grew up believing that success is a given, opportunities are a birthright, and parents provide endless protection.

There’s nothing wrong with a little hovering. And no, it’s not your fault that some adults choose not to parent. But I guarantee your child-rearing anxiety would decrease with some perspective and exposure outside of your comfort zone.

We’d all breathe easier if the wealth, time, and resources were spread more evenly.

Especially the kids.

To all my Helicopters buzzing overhead, please consider the following:

  • Volunteer your time
  • Help out a kindergarten class by offering to tutor the struggling learners with sight words
  • Contact the librarian of the public school in your area and drop off some books
  • Allow your kid to fail for a change
  • Teach her that mistakes are a part of life and the world doesn’t end because she got a C
  • Let them eat cake from a box


What about YOU?

Should the Helicopters help out in the Hood? Why or Why not?

Your input is important–you never know who you could help by contributing. Please leave comments in the box below.

Thanks for stopping by,




About Linda Esposito

Hi there! I'm an Anxiety Saboteur and the creator of the soon-to-be retired TalkTherapyBiz.com. If you want to join me on Wired for Happy click this link to subscribe for details.

16 Responses to "Helicopter Parentz N the Hood"

  1. LeslieNo Gravatar says:

    While I don’t consider myself a helicopter parent, I identify with part of the mission. If I choose organic baby food and clothing for my newborn, that is my choice and I don’t have to apologize. Do parents get carried away? For sure. But it’s hard to consider the chance to let your child walk three blocks to school when bad things do happen. The statistics are in my favor, but it’s my choice.

    I get the point that over-protective has its drawbacks, and true, children need to learn how to navigate the world. I’ve seen parents take their roles as parents to the extreme and you can only imagine what will become of these children in the teenage years.

    I empathize with disadvantaged youth and I feel sorry for these children that their parents put other priorities ahead of child-rearing. I don’t feel a responsibility to attend a school across town because there’s plenty of ways to teach compassion and to support on the home base.

    Thank you for an interesting article. I look forward to reading more.

  2. SaraNo Gravatar says:

    I think we should help out the hood. And not just the helicopter parents, but anyone that can. And I don’t believe in guilting people into action (not saying that you did this Linda), because if they don’t want to be at a school, or a community event and help out, they will just spread some really negative vibes.

    Our school program required us to visit the poorest part of our city before we started our field practicums. It was eye opening to spend a concentrated and focused amount of time walking around. There’s something about taking in the environment with all of your senses. The smell was pretty overwhelming. But not nearly as sad as the kids leaving the shelters early in the morning :(.

  3. Linda EspositoNo Gravatar says:

    Wonderful points, Sara. It’s not just about helping out when it’s required, but more ongoing, or when you have the time and inclination. I agree that forcing someone to help out is as futile as trying to teach compassion to a person who’s unwilling to take in someone else’s perspective.

    Thanks for sharing :).

  4. JoAnn JordanNo Gravatar says:

    Holding to the belief “it takes a village to raise a child” I believe there is no simple answer as to the details of parenting as we all have different personalities, abilities, and live in different settings. My experiences indicates our children (our own & those in our community) do like having us involved though all might not like admitting it. I’ll add a few more ideas to your list of outlets, Linda:

    Volunteering is good for adults and children. Find something that interests both of you even if only for an hour.
    Find physical outlets you can do together and separately.
    Nurture creative interests for you and your child – visual art, movement, music, drama, writing, stand-up comic, etc.
    Invite neighbors over for silly events – watermelon seed spitting contests, game of marbles, hoola-hoop contest, (you get the idea).

  5. Alison Golden - PaleoNonPaleoNo Gravatar says:

    I know a mother who is a hybrid of these two types of parents. On the one hand she is a reckless, terrible driver driving her own kids to school but then makes their Dad drive on all the field trips because she doesn’t trust other drivers to carry her precious cargo. She insists on play dates at her house only then provides no supervision as they scream, run, swim(!) and generally terrorize the neighborhood. She drives them to the fast food place when they’re hungry then willingly drives over the free toys in the parking lot because the kids think it’s funny to see them getting crushed. She also drives along while the kids lean out the windows and scream as loud as they can to startle passing cyclists and pedestrians! So she helicopters *and* is absent. She is truly amazing in her ability to achieve such a feat of distorted proportions. Houdini would be proud! My son isn’t allowed in her ‘care’ anymore. Unfortunate.

  6. Linda espositoNo Gravatar says:

    Eww–never did consider the hybrid-helicopter/invisible prototype–sounds like the subject of another blog post. I guess it’s kind of like the ‘Organax’–only ingest pesticide-free foods, green-lovin,’ except when it comes to the benzos…

    Okay–I know it’s reckless of me to laugh, but the visual of this mom running over plastic toys in the parking lot is hard to pass up…

    She sounds like she may need a psych-eval as some of these behaviors are so incongruent that it doesn’t sound like she’s just a kooky mom, but one in need of a lot of supervision herself.

    Good for you for prohibiting the playdates–though I feel for her children. Hopefully, the husband is relatively stable…

  7. KrisNo Gravatar says:

    I am not a hovering mom. I would say that, despite my age, I would be closer to the “teen” mom variety: I let my son do his thing so that I can do mine. The most I have ever done to “prepare breakfast” during the week is take out the toaster and put it in plain sight.

    But last year, I was suddenly FREAKED when I realized that he had to go from elementary directly into high school, according to the public system here, with no transition. My baby was not going to be able to survive amongst all of those pot-smoking, in-the-hall girlfriend groping big kids…

    I put him into private school where he became stressed and buried under tons of homework, weekly exams, no free time after class and a HOVERING HEADMISTRESS who even took it upon herself to invade their private lives and monitor their Tuenti (teen Facebook equivalent) conversations and even punish them for it. He hated her and he hated me most of all. And there I was, the liberal, non-materialistic hippy so snobby and proud to see him in his knee socks and with the little emblem on the jacket because it made me feel like I was being pro-active about his education and future. Finally. Until I realized that, once again, it was probably all about me more than about him.

    This year, he goes to public high school and, despite disappearing every afternoon to skateboard along the boardwalk with his tribe of old and new friends until dinner, he still finds a way to get near-immaculate grades. I see the light under his door at 1 a.m., but I know that he is studying and, even though I should hover and tell him to get some sleep, I let him organize his own time as he sees fit.

    And, best of all, he talks to me again. The seething resentment for the private school experience has evaporated and he looks for me around the house once more and engages me in long conversations about his feelings, his budding sexual self, his social life and activities and how he sees the world… Like he always did. He confides in me.

    I have basically been a crappy mother, and I would be a big fat liar if I even tried to say that I´ve done my best because I know that I have not. That I could have done much more if it had´t been for me, myself and I in the middle.

    But all the time that he had snot hanging out of his nose as a tot and there I was with no Kleenex in my purse, I used to think: when he is older, he will know that he can always talk to me about anything and everything. Please please please let me at least do that part right… I got my first “high five myself” moment when he was nine-years old and he said to me one day out of the blue: “mom, if I did something really really bad one day and I had to choose between telling you or dad, I would tell you because you´re a very understanding person.” I knew then that I was on the right track.

    And, although the results are still preliminary, I can tell that he can tell that I am there for him to confide in and trust. It´s not really “all that matters” and I can never forgive myself for forgetting breakfasts and not hovering a little more, but I don´t have propellers and, at the end of the day, I want him to have wings.

    • Linda EspositoNo Gravatar says:

      Wow–what an open, honest, and somewhat heart-strings tugging tale, Kris. Knowing you as I do, yes, there is that “me, me, me” aspect, but at the end of the day, there’s more adults with that tendency than most would admit.

      Also, given your non-conventional attitude and wicked intelligence, I’d wager to say that you did the best you could, and you’re doing the best you can under your circumstances.

      Many parents would not be able to reconcile pulling a kid out of private school, the kid’s reaction be damned, b/c they couldn’t get past the shiny uniform and all its implications for the parenting party. You obviously did the right thing, and the proof is in the fact that he’s talking to you once again. Teens will have their stages, and sometimes it’s best to let them take the lead, learn to speak (or not) in an authentic way, and find a way out of the funk.

      My only concern, and I know you didn’t ask for it, but I’m going to put it out there nonetheless, is the bedtime. Unless your teen starts school after 9:00 a.m., I would impose an earlier bedtime. You’re probably aware that studies show the adolescent brain needs a lot more sleep than previously believed. B/w 9-11 hours–ugh! It’s like they’re babies again. Which in some ways, they are…Sleep deprivation is HUGE re: teen issues like irritability, inability to focus, depression, acting out, etc…

      Your value that your son trusts you enough to confide in you is a wonderful thing.

      Lastly, I say it’s time to forgive yourself for what you did, and for what you didn’t do on the parenting front. Guilt is a bitch, and serves no purpose other than to make us feel like shit, and to impede us from maintaining proper parenting boundaries and enforcing rules with our kids.

      I love your last line–you were always such a beautiful writer :).

      Thanks for sharing, my friend.

      • KrisNo Gravatar says:

        Hey, Linda

        Thank you so very much for the advice; I had no idea that kids this age (14) had such a need for that many hours of sleep and rather thought that Diego had just inherited my Burning of the Midnight Oil gene. I will have a chat with him today about that and see how we can resolve this. I may have advanced over the years, but I welcome your wisdom always.

        YOU are a great writer, Linda, and you´ve put that, among your many other talents, to great use: helping people. Me quito el sombrero, querida.

  8. johnNo Gravatar says:

    There are many thoughts that I have about this post.

    -while we live in a capitalistic society, where we want the best for our own, the problems created by me first attitude has created great disparities in our society. Of course there are schools that need greater parental involvement on the other side of the tracks, the motivations to help should not be from feeling sorry for others, but from the stand point of helping a neighbor, bettering society, and creating a better place for the next generation.

    -the children of helicopter parents are bound to do well in life just because of some of the privileges they were born into, and naturally they will achieve a greater level of success than the kids from the poorer performing schools.

    -there are many easy ways to volunteer, whether it’s through simply eating lunch w/a student once a week, reading to a student who just needs that extra 1 on 1 attention, coaching in the “other kid league,” or being a volunteer aide in a classroom.

    -the voices that we don’t hear are those with little privileged and those who have to work to survive. For the type of parent that has time and energy to be involved, just a fraction of that time being spent elsewhere can go a long way without missing out on much with your own child

    -at the end of the day, every parent wants the best for their child, but wouldn’t you also want for your child to grow up and be the best person they can be as well as living in a better and diverse society?

  9. Linda EspositoNo Gravatar says:

    Love, Love, Love this comment John! I’m glad that applying social pressure on Twitter brought you here :).

    Yes! Love the social worker attitude you bring in your first point. Why would you want to live in a society where you may have all the material riches, but your gardner, your nanny, your housecleaner, your dog walker, etc., etc. is struggling to put food on the table, and spends long, arduous hours away from their own family?

    I would argue that for the privileged helicopter to spend less time hovering over their kid is a win-win x3. Kids need a break, parents need a break, and think of the little guy or gal who gets even 1 hour of undivided attention b/c you read with them weekly. Think of how many of our youth don’t have quality time with their stressed out parents, or with the neglectful parents who are always on the phone, creating drama, or just emotionally and physically checked out. I know many well-heeled parents are guilty of the same, myself (though I’m middle class) is not exception. But yeah, most kids are super grateful and starving for responsible adult interaction and attention.

    I have a hard time going to my son’s school sometimes and interacting with some of the parents for many of these reasons. Most are really nice, but man, there’s been too many times where I’ve been making xerox copies or laminating projects in the staff workroom where I’ve been privy to some seriously shallow conversations and gossip.

    Thanks again for wonderul POV and for bringing in your professional and personal experiences.

    Much appreciated John :).

  10. LauraNo Gravatar says:

    Very much of a thought provoking post, and awesome advices, Linda! Being a parent does not mean that you are nessecerily doing everything right. I feel that I really need to get better on letting my kids fail. Gosh…

  11. Linda espositoNo Gravatar says:

    Hey Laura! Failure builds character–both for the parent and the kids :). Thanks for stopping by :).

  12. DanNo Gravatar says:

    Wow, Linda, you drummed up quite the commentary!

    It’s a tough question – there are over 1,000 books on being The Perfect Parent to The Perfect Child at your local bookstore, and they all say something different…

    We are thrust into this position as parent bringing with us everything our parents taught us, both good and bad. We use that knowledge and adjust to the best of our ability, but sometimes it’s important to go outside the limited knowledge of our own subjective home to ask for a little help.

    I was fortunate enough to hang out with a group of 12-15 men this weekend in a social setting. Of course, we couldn’t help but discuss our families and kids. The biggest take-away is the fact that we ALL want what’s best for our kids, and we all have different ways to get there. Some work, some don’t.

    When it comes to raising successful children, I’m a big fan of the premises in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Right now, I am reading Stop Stealing Dreams – Seth Godin’s manifesto on our education system. Finally, for us Dads out there – check out Dr. Meg Meekers Strong Fathers Strong Daughters (or here book for dads with boys – I haven’t needed to read that one yet!)

  13. LindaNo Gravatar says:

    Dan–I would love to hear more about your “man cave” experience, and the current climate for dads. Thanks for this wonderful list of parenting resources :).

  14. The Shy Narcissist | TalkTherapyBiz says:

    [...] ~Get out of your head, and into someone else. Cultivate interests outside of yourself and your anxiety. [...]

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