Hi, I’m a helicopter parent

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Photo credit: http://deadbeatmom.wordpress.com

My three and five year old daughters are very fond of a piece of equipment at our local playground. It’s essentially a ladder that is curved into a half-circle.  The task is to figure out how to get from one side to the other. They climb on it, sit on top, and dangle underneath it. That it is also bright purple only adds to the allure.

Where they see fun, I see danger.  They are going to break their legsHere comes that head injury. Summer in a cast will stink.

Do I keep them from this toy? No. Of course not.  I just direct their every move: “Foot here, hand here. Don’t step there. Put your bottom there. No, no. Yes. STOP!” When they get to the bottom, I breathe a sigh of relief.

This happens a lot at the playground. And probably in other aspects of their young lives as well.  It turns out there is a name for what I am doing: “helicopter parenting.”  Originally coined by psychologist Haim Ginnot, the term has come to refer the overprotective parent – the ones that wrap their children in bubble wrap before letting them loose on the playground and pad them head to toe for a bike ride around the block.  This may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it turns out that many parents are falling in the trap of overprotecting our children.  And I am no exception. (Though, I swear I don’t put them in bubble wrap, I DO make them wear helmets when riding scooters and bikes).

Yesterday, as I was reading an article about helicopter parenting I came across this quote: “You have to come to terms with the fact that while you can limit some risk in your child’s life, the really risky stuff, you can’t eliminate all risk.” In fact, according to playground safety expert and professor Joe L. Frost, “reasonable risks are essential for children’s health and development.” (See, The Overprotected Kid).  By hovering and helicoptering over their every move on the playground, I am stunting my children’s growth.  Wow.

Must. Stop. Hovering.

It is important that my children take risks.  It is important that I give them the space and independence to make mistakes – yes, even falling off the jungle gym or getting stuck at the top of the too-big slide.  They need the opportunity to figure out how to help themselves, to problem-solve and think creatively. 

So, despite the risks of skinned knees and even broken bones, I am going to step back and let them fall a little in order to learn how to stand up again. These are reasonable risks. I don’t need to protect them from every small thing.  But as their mother, I do need to do my best to give them a safe and secure foundation to start off from.  The best thing I can do to ensure that they have the opportunity to run and jump and stub their toes is to vaccinate them. 

Getting hit by a ball is one thing. Getting hit by a vaccine-preventable disease because I chose not to vaccinate them, is another.  Reasonable risks are ok.  Stupid ones are not.  And not vaccinating is a dumb risk to take.

So go and let your kids run around like crazy people. Let them fall down and get bumps and bruises. Let them even put that dirt covered binky back in their mouth. Let them have experience some risks. But prevent them from experiencing the really dangerous risks.  Make sure they are fully vaccinated. Everyone, including them, will thank you.

6 Comments

June 25, 2014 · 1:53 pm

6 Responses to Hi, I’m a helicopter parent

  1. Amy

    I think this is excellent. We can do all that is within our control to ensure that our children are healthy. We can visit the doctor and the dentist regularly. We can make sure our kids get a good scrubbing (you know, on occasion!), we can keep their nails trimmed, and check them for ticks. These are things within our control. Providing them with proper vaccination is also within our control. I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments…give our children a healthy foundation, and then allow them to take reasonable risks and enjoy challenging themselves so that they can blossom and grow. (…and we can always keep a first-aid kit nearby…!)

  2. Susan

    I don’t consider myself a helicopter parent at all, but that piece of playground equipment scares me! Isn’t our job as parents to teach them to navigate the things that are too big for them to handle on their own? I would be a neglectful parent if I let my two year old roam freely on that big curving metal ladder, but once I’ve held his hand and instructed him and let him grow until his legs are long enough to climb it, I can feel confident letting him do it on his own. It’s not helicopter parenting, it’s just parenting.
    Of course there are going to be accidents in life that I can’t protect him from, but there are also preventable accidents that I CAN protect him from by doing my job as parent and taking reasonable precaution. Just like (and here is the connection…) there are diseases I can’t protect him from, and there are diseases I CAN protect him from by taking reasonable precaution, like vaccinating.

  3. Brenda

    Great article. Very few recognize their “hovering” can hurt the development of their child. I grew up with the “dog days of summer” meaning that in August we could not swim in the local swimming hole because the fear of getting POLIO. It was thought you could catch it from the water. My parents did “hover” because that was scary having a neighbor paralyzed, a friend with a “withered” arm, classmate wearing leg braces. I remember my parents standing in line at the local school with the whole family to get the oral polio vaccine. That kind of “hovering” is great!

  4. Jim

    Great post!

  5. Heather

    What you say hits a chord with me. But my issue is that I sometimes feel like I’m the only parent on the street that lets my kids ride their bike in the cul-de-sac alone (helmet on head, of course). I’m also, seemingly, the only one who yells loudly or hugs long. I have no idea what other parents do behind their closed (locked!) doors. I worry about my kids too, but they are so much happier when I give a teeny bit of space to be who they think they are (grown-ups with money). Well said, Amanda.

  6. Here here! I keep telling the girls that coming home with a bloody knee/elbow/chin means they were having a fun time. Of course it stinks when they are limping and crying. But the real challenge is exactly what Susan said which is making sure it’s only a bloody knee and not a snapped femur. And that they also know that vaccines keep them healthy. (M&Ms immediately after help reinforce that point)