On Being a Helicopter Parent
Just to get this out of the way – the title is (kind of, almost, maybe sort of, meant to be) ironic.
By which I mean, I don’t actually think I’m a helicopter parent. Who has the time? I’ve got this job, not to mention I’m trying to write my own fiction, and edit this magazine, and every now and then it would be lovely to sleep more than five or six hours a night, and these cats, who as you know are worse than toddlers, and the house, which has not been cleaned since – I think it was last summer?
Parent a child? Yeah, that’s on my list, somewhere.
The high school she attends has this feature. Maybe your public school system has it as well? It’s called Home Access Center – yours might have a different title – but basically what it does is let parents spy on access their children’s academic progress in real-time.
Any time of the day or night I can log into the system and check on whether my kid has been attending class. I can check on whether she is doing her homework. I can check on what grades she is making on that homework; what grades she had made on quizzes, on tests, on various assignments; I can see what her semester average is for every class she is taking, as well as overall. I can see if she has any discipline reports. I can see fifty other things about her Permanent Record.
I can also see what her homework and other assignments are for today and the coming week as well.
I can also see important upcoming dates – when the SAT and ACT will be given, for instance, and other scholarship dates.
This is all very cool, but it has made me, how shall I put this, a more active parent.
For instance, recently my kid’s Algebra II grade plummeted down to an 85, due to a series of two consecutive low exam scores.
I was right there on the email, emailing her teacher, asking for a parent-teacher conference to see what we could do about it. (We had one, too.)
And I have emailed her school counselor so often that we are on a first-name basis, learning things like how my kid can register for the ACT and what she should do if she can’t upload a photo from home and should we take pre-AP or AP Us History and so on.
I am pretty sure my parents did not even know who my school counselor was.
Do I worry, sometimes, that I am helicoptering a bit too much?
I do, sure.
Because I’ve heard the arguments – how will this kid ever learn to handle her life if I keep handling it for her? I won’t always be there to figure everything out for her, after all.
But – in fact – I don’t figure everything out for her. Much of this, she and I figure out together. “Do you want me to ask your counselor about this?” I will say. Or, “What if you asked in the office? Or your Latin teacher? I bet he would know.”
Or she will say, “I know how to find that out. I’ll ask Daphne, she’ll know how to do it.”
That is the thing, though – my parents did leave me to figure it all out on my own, in those wonderful free-range days before helicopter parents.
I did not, for instance, take the SAT, because I didn’t know I should. I only took the ACT because one of my friends asked me, astonished, why I wasn’t taking it. (“But you’re going to college, aren’t you?” “I guess,” I said. “Then you have to take the ACT!” she said, and dragged me in to sign up for it.)
I did not take honors classes (the equivalent of AP classes in Louisiana) – again, because no one suggested I should, despite the fact that I scored off the chart on all the standardized tests. When my grades plummeted in my freshmen year and then sophomore year, my parents shouted at me to do something about it – but I was left on my own to figure out what that something should be.
Spoilers: I never did. Every semester my grades got worse. Instead of figuring it out for myself, I shrugged and read more science fiction, cut classes, smoked cigarettes and left my homework undone, because, well, my parents obviously didn’t care, so why should I?
I’m not convinced this is a better system, frankly.
It’s true, obviously, that some children with thrive with the “toss them into the river of life and let them sink or swim” school of child-rearing.
But, you know, I don’t know that we can call that parenting, exactly.
I’m for working with your kids as they transition toward adulthood, showing them how to figure things out, being patient when they panic, being patient when they get things wrong (again, and again, and again), and picking them up when they fall down one more time. Dust them off. Send them out into the world, one more time.
I don’t think that’s helicopter parenting. I think that’s parenting.
(Image created by Greg Williams in cooperation with the Wikimedia Foundation.)