The New York Times certainly knows its readers' sweet spot. Its most-popular story of the moment is, "The Bad News about Helicopter Parenting: It Works."
...Except that it seems to define helicopter parents as those who are neither total slackers, nor old-fashioned Father-knows-best-so-shut up-ers (so-called "authoritarian parents"). That leaves a lot of middle ground. How do helicopter parents operate, according to the piece?
Instead of strict obedience, they emphasize adaptability, problem-solving and independence — skills that will help their offspring in future workplaces that we can’t even imagine yet.
To me -- and others -- that sounds exactly like a lot of us who do not consider ourselves helicopter parents. As Sara Zaske, author of Achtung Baby, points out, Free-Range/Let Grow parenting "does not mean being permissive. That's a big misconception: it's not about just letting kids do whatever they want. It's about fostering independence and ultimately responsibility. For me, that means preparing them to take on new challenges and having consequences if they break rules."
In the Times piece, which is mostly about the new book, "Love, Money & Parenting" by Mattias Doepke and Fabrizio Zilibotti (admittedly, extremely cool names), the argument that supposedly proves "helicoptering" works is this:
...when [the authors] analyzed the 2012 PISA, an academic test of 15-year-olds around the world, along with reports from the teenagers and their parents about how they interact, they found that an “intensive parenting style” correlated with higher scores on the test.
That's the definition of success? Is a child who scores high on an academic test more successful -- in the near and long term -- than a kid who likes building tree houses with her brother?
(And by the way, are kids who say their parents are "intensive" an actual measure of which parents "helicopter"?)
Now, naturally, socio-economic fears will always play a role in what we value and what we teach our kids. The article sympathizes with parents who are afraid their kids will fall off the road to riches, or even the road to a decent job. What Let Grow points out is that:
1 - So many of the ACTUAL skills kids are going to need as functioning, open-minded adults are not the ones they get in adult-supervised, "resume-building" activities. When they're just plain old playing, for instance, they're learning compromise, leadership, focus, empathy. When they run an errand they're learning responsibility, efficiency, problem-solving. These will serve them well!
2 - And WITHOUT some independence, we are raising "Excellent Sheep" -- kids who are great on paper, but are possibly also quite anxious, lacking an internal locus of control.
Just this morning I was talking to a high school teacher from an affluent suburb where the catchphrase is, "Yale or Jail." The teacher is hoping to figure out how to give younger kids some LESS helicoptered time -- time for kids to just do what interests them, without someone coaching or grading them, precisely so they can spend sometime outside the Yale/Jail rat race -- because, she said, "By high school, it's too late. Their anxiety is off the charts."
At Let Grow we understand there's enormous pressure on parents to do "it" right. As if there's a recipe! That's why we try not to tell people how to raise their kids at all. We are just trying to make it easy, normal, legal -- and attractive -- to give kids some freedom. You can still enroll them in lacrosse, you can still have them take SAT prep classes (we did!). But remembering that not every moment has to be oriented toward an external goal relaxes both generations and leads to some maturity.
Not to mention direction.
Not to mention joy.
Which some might even consider "success." - L
P.S. Just so you know YOU'RE not going crazy, it is the times (and The Times), the next link beneath the "Helicopter Parenting Works" is to "Let Children Get Bored Again." It is IMPOSSIBLE to follow all the whip-sawing advice out there, so try not to sweat it.