Helicopter Parents are Hovering

“They’re called ‘helicopter parents,’” my niece said.  I don’t know how this slipped by me, but I had no idea there was an actual name for parents who overparent and refuse to let their children take responsibility for their wrongdoing or impose any consequences of their children for their own actions.  In other words, these are parents who want to eliminate any and all obstacles their children face.

While visiting with my family over the holidays, one of my nieces, who is a math teacher in a Catholic high school, told me a story about a recent incident she had with one of her students.

While giving her class a test, she noticed one of the boys looking behind at another student’s answer sheet and then changing his own answers.  The second time he did it, he looked up and saw my niece looking at him and, at that point, she just shook her head.  Immediately after the test was collected and all the other students left the classroom, she said to this boy, “what do you have to say about this?”  He said, “I deserve a zero; I regret it.”

About twenty minutes later, she received an email from him which said he didn’t cheat.  Later that night, he emailed again and said he couldn’t understand why she didn’t notice others cheating.  (I guess that makes his cheating alright.)  That same night, his mother emailed her and said she wanted a meeting with my niece and brought up the fact that her son had anxiety disorder for which he was medicated.

At the meeting which lasted 80 minutes (!), and included my niece, the student, his parents, and the assistant principal, it was discussed that neither my niece nor the school was aware (which is a school requirement) that this kid had been diagnosed with anxiety disorder or that he was on any medication because the parents did not want their son to be labeled as such.

The mother took her son’s side and said, even though she wasn’t there, he was looking around the room to see how other kids were progressing with the test.  The student said at the meeting that he was being sarcastic when he told my niece “I deserve a zero; I regret it.”  According to my niece, his statement never came across as being sarcastic.

To top it all, the mother then blamed my niece for not having multiple versions of the test!  My niece, who used to teach in a low-scoring, high poverty inner city school, told the mother cheating was never an issue in her previous high school, and the mother accused her of being “naïve.”

I never cheated once all through Catholic grammar school, public high school, college and law school.  Not once.  I may have been paddled and slapped around by the nuns in grammar school for talking too much and one of my English teachers in high school threw a book which landed on my desk to get my attention, but it never dawned on me to cheat.  My sister-in-law and my husband, who were also part of the conversation with my niece, both agreed that our parents would never have allowed us to get away with this type of behavior.

While talking with an acquaintance, helicopter parents are not in short supply where I live.  Rather than face threatened lawsuits by parents, the local high school’s policy of “get a DUI, get suspended” isn’t enforced.

It’s a very sad state of affairs when children aren’t taught right from wrong or that when they do something that’s inappropriate, they should own up to it.  What are these kids going to do when their parents are no longer around to clean up their messes?  What kind of lesson does a child learn when someone is there to bail them out of trouble and they never have to suffer the consequences for their bad choices?

I can’t imagine how this type of behavior does children any good.  Since the talk with my niece, I heard about a college student who told a recruiter after he was hired that “my father wants to speak with you.”  Sounds like these parents are producing an entire generation of weak, immature, irresponsible spoiled men and women.  I know I wouldn’t hire anyone like this.  Would you?

I don’t get it, but if you do, God bless you.

Author Bio:

For over twenty years, Leona has tried to heed her husband’s advice, “you don’t have to say everything you think.” She’s failed miserably. Licensed to practice law in California and Washington, she works exclusively in the area of child abuse and neglect. She considers herself a news junkie and writes about people and events on her website, “I Don’t Get It,” which she describes as the “musings of an almost 60-year old conservative woman on political, social and cultural life in America.” It’s not her intention to offend anyone who “gets it.” She just doesn’t. Originally from Brooklyn, and later Los Angeles, she now lives with her husband, Michael, on a beautiful island in the Pacific Northwest, which she describes as a bastion of liberalism.
Author website: http://www.idontgetit.us
  • Roger Ward

    Generally speaking, I would say that today’s parents are (1) too involved in their childrens’ lives and (2) too quick to protect their children when they are wrong. The obvious result is that kids grow up with too small a sense of independence and too large a sense of entitlement: the kids don’t have the self confidence to move independently and they expect a parent to cover for them when they’re wrong.
    Of course, all children deserve loving supervision and protection …. but many of today’s kids are being smothered (instead of being made independent) and “protected” (instead of being forced to deal with the consequences of their own actions.) The sad reality is that such parenting makes the child less of a person in life than he could be.

    When I was kid (in the ’40s), there was no such thing as a parent attending their child’s baseball game. It was our responsibility to get the ball and bat and round up potential teammates, make up the rules, and call a guy “out” when he was. How does that compare with legions of soccer moms and baseball dads today who drive their kids everywhere and agitate over their performance?

    When I was kid in Catholic school, I remember getting in a fight with another kid and getting rapped on the knuckles with a ruler by my teacher, Sister Rosewitha. That night, I told my mother about it (using my best efforts at portraying injured innocence.) The result was a spanking and being sent to my room for the night, where I could not listen to the Lone Ranger on radio.

    Which childhood produced a better person: a soccer mom hovering around to “protect” me …. or learning that choices have consequences?

    • Ron F

      Roger,

      What great lessons Sister Rosewith and your mother taught you that you can remember them today. I still think most parents are doing the best that they can and are more involved in their children’s lives because it is not as safe to have children be unsupervised today. We did not have the same perils. I feel bad that most children today will never experience the independence that I had.

    • brad gillespie

      I’d guess that from Roger’s point of view, getting whacked by some idiot nun for doing something that for the most part was perfectly harmless for boys (fighting), is better than father’s driving their kids to school or attending their soccer games? I’d have to say that getting punished by a cruel nun for something that may not have even been the your fault was a primitive part of our evolution that we would not want to revisit, or even talk about! Roger and Leona may have a warped view of what most mothers and fathers do. Maybe some of them go overboard, and maybe they stand out, and maybe the other parents think they’re helicopter parents; and maybe, they use this ridiculous behaviour to modify their own, a perfectly logical response to extreme behaviour, and one reason nuns don’t teach many kids these days.

  • Potsy Webber

    Helicopter parenting was prevalent enough that the old tv sitcoms would devote an episode about a troubled kid the parents would refer to as “special”(while making it obvious the parents were the problem) Think Larry Mondella from Leave it to beaver”
    Dennis the menace was a series dedicated to that subject.
    The kid’s always deviling poor ole Mr. Wilson,
    getting into trouble, making people mad at each other due to “misunderstanings” but the parents always covered him. I’d like to have seen the show follow thru his teenage years. It would have likely turned into an hour drama called “Penitentiary” Good ole mr warden.

  • DOOM161

    When I was in public highschool in the mid-late 90s, you were cheating if you looked anywhere other than at your own work.

    How has it progressed that it somehow isn’t cheating if you look at someone else’s test?

  • Ron F

    As I understand it, the term “helicopter parents” refers to parents who hover over their children and get two involved in their lives. We also criticize parents for not getting involved enough in their children’s lives. Cheating has existed forever and parents have tried to defend their children forever. Ten or fifteen years ago people complained about Little League parents. Thirty years ago, children were not medicated for behaviour problems like they are today. I have noticed in general that parents are much more involved in their children’s lives than they were when I was a child. Maybe people are having smaller families and end up being more involved. It seems that children’s lives are much more structured today and that children have far less freedom than I did. I somewhate understand it because it is not as safe as when I was growing up. My guess is that most parents do the best that they can and are not perfect. Being a good parent is not an exact science. The mother in the incident thought enough about her son to put him in a Catholic school instead of a public school.

  • therealguyfaux

    I’m reminded of the classic film The Yearling. For those who don’t remember the story, it’s about a family living in the Everglades in the beginning of the last century, and their hardscrabble life trying to grow enough food and kill enough game to survive; the boy, about 13 years old, adopts an orphan fawn, which quickly develops into a buck which starts to eat the family out of house and home. It’s up to the boy to kill the deer, but he feels bad about it and runs away, returning three days later after realizing what a rough world lies out there. His father, played by Gregory Peck, tells him that it’s good the boy learn the lessons of how cruel life can be, but it’s still natural for his parents to want to shield him from it as much as possible, and it’s a question of balance of how much a child can handle at any one time versus the need to teach him the hard cold facts of life.
    Sadly, to mix my metaphor, we don’t have a Ward Cleaver parent any more to tell the kids that he’s there for them emotionally, notwithstanding his seeming preachy judgmentalism, but that they’re going to have to handle what mess they’ve got into themselves, to teach them what the world is going to expect of them when they’re adults and it’s better to learn it now.
    My sympathies for your niece, who has to put up with such nonsense (and in a CATHOLIC SCHOOL NO LESS(!)).