The XX Factor

Time Magazine Prematurely Applauds an End to Helicopter Parenting

Time magazine’s “Can These Parents Be Saved?” story offers a glorious rundown of the rampant possibilities for overparenting that have become available in recent years. From kid leashes (“Kinderkords”) to fears about kindergarden “pencil-holding-deficiency,” the opportunities for parental self-congratulation are plentiful-almost anyone can think “I may have hovered once in a while, but I was never that bad.”

But Time suggests that the recession forced the beginning of an end to all that. With extracurricular activities cut from the budget and protective gadgets eliminated from the shopping list, parents found new reservoirs of time available to their suddenly unleashed young, and found that everyone seemed to like it that way. The article reports, too, that new ways to organize, monetize, and movement-ize “free-range parenting” are springing up. Parents gather in a “Slow Family Living” class and attend (and presumably pay for) seminars on reducing the contents of their playrooms.

We may be ready to stand over our kids a little less, but plenty of us are still anxious enough to want the experts to continue hovering overhead. Insecure parents make easy targets-for books, for products, for new trends in under-and over-parenting. The message pendulum swings constantly (note the links to related articles in the Time piece alone: iPhone apps for parents, gadgets for college, parenting classes to ” teach parents to stay engaged .” I thought we were supposed to disengage, but apparently not too much.) Gain a little confidence in your parental decision-making, and the culture, as much as the media, can undercut you.

My 8-year-old son plays hockey. He is, frankly, on the most laid-back, we-play-for-fun team possible (which could also be interpreted as the B team) and already, two months into the season, has had multiple games in one weekend involving three- and four-hour long drives. This weekend’s tournament involves a two-night hotel stay-and don’t think that’s because it’s some sort of special grand finale. It’s just a run-of-the-mill thing, and there will be many more to come this year alone. We said no, but if we say no too many more times, guess who won’t even be playing on the B team? That physical activity we’re supposed to encourage doesn’t come easily anymore. Playing in the yard is great, but shouldn’t a kid be able to choose to do more without requiring one parent’s full allotment of “leisure” time?

Overparenting goes beyond those kid leashes and pencil-holding tutors. It’s burned deep into our culture. If everyone else’s parents help their kid to produce a picture-perfect volcano for the first-grade science project, it’s a rare teacher who’ll recognize that the sad little lopsided Lego version taped to construction paper looks that way because the child’s parents chose not to hover, and the even rarer teacher who’ll reward what looks like less work with words of praise and encouragement. I hope Time magazine has spotted a trend, but it’s going to take a long time to get all the helicopters down out of the sky.