The XX Factor

Will the Helicopter Children Please Stand Up?

I can’t stop reading articles about helicopter parenting-perhaps because, like Noreen, I am a twentysomething whose parents never hovered . As a youngster, I didn’t wear a helmet when I rode my bike to school, and as a teenager, I never had a curfew. I put myself through a state university with a mix of scholarships and loans, so I didn’t even have extensive financial ties to the mothership. At college, I watched, amazed and not a little confused, as my classmates shared every detail with their parents. Each semester, registration for the following term’s classes opened up at midnight, and one girl was always on the phone at 11:59 p.m. with her father, who was armed with backup options in case the classes they had previously selected together were already filled.

But this sort of helicopter parenting seems slight compared with the hysterical examples we read about in trend pieces like the Harvard alumni magazine’s anecdote about a man who “received a call from his Harvard-freshman daughter who had taken the subway into Boston and wanted to know whether to go right or left at a downtown intersection. (He supplied the answer.)” Or the Boston Globe columnist who gapes at the gall of kids (including her own) today :

A 21-year-old daughter calls from the road: “Daddy, the oil light went on. What does that mean?’’ A son calls from the campus bookstore: “Mom, how do you write a check?’’

“What do you mean I have to have the car inspected? By whom? Why? I have to pay for it?’’

“What’s a change of address form? Where do you fill them out? Why do I need to do that? I don’t get any mail.’’

“What’s my health insurance card? I don’t know where it is, but the ER says I have to have one to get seen.’’

My first response is: “Well, who do you think raised these clingers?” If your darling children were too busy with their (parent-scheduled) activities to ever spend a boring Saturday morning waiting for the car to get inspected, how were they supposed to learn about that niggling detail of automobile ownership?

My second is: Where the hell are these kids? The tales in ineptitude come from the parents or, more frequently, the parents’ friends or griping college officials. They sound like the one-upping complaints shared over cocktails at a party, exaggerated for comic effect and oft-repeated. Are these tales of utter incompetence apocryphal? There’s an air of plausible-sounding urban legend to many of them-and the fact that they’re frequently secondhand, “I have a friend who …” sort of things doesn’t give me much confidence in their veracity.

I’d like to hear from a teen or twentysomething who will ‘fess up to being so coddled that she called home to find out what to do after she put the wrong soap in the dishwasher. Did your parents cut your meat up until you were 16? Did you ever ask them to let you try to do things on your own, or were you happy to have someone call up your academic adviser when things weren’t going well? Do you think you’re crippled for life, or do you think you’re just using a good resource instead of trusting Google to tell you what questions to ask the plumber?