Last night, CBC Television ran the documentary Hyper Parents and Coddled Kids (you can watch online if you’re in Canada). As the title suggests, it’s a look at the relatively recent trend in “helicopter parenting”, although I prefer the Swedish term discussed on the show: curling parents (they sweep all obstacles out of the way). The general thrust of the show was that this over-attentive parenting style is Bad Thing as it leaves children anxious and ill-prepared for adult life.
It’s also fairly one-sided in that the viewer is presented with extreme examples of this trend, such as a mother spending $4000 on her daughter’s first birthday. “It’s a major achievement,” she argues. Or the parents who try to get their children into exclusive $1200 per month pre-schools from the moment they’re conceived, just to give them that advantage. Or the overly-scheduled children who’ve never just played freely. Or the tales of employers having parents negotiate their child’s salary. Finally, we are presented with the tale of a young woman who was raised in this style and despite being fired from several jobs for her attitude, launching a failed business that offered women massages and daily affirmations, declaring bankruptcy, all before she hits thirty, still manages to keep her sense of entitlement and lack of personal accountability.
What you don’t hear is any sense of justification from these parents as to why they’ve chosen this path. Is this worse than the detached parenting styles of previous generations? Not that it should be an either/or question but there’s usually some kind of motivation for this sort of thing and perhaps when they reflect on their own childhood, there’s much they want to do differently.
I do agree with the points the documentary was making, in a general way. Kids’ lives do seem over-scheduled these days. Nobody seems to just send their kids out to play anymore. Playdates must be arranged. If a child kicks a ball for fun, she’s put on the soccer team.
I’m a big fan of Free Range Kids, a blog where the writer often asks why we’ve become obsessed with this perceived constant danger to our kids. I sometimes wonder if we’re so protective of children because we simply don’t trust ourselves to take the leash off once in a while. While our parents were content to send us out of the house until supper time, we think if we did the same thing, we’d do it wrong somehow and something bad would happen.
Of course, there will always be a balance between being involved in your child’s life and allowing them to fail on their own so that they can learn. I don’t think that’s unique to any generation.
The documentary also pointed out that the hyper-parenting trend is something that goes on among the middle t0 upper-classes. Many of the things parents are shown doing in this documentary simply aren’t options for us because we couldn’t afford it. In other words, spending half my take-home pay for daycare just isn’t going to happen. But I wonder if money weren’t an object, would I be much different?