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Your Helicopter Parenting Is Hurting My Kids

Helicopter parenting tells us that more worry equals more love. It’s not true. You really can — and should — leave your kids alone for 60 seconds.

I always return shopping carts to their corrals.

I’m rarely in a situation where the only place to put the cart is at the front of the store and I’m parked far away. I usually don’t have to walk more than five spots.

Far be it for me to judge those who don’t, but when I commented positively on a Matt Walsh article ranting against the shopping cart abusers, the response was overwhelming.

“I have two kids,” went one. “There’s no way I can leave my kids to put the cart away.”

“By the way,” said another, “It’s illegal to leave your kids in the car alone. Look it up.”

I have two kids too. Too young to really fend for themselves. So I looked it up. My state is one of those with the law — but, like many of the other 19 states with similar laws, the provision only applies in the presence of hazardous conditions, extreme weather, and the motor in the car running.

Regardless of what the law said, I did not expect it to apply to the 60 seconds in which I’m walking 5 spots away to roll a cart into a corral. What exactly does one think is going to happen? Helicopter parents? Or just lazy?

Like I said, I try not to judge. But I don’t get it.

And yes, I’m even talking about the infantilization of our infants.

The fear-mongering culture revolving around our children is something the media has covered over and over again. Cable shows and parenting magazines contribute to the fears to gain ratings and readership, and in the backlash, independent journalists write over and over again about how safe the world really is for this generation of kids and how helicopter parenting can harm them. So I won’t rehash it. If you want to explore the stats, go visit Free Range Kids.

Far beyond the shopping cart example, the more disturbing trend is our continued infantilization of our children. And yes, I’m even talking about the infantilization of our infants.

Our kids are capable of much more than we give them credit for.

Ellyn Satter, a nutrition expert, has become famous for counseling parents on feeding their children and minimizing mealtime battles, beginning with newborns. We talk more and more about on-demand breastfeeding for infants, and thank goodness. Study after study has indicated that infants know when they are hungry and when they are full.

We young parents are starting to get that. But we still don’t get that the concept extends beyond infancy. We’re treating the infants with respect and then infantilizing our toddlers, instead of learning the mealtime division of responsibility:

  • The parent is responsible for what, when, where
  • The child is responsible for how much and whether

This means that if your kid doesn’t want to eat the healthy well-balanced meal you provided, even when considering their taste preferences, well, okay. They will live.

Our kids are so much more capable than we give them credit for.

Even as a Satter devotee I don’t perfectly follow her rules. No food in between snacks and mealtimes? Nope. I’m the worst. My kids regularly ruin their dinner, even if they are eating healthy snacks. You know why I break that rule on a regular basis? Because after two babies who had weight issues, I’m still afraid I’m starving my kids. Yeah, those kids. The healthy ones over there currently trying to dismantle my bookshelf.

Our kids are so much more capable than we give them credit for.

I was at the zoo yesterday with my son and daughter. It has a center section with about four or five playground areas. The one year old was learning to climb the ladder up to the slide by himself. I was watching from a careful distance, close enough to help him if he got stuck but far enough away that he knew to take each rung carefully.

That day, I felt especially self conscious as I sat back and let my kids go crazy on the playground equipment. Most of the other parents were up there with their kids, guiding them every step of the way, resolving arguments, catching their kids as they went down the slide. Meanwhile, I’m the woman who taught her daughter to go down large slides before she could even walk.

Most of the time, parents are too busy to care what another parent is doing. But when I do strike up a conversation with a fellow parent, it usually ends with one looking over to my child and saying, “Well, I know it’s probably safe. But I could never forgive myself if…..”

Look folks. Parent how you want. No one thinks he or she is a helicopter parent. Parents are just trying to do right by their child. There are things I don’t let my kids do that the rough and tumble neighbor kids do on the regular. But I draw the line at the unsolicited jabs at my decisions.

More worry doesn’t equal more love, but in the neurotic Olympics, that means the parents who let their kids experience life always lose. As Kara Corridan incredulously writes in Parents Magazine, “If I disagree with certain safety precautions, it’s because I don’t want the best for my child?”

Or, as I’ve seen on online forums, the laid-back parent is just considered uneducated in the everyday dangers our kids face. Well, no one could ever accuse me of being a ‘laid back’ parent, or a laid back anything. In true modern hyperparenting fashion, I’m free range because I did the research and decided it was probably the best for my kids.

What can worry do? Or, rather, what can actions that stem from a paralyzing sense of worry do?

As we know, it can hinder development in the long term– to some extent. One fallacy to avoid here is that a fearful parent can have such a detrimental effect on a child as to shape his or her whole life. Nope.

So please don’t start worrying about the fact that you worry so much.

How about we forget why people shouldn’t be helicopter parents or snowplowing parents or whatever new term is in the media today and focus on the benefits of letting go from time to time. The two reasons I parent the way I do is for (surprise!) safety reasons and to give my children pride in their accomplishments.

I tend to do a preemptive attack against safety concerns that cause others to hold their children back. I’ve heard sympathetic stories of 18-month-olds falling down the stairs because the parent forgot to close the gate. Eighteen months old?!? In what universe has that child not learned how to go up and down the stairs safely?

Don’t baby-proof the house, say two friends of mine. House-proof the baby.

For every instance someone is horrified I let my children try something possibly too dangerous for their age, I counter with the importance of them learning now, before it’s too late, to respect the danger of what they are doing and negotiate it safely. That includes steep ladders and our old rickety wooden staircase. Or electric outlets, which we do have haphazardly covered but mostly just teach are off limits so it’s not an issue in someone else’s home. Don’t baby-proof the house, say two friends of mine. House-proof the baby.

In addition, I don’t want to deny my child a sense of mastery by not allowing her to use child-appropriate knives or by not teaching him how to swallow real food. I don’t want to pull my future teenager out of AP classes because her grades are slipping or to fret about my son being expected to learn an educational concept earlier than I would have thought age-appropriate. The Tiger Mom has a few things going for her, even though her entire tome is a repentant look at her strict parenting policies. Although I’m unlikely to browbeat and punish my kids until they learn a difficult violin piece, I do want them to try things they thought they couldn’t do, fail, try again, and repeat until they are successful. That’s a life skill for you.

Minor things in the end, of course. As parents we weigh our decisions and make the ones that are right for our families. So why am I writing this? Because of the effect this culture has on my kids.  Laws or CPS policies, for example, that punish a parent for deciding to take a risk others may not. School policies, of which we’ve heard a ton, that emphasize zero-tolerance over common sense.

Three months ago, a 6-year-old boy in Canada died because his asthma inhaler was locked up in the principal’s office. Teachers were trying in vain to break in as he lay dying.

I couldn’t bring myself to read the story until it popped up on Reddit. The comments there made me regret reading the thread itself, to the point that I only now am able to go back and process it without crying.

There was story after story of students not being allowed to carry their inhaler or epipen on them at all times, just like the 6-year-old boy, whose mother was called each time a teacher found an extra inhaler in his backpack. Many had parents who encouraged their children to break the rules rather than risk a life-threatening incident, even if it meant the child may have faced suspension. Some had life-threatening asthma or allergy incidents during which a teacher or a nurse refused to believe there was an emergency. Some ended up leaving classes without permission to obtain their meds, leading to disciplinary action later. Time and time again, the adults in the situation assumed they knew more than the child about the state of their health.

A news story here or there is one thing. Hearing straight from the source the fear and anguish of being helpless and not being able to breathe is absolutely gut-wrenching.

God. Our kids are much more capable than what we give them credit for.

As a mother of a pre-asthmatic child, I’m terrified. There are few things that can scare me. Pedophiles, kidnappers, broken necks by some freak accident on a toddler slide  — I’m mathematically literate enough not to worry.

But well-meaning but overzealous policies that can limit my son’s access to life-saving medicine? For the first time I understand the anxiety that can grip a mother’s heart causing her to lie awake all night.

So maybe I’m not so different after all.

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