Saturday, December 6, 2008

Black Hawk Down

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“Margo was in tears.” My friend and I were talking by the pool last summer. “Her son is going to college this fall. She’s so worried about him. ‘What will he do?’ she said. ‘How will he survive? I have to tell him when it’s time to eat.’”

Margo is a helicopter mom—a mom who hovers over her children from beginning to end. According to parental consultant and author Helen Johnson, the profound message a helicopter mom sends her child is “you’re not capable of handling your life.” When I taught at a local community college, staff and administrators gave “Black Hawk Down” warnings when helicopter parents called and even stormed the campus to protect their young.

Syndicated newspaper columnist Lisa Earle McLeod made me laugh with this depiction: “Her eyes quickly scan the horizon. She locks in on her target, she takes aim, she shoots—and she scores. The second-grade chess club sponsor falls to the floor, writhing in pain. It's another victory for helicopter mom. Her mission: annihilate anyone who dares to make life less than perfect for her little Tommy.”
McLeod’s says that helicopter parents are “all those moms and dads who hover in the back of the classroom, micromanage the gift wrap sale or try to coach a T-ball game from the stands…They leave a trail of bloody and battered guidance counselors, choir directors, teachers, and coaches in their wake.”

While interviewing teachers for my upcoming book: Living Happily Ever After with Your Daughter Today, I repeatedly heard about children who were micromanaged. “Whatever is happening to these kids, it’s not good,” said one teacher. “They no longer are solving problems for themselves. The other day a student came up to me and told me she didn’t have her homework. Turns out her printer broke. I find this interesting. The printer breaks and suddenly there is no solution. What about copying it to a CD or disk? What about emailing it to me? It’s like they can’t see solutions or something.”

Not too long after chatting with the high school teacher, I worked at the elementary school carnival. It was my job to take tickets and help students play a game to win prizes. Several parents of children at least ten years of age (boys and girls) held the tickets, asked how to play and then gave me the “right” number of tickets for a waiting child. The child didn’t interact with me until it was time to play.
I recalled what the teacher had said when I asked why she thought children were not solving problems for themselves. “Parents think it’s the best way to help their child. But it is not. The child arrives in high school unprepared to do things for themselves. It is sad because sometimes they can’t figure out what the problem is. Micromanaging takes away a student’s ability to solve problems.”

Helping children be self-reliant is one of the main goals of parenting. We’ve got to remember, and I know it’s hard, it’s not our job to create a perfect childhood. “It’s our job to create functioning adults,” McLeod reminds us. That is the goal. The prize. The destination we keep in mind as we go through this process of raising self-reliant children.

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Allyn Evans