And shouldn't their opinions matter?
Have you noticed that most discussions about helicopter parenting focus on the parents' feelings? Whether it's their justification for guarding kids closely or a refreshing counter-argument about why the fears are statistically unfounded, it's all about the parents. Very little is ever said about the child and how he or she may feel about never experiencing independence. This could be due partly to age; many of the kids being helicoptered these days are too young to realize what's happening, but not all of them. Some are now capable of looking back and feeling a sense of outrage, loss, and grief at their (well-meaning) parents' determination to shield them from everything in the world, both good and bad.
This sense of deep emotional loss is conveyed in a letter written by a young man to Lenore Skenazy, founder of the Free Range Kids blog and its related Let Grow movement. The young man, Eric, wrote to her after stumbling across her work on the Internet and wanted to "send a massive thank you." Skenazy posted the young man's letter on her website a couple days ago and his words are enough to shake up any parent. An excerpt reads:
"I was a bit of an overprotected kid. I remember when I was younger I was constantly feeling the urge to run, explore, and play, and that urge was frequently shut down outside of several very specific, very adult-run 'safe' environments. I think that affected me in a very negative way, leading me to put on weight I still haven't fully lost, and left me with an anxiety that never seems to go away. Living in a post 9/11, terrified, helicopter-parented world was terrible. I guess I just wish I had the opportunity to have more fun and make some more mistakes, and grow in the process."
In her brief discussion of the letter afterward, Skenazy points out the unfortunate link between 9/11 and an overly coddled childhood: "How does letting a kid ride his bike to the 7-Eleven have anything to do with airplanes flying into buildings?" And yet this is a common problem, with parents jumbling fears of unrelated things together in such a way that they become incapable of letting their kid do anything.
Take, for example, parents who are afraid to let a kid walk home alone from school. They are fearful of kidnappings that are statistically negligible, but because they are inundated with horrible stories on TV all the time, it conflates the two scenarios in bizarre ways. (Fear of car traffic is another very real and justifiable concern, but it's not the reason most parents cite for not wanting their kids to walk home alone.)
Unfortunately, it's the kids who pay the lifelong price of this paranoia. Parents are largely immune to the fallout, other than maybe having an angry, resentful young adult on their hands (which is a big problem in itself). But today's helicopter parents are the last of a generation that did enjoy freedom, and so, no matter how much they helicopter their own kids, they will never go through life with the crippled sense of independence, the shrunken view of the world, and the fear of the unknown that they're instilling in their kids. As Eric's letter makes clear, this is a horrible and appalling legacy to leave to one's child.
It's time for parents to stop making this about themselves and their own baseless fears. It's time to make this about the kids and doing what's best for them, even if it's uncomfortable for the parents. When I feel nervous about granting my kids the independence they crave – and pushing them to take steps that I know they're capable of – I remind myself of why it's important:
Because they're smart.
Because they deserve it.
Because it will stand them in good stead.
Because they'll be more confident, less victimized.
Because I don't want them to be afraid.
Because I want them to have tools to deal with uncertainty when it arises.
And last but not least...
Because I never want to grapple with the questions that Eric's parents are now facing: "Why did you do that to me?"