Are parents being forced to adopt child oversight roles that result in turning themselves into helicopter parents whether they want to be or not? Why and how is this happening?
Everyone is Watching
In April of this year, two incidents regarding children were highly publicized, and what the children were doing was very normal; the response from adults was not.
- One event occurred in the US when the police were contacted one afternoon and told that two young children were walking down the street unaccompanied by an adult. The police responded and found a ten-year-old boy and his eight-year old sister walking home from a neighborhood playground as they had many times before.
The children were taken away by the police and handed over to social services. The parents were not even contacted until after 10 o’clock that night, by which time, they were absolutely frantic. In general, people are shocked that anyone would call the police under those circumstances and that the police, after responding, would not let the children continue their walk home. The parents—labeled as “free range parents”—have been warned not to allow the children to walk unaccompanied again or the children would be taken away from them.
- The second situation occurred a few weeks later in Canada when a Lego Store called a mall security guard to detain an eleven-year-old boy who was a Lego collector, had shopped many times in the store and, on this occasion, was shopping alone. He had money to make purchases and permission to shop until his father arrived to pick him up a little later.
When the father arrived and found his son had been detained for the crime of shopping alone, the manager explained that an eleven-year-old could not shop alone for “child safety” reasons. When the father asked what made shopping in the Lego Store unsafe for an eleven-year-old, the manager said, “If I have to explain THAT to you, then you shouldn’t be a parent.”
The security guard then used the excuse that there were frequent abductions from the mall, which the father knew wasn’t true—the family lives about five miles from the mall—and the guard added, “If you don’t see how leaving your child alone in a store is dangerous, then you are a bad parent.”
The only good news about these stories is that they were reported nationally in both countries. Obviously, not the norm—yet!
Society Sets Very High Expectations for Parents
Society at every level is starting to complain that parents have become “helicopter” parents by hovering over their children, never leaving them alone, not allowing them sufficient independence to learn how to deal with life, never allowing them enough spontaneous playtime, and controlling every aspect of their lives even at college age and beyond. Even though the crime rate has been dropping and neighborhoods, in general, have never been safer, parents are sometimes afraid to leave their children to play alone in their own backyards.
Parents fear that their children may break rules, may not perform well, may not reach their potential, may come to harm, and may not take advantage of what is available to them. They are also afraid of what other adults think of them as parents.
Children today have parents and grandparents who lived lives enriched by much greater freedom, including the freedom to shop alone and walk down the street alone. Children had to learn how to deal with unfair teachers, intimidation from authority figures, and bullying from other children. A good parent intervened when the child couldn’t handle a problem alone; otherwise, they expected their children to learn how to cope.
Most parents realize that too few expectations—watch all the TV and any program you want, go to bed when you feel like it, eat whatever you like, do homework if you want to do it or play computer games instead—can be as bad or worse than too little flexibility and too much tough love. In the end, all result in poor performance and behavioral problems in children.
Raising children has become a narrow, scary road and everyone is watching and has an opinion on the way you handle the job. However, giving children too little freedom is as bad as giving them too much.
Assert Your Rights
The parents of the child who was banned from shopping alone at the Lego Store contacted the mall, the Lego company, and the manager of the Lego Store, and demanded apologies for not having treated their son with the respect they believe a child of eleven deserves. The parents of the two children who were allowed to walk home together from the playground have been coerced into complying with the police and social services restrictions.
You should not be forced to adopt oversight roles and become a helicopter parent because other people have made the decision to keep their children from learning the independence you are trying to instill. We must continue to fight for what we believe is right for our children and our families.
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