Saturday, August 28, 2010

The helicopter has landed.

All forms of media are progressively vehement in their reporting of what is being referred to as 'helicopter parenting' and the dangers for children being 'hovered' over. The claims are that cotton-wooling our babies is causing long term problems in society ranging from obesity and higher incidences of ADHD to a lack of empathy for animals and the environment. It is a concerning trend to say the least.

We require interaction with our environment and our peers in order to learn, grow and be healthy. This fact is a given. Children who are covered in antiseptic, anti-bacterial gels and followed with a packet of wipes are less likely to explore their environment, tackle new adventures and cope well with the unexpected. They will more than likely have less confidence, require permission before attempting anything and suffer from stress.

I know plenty of parents who embrace this way of rearing a child. Those who plan days ahead for a two hour outing, who have in constant supply the tools of the trade beyond the usual hat, sun screen and bandaids and also carry wipes, gels, 4 sets of spare clothes, use nappies to avoid 'accidents' and are constantly saying 'be careful', 'get down from there' and 'you will fall and hurt yourself if you do that'. In actual fact, these kids will likely hurt themselves anyway, kids do. They are even more inclined to do so because they are afraid and unsure than because they lack the ability to climb a tree successfully. Making children petrified of themselves and the dangers inherrent in every activity they attempt is never going to produce successful, confident adults.

The other side of the coin is the apathetic parent. There are plenty of parents who would rather talk about the results from last weeks episode of Minute to Win It than pay attention to what trouble their children are getting into. These are the children who have a long line of snot running from their noses constantly, have hair filled with twigs and never, ever wear shoes. These kids are free to experiment and try pretty much anything their heart desires. Sometimes the choices they make are good ones, sometimes they aren't. Rules are out the window and discipline is non-existant. Anarchy is the name of this game and these children will struggle to sit still in a classroom, follow the rules society makes and know their own limitations. Over-confident and unruly, it makes for an interesting time for any teacher dealing with the 'helicopter' raised children too.

What needs to be understood is that these two methods of child rearing are in the minority these days and are not the norm. I raise my kids in much the same way as the majority of parents out there.

My own children are a bit of both. I am far from being the perfect parent and am sometimes lacking real consistancy at home and during outings. Some days I am the helicopter, some days I am the ignorant parent. Three or four days a week I bathe the sand from hair, the grit from under fingernails and rub paw paw ointment onto grazed knees. The remaining days I run after my children telling them to 'stop', 'slow down' or (more likely)...'get the hell out of that tree!'. I am producing children who are probably confused and wondering what the rules are.

Are there any? Is it okay to make sure your children are safely playing in the mud and hose them down immediately after? Is it perfectly acceptable to want them to stay clean if they have a white dress on and you have forgotton to pack spare clothes? Am I a bad mother because I occasionally forget to apply sunscreen until 15 minutes AFTER arriving at the beach? Should I make a list, plan for everything and try not to panic when the world around me has other ideas?

Parenting is a very tough job. There are no easy answers, no rule books and far too much contradictory information. An ideal parent would give a child a bit of space, but not too much. Let them climb a tree, but not too high. Give them a smack occasionally, but not too hard. Give them a lollypop or an ice-cream, but not every day. Try to let them sort out their own differences of opinions in the playground, but not let them get bullied. Dress them in white, but always have spare clothes handy. Let them make a mess, but make them clean it all up themselves. Let them help in the kitchen and not yell when they drop the bag of sugar on the floor. Allow them to make their own decisions, but give them perameters. I could go on all day.

Realistically, the majority of parents are doing their best. Most of us know we are not doing everything right. We all lie in bed at night wishing we had not yelled so loud at the kids that day or not given in to their demands for a second can of softdrink. We wish we could give them more, wish we hadn't given them so much, wish we were stronger, wish we could have predicted the split chin and avoided it.

Parents do not need more guilt. They do not need more confirmation they are doing it all wrong. What parents really need is adequate support. The ability to ask for advice and get it. We are open to suggestions and happy to try new techniques, but please don't demand we change everything and tell us we are wrong. Give us the tools to make better judgement calls. Give us a pat on the back when our child is happy and healthy. Let us know the things we are doing 'right' as well as the improvements we could make.

Most importantly, parents need to stop judging each other. It is never helpful to pick on another parent's methods nor is it helpful to have the attitude that you are doing things better. All parents do most things according to what works with their own children, all children are different. Even my own three are far removed from each other in personality, making it a three pronged approach when it comes to raising my brood. Listen and look at all the information out there if you must, but the most important judgement of your parenting skills will be made by your children. Look them in the eye with a strangers perspective. Are their eyes bright with enthusiasm? Do they have at least one good friend to play with? Do they have dirty fingernails at least one day a week? Do they sometimes require a bandaid? If the answer is yes to all of these questions.....carry on, you're child will more than likely be perfectly okay.

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