I’ve thought of two other things I wanted to say about helicopter parenting. This is the blogger version of thinking about a witty retort two hours after you need it — you come up with your points two hours after you’ve clicked “Publish”.
(Note: if you will be seriously distressed by hearing about bad things happening to kids, you might want to skip this post.)
So previously I discussed the role that risk analysis, concerned onlookers and the media play in the creation of parental hovering. Another element is a lack of expiration dates on recommendations. For example, we ALL know that you should NEVER leave a child in the bath tub unattended, right? There are about a gagillion places you will be told this as a parent. It’s in all the books, the pamphlets you take home, the top ten lists of things you must do as a new parent. Here’s a sample of the kind of text you’ll read several times as a new parent, “Leaving your child alone while they are in the bath, even for a minute, is just begging for an injury to happen. It is never a good idea. It never will be. If the phone rings, let it. Do not leave your child alone to answer the phone. No phone call is more important that your child’s well being. If someone knocks at the door, let him or her. Again, no visitor is more important that your child’s safety.”
This example goes on for seven more paragraphs. Another page I found includes gruesome examples. Of course, this is all true. Bath tubs are not a safe place for anyone (grownups included). A small child could have a bad outcome. This is important and true.
The catch is that no where in all these breathless warning is there an expiration age for this advice. They talk about “your child”. Well, just how old should my kid be to be allowed privacy in the bathroom? Is Grey old enough? The biggest risk to leaving him unattended in the bathtub is much more likely the state of the bathroom floor if he’s not constantly reminded about splashing rules. Ok, so you say five is too young, perhaps. What about 7? 10? 13? 16? 19? Obviously there’s some age by which your child is old enough to be left alone in the bathroom, and you’re totally creepy for supervising. But I’m pretty sure that in all the articles on the core requirements of parenting that I’ve read, that age was never mentioned.
I can truly understand why some parents would continue doing things like supervise bath time, even when it is no longer needed or appropriate. I mean, just reading some of the warnings about bad things that have happened in baths is very convincing to me, even with this thesis as my starting point. So the risk of bad things makes you continue your constant and tiring vigilance. But it’s so hard to see the other side of that risk. I’m pretty sure that my 5 year old doesn’t feel suffocated by my supervision. He also hates to ever be in a room alone. Is that because I’ve never let him be in a room alone? Am I teaching him fear? Passiveness? Some of those traits of the helicoptered children? It’s hard to know what the most appropriate thing is to do, even in this one small example.
It would be awfully nice if some of this advice came with an end date — preferably one prior to your child getting their driver’s license.
My second thought on protecting children came in traffic the other day. Our area has significant immigration. In the town I go to church in, much of that is from Africa. There are plenty of kids born and raised on the Continent who have come here quite recently. As I sat at a light, I saw two boys, pretty clearly recent African immigrants, bicycling quickly down the road wearing no helmets. Now, as that other post shows I have very strong opinions about the importance of bike helmets. So I mentally shouted at the kids (as I so often do) to WEAR A HELMET ALREADY.
Then my sub-processor noticed that the story on NPR was about the Lord’s Resistance Army (for the strong of stomach only). I imagined being a mother who had left the Congo or Sierra Leone or the Niger Delta with my children to end up in this cold, idyllic New England Town. I imagine heaving a huge sigh of relief. They were safe. The fate that had befallen their brothers, cousins, friends and uncles would not be theirs. No land mines. No roving bands of bandits. No post-election violence. No opportunistic armies looking for pillage, violence or recruits. No snakes. No kidnappers (by comparison). No Guinea worms. Safe. If I were that mother, how worried would I be about helmets? If I were that mother, marvelling at pure, convenient, running water and comparing that to the hours I’d spent walking to and from the disease-ridden source I’d had before, would I fret about leaving my child unattended in the bath tub?
Of course those two boys I saw were more likely from a more stable country (Ghana, perhaps) from a more modern house, etc. But still. Seeing those boys from this other world I heard about on the radio here on my own New England commute reminded me of the context of my fretting.
What about you? Do you have a hard time stepping back? How do you gauge when the right time is to offer autonomy, even though risks can never be entirely mitigated? Have you ever had your worries put into perspective? How do you walk between these competing concerns of safety and independence?