When Am I an Involved Parent Instead of a Helicopter Parent?

Much has been written about the "helicopter parents" who involve themselves in their kids’ lives to the extent that some even contact the offsprings’ bosses when something arises.  Last year, a local hospital even had a program for staff about how to interact with the newest and youngest employees, as though they might be more easily damaged than previous generations.  But the best advocate for a child is the parent.  So what makes an involved parent different from a helicopter parent?

What do I try to bear in mind?

  • What’s the severity of the situation and how frequently does it happen?  An isolated pushing incident typically doesn’t require a parental response but a chronic pushing situation might if it involves more and/or larger kids.  But try to get as many details first as possible.
  • Does it involve another child or is your child having to deal with someone who’s on a different authority level?  For example, one of my kids was accused of theft by another and his college-age brother, who further threatened him.  In that instance, I went to the playground directly to address the situation since there’s a world of difference between a sixth grader and a guy who’s old enough to vote.
  • Remember that when you speak with a child, you’re only getting one side of the story and with younger kids, that side is sometimes tangential at best.  They get facts and details wrong or omit them entirely.  Children also lie if they believe that it will help them or if they’re embarrassed.  Take the time to parse through the details and if that means contacting other parents or the school for other information, then do so.
  • Take the "information gathering" mode when speaking with others.  People – even experienced educators – are nervous talking in a negative light about someone else’s kid and approaching them with any emotionally charged statement will only make it harder to get a clear picture.
  • Does it involve illegal behavior?  A first grader will have to learn how to deal with trash talk on a bus but having his lunch money stolen by sixth graders is a different issue.
  • Can the child be coached on how to handle the issue?  Many situations are brand new to younger children and with some coaching, they can handle it themselves.  Instead of calling the teacher about a bad grade yourself, help your kid with the language they can use and have them do it.  They learn how to speak with people in authority and gain self-confidence.  But remember to follow-up to assure that it’s been done. 
  • This leads to the next point, which is that your first follow-up on grades should be with the kid instead of the school.  When one of my kids called me a helicopter parent as I followed up on a grade issue, my response was that I couldn’t be since my first response on poor grades was to kick his instead of the school’s butt.

The line between involved parent and helicopter parent is real but it can be fuzzy at times and yes, you might be accused of being the latter – at least by your kids.  There are still moments, however, when taking up the banner on behalf of the child is necessary.

And for the record, the kid on the playground found his wallet with the money intact.

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