Parenting Thought

From Brink Lindsey: (At the link you can read the whole article).

Today’s hyperventilating “helicopter parents” are comic fish in a barrel. Playing Mozart to their babies in utero and dangling Baby Einstein gewgaws over their bassinets. Obsessing over peanut allergies, turning school science fairs into arms races of one-upmanship, and hiring batteries of private tutors to eke out another 10 points on the SAT. When we stop giggling, it’s only to cluck with disapproval….

Well-educated parents of means these days do have their own distinctive way of messing things up. And so it’s entirely appropriate for those of us in this group to mock and admonish ourselves into lightening up a bit. Yet when we extend our gaze beyond the relatively narrow confines of college-educated parents and their college-bound kids, things look very different.

Examining American society as a whole and the role of family life in shaping that society, a good case can be made that the main problem with helicopter parents is that there aren’t nearly enough of them….

The deliberate practice that is going on constantly in well-educated homes extends beyond purely intellectual pursuits. As they march their kids through the weekly gauntlet of organized activities, the practitioners of concerted cultivation are drilling their kids in a host of skills critical to academic and economic success. Skills like managing one’s time by making and keeping schedules, getting along with other people from different backgrounds on the basis of common interests, and deferring gratification in order to maximize rewards down the road. All of these, as well as fluency in the three Rs, are vital components of “human capital” – economist-speak for economically valuable skills.

So by all means, keep making fun of helicopter parents. The delusion that drives them off the deep end — that, with enough exertion and planning, the crooked timber of their little ones can be lathed to perfection – is, after all, risible. But keep in mind that the excesses of concerted cultivation are of little account when compared to the deficits that now afflict so many homes. Those deficits are a major factor behind some of the thorniest problems in American society today, from multi-generational poverty and mediocre and worse schools to stagnant wages for large segments of the workforce. Policymakers tasked with addressing these problems face the daunting challenge of designing bureaucratic substitutes for the hovering, loving harassment supplied by Mom and Dad. A tall order, indeed.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Phil Miller

    I’d like to think that there are more choices available to parents other than being totally absent and being neurotic. It’s like saying the solution to anorexia is morbid obesity.

  • Bob3

    I remember a dad throwing grounders to his 6-year old son and mine in my front yard many years ago. I believe you were preparing Lukas for his future as a ball player. My dad prepared me by making sure I practiced my trumpet everyday, with hopes of me being a symphony musician. I don’t know what they called it back then, something like “training up your child in the way he should go” perhaps. I don’t think any of us saw it as over the edge. My father and you just saw it as what we should do as parents for our children.

  • Jonathan

    Helicopter parenting is often less about training the child and more about protecting the child from any difficulties or consequences. Helicoptering is not letting the child take risks, which often prevents the development of the confidence to handle life’s challenges and disappointments.

  • Chris

    I would argue that these parents are, on some level, teaching their kids to be narcisisstic consumers; when do these parents teach their kids how to rest, to cease consuming and producing? I read once that sleep and rest are forms of worship because in the midst of them, we must acknowledge that the world CAN go on without us …

  • Evelyn

    Well said Phil Miller #1.
    I suspect most middle class parents fall somewhere between the extremes. And good for them!

  • http://www.the-river.org Mark Phifer-Houseman

    Jonathan Edwards famously wrote, in his essay “on true virtue” following the ethics of Jesus, that desiring something for one’s own children but not caring if others have that resource is evil. As a helicopter parent myself, my evil is not that I am over-invested in my kids and wrecking them with my standards. No, my evil is that I, and so, so many Christian parents in the U.S. are only concerned with whether MY own children have good schooling, special ed help, affordable college education, social skills, the knowledge of God, mentors in the church, missional/loving hearts, etc.

    forget about the millions of U.S. children growing up more poor and disenfranchised than our kids. What about the 1 billion kids/youths growing up destitute, without advocates, without the potential to develop as God intends all of humanity to develop. Can I take the foot off the gas long enough to see the faces along the side of the road as I speed my family to another enrichment event?

    Lord have mercy on us.

  • Josh

    15 years as an educator (English teacher, basketball coach, and college counselor) at a top flight independent school has taught me one axiomatic truth about parents: there are “low ground cover” helicopter parents; and there are “low ground control” helicopter parent. The former parents helps their student make the transition from adolescence to young adulthood. The latter parent tends to retard the student’s maturation. Discerning when to “cover” and when to let “chaos control theory” prove its premise – that’s more art form than science for sure.

  • Gary Lyn

    One of the basic assumptions of the writer seems to be that one of the main goals of parenting is to help children attain and express “economically valuable skills”. I would hope that the major goal of parenting would be about inculturating good values that allow children to become viable citizens of the society/nation in which they live. Then again, if the dominant value of the society into which we are inculturating them is economic success, I suppose parents, “helicopter” or otherwise, can be seen as doing a “good job” when they have children with economically valuable skills.

  • jon

    Helicopter parents hover over their child’s process, ensuring they will not fail. As such, any ‘risk’ a child takes has no possibility of failure.

    Rocket parents launch their children into an orbit of success by preparing them, challenging them, and letting them learn on their own through failure and success.

  • Ryan

    I have been the youth pastor at a church near Minneapolis for 6+ years now and as I read this I was struck by how few “helicopter parents” I have encountered in my time here. At the outset, I anticipated droves of parents blowing up my phone, email, and my office doors wanting detailed information about what we were doing with their little ones. I gameplanned for how to respond to them and how to invite them into our program as leaders (if you can’t beat ‘em, invite them along!)…but quickly realized that I had the wrong gameplan. Because my phone infrequently rings with a curious parent on the other end. My emails are mostly from co-workers. And my office visits typically include a host of people…except many parents “grilling me.” And believe me, it’s not because of a lack of communication on our part.

    So now I spend much of my time trying to get parents to become more involved in their students’ life. To invest time and energy, etc. In my limited experience, many of my parents just have too many other things going on to “helicopter.” It’s too bad.

    I could use a few more helicopter parents.


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