Helicoptered kids will crash

Pricey summer camps now hire parent liasons to cope with the demands of anxious parents who can’t let go for a few weeks. From the New York Times:

The liaisons are emblematic of what sleep-away camp experts say is an increasing emphasis on catering to increasingly high-maintenance parents, including those who make unsolicited bunk placement requests, flagrantly flout a camp’s ban on cellphones and junk food, and consider summer an ideal time to give their offspring a secret vacation from Ritalin.

Tigerhawk sees the bright side of helicopter parenting: social mobility.

These parents are teaching their children to be easily discomfited, hypersensitive in the defense of their own prerogatives, and disrespectful of rules, all traits that are opposite to those required to be a good citizen.

There is some good news in this, at least if you believe that social mobility is a good thing (and I certainly do). Most of these children are from affluent, highly-educated families. If by dint of their upbringing they turn out, on average, to be as dependent and petulant as is the likely consequence of this much parental intervention, they will not be successful and will be displaced in the upper quintile by the children whose parents actually taught them to be adults.

Perhaps the overparented will rebel and demand to run their own lives — at least when they’re 30.

About Joanne


  1. This parental behavior has gotten so extreme that the “helicopter” metaphor doesn’t work anymore…after all, helicopters have limited fuel supply and can only hover for a while. These parents are more like blimps, or tethered balloons.

    I think Tigerhawk’s analysis is spot on. Most people who fail in their careers, at least past the entry level, do so not because of gaps in credentials or “skills” but because of a lack of appropriate metaskills, or what used to be called character.

  2. David Cohen says:

    The NY Times article is a good read. I see way too much of this in high school, too. Parents call or email to ask me things that their children already know, or the children should be the ones gathering the information. The message to the kids is that they don’t have to manage on their own or communicate with teachers; the parents are co-students, working together to make the grade. I do what I can to correct that, but each year there’s a new group. And ultimately, an A vs. a B in my class won’t mean much in life, but there’s a lost opportunity to teach the kids to think and do for themselves. And in many cases, the student can’t stand the parent’s involvement but they don’t have the will or the ability to call their parents off. This is happening more in college, too, I’ve read, and in the workplace.

    As a parent, you have to hold yourself back, think about it consciously. I recall arriving at my son’s after-school care once, finding him sitting alone crying. I asked him what happened and he told me about a problem playing with some older children. I gave him the option to just go home (he hadn’t been beaten or bloodied, after all), or to go talk to a staff member about it. My son said he wanted to talk to the staff member. I almost walked with him, but then I sent him, alone, at age 6, to deal with the problem, while I sat on a bench too far away to hear anything.

    When he came back to me five minutes later, he said everything was okay and he felt much better – and I’m sure that he felt good about dealing with it himself, not just about the staff member telling the older kids to play nicely. I didn’t need to know the details, and didn’t need to solve the problem. My son has continued to realize that he needs to deal with people himself because his mother and I won’t do it for him in most circumstances. If there were ongoing problems that weren’t being resolved, or if he’d come to any serious harm, that would be different.

    Please, only nice responses to me, or else my dad will have to talk to Joanne about removing the offending post.

  3. I teach at the college level and I’m beginning to see this too.

    While I have yet to have a parent call me up (though colleagues of mine have had that dubious pleasure), I have had students who thought it was their prerogative to skip class and then demand the notes from me, or to complain that I was treating them “unfairly” when I expected them to meet certain standards.

    I find it hard to believe that any boss worth his or her salt would be willing to put up with some of these pampered whiners for more than a week.

    One of my parents’ favorite phrases? “Life isn’t fair.” Of course, as an adult I realize that life has far more often been unfair in my FAVOR, but I remember as a kid not understanding that.

    (Another favorite: “Throw away your calculator,” meaning, don’t compare what you have to what other people have and then claim that you are lacking because you don’t have exactly the same or better than what they do).

    I’ve also learned as an adult that a sense of entitlement and a sense of gratitude generally cannot occupy the same space. Hopefully, in the long run, gratitude will drive out entitlement in most people, as it did for me.

    I fear that the helicopter/zeppelin parents are only preventing their children from growing up and realizing some of those truths of life.

  4. As usual, there’s absolutely no evidence that “helicopter parents” are anything more than the tiniest fringe of the population. But it makes everyone feel good to point fingers, so more articles, more blog entries, on a complete non-starter.

    Trust me, people, the kids of helicopter parents are going to do just fine. If you want to spend time judging, judge the incompetent illiterates who have five children with different fathers before the age of 20–and spend absolutely no time thinking about any of the kids beyond picking up the welfare check. There’s millions more of these parents, and they and their children cost society billions.

    But hey, it’s *much* more fun to judge wealthy parents whose children will undoubtedly be able to pay for their occasional therapy to recover from their parents’ overanxious attentions.

    What idiocy.

  5. ricki…”I find it hard to believe that any boss worth his or her salt would be willing to put up with some of these pampered whiners for more than a week”….one would think. However, see this and this.

    Some retarded companies are actually going along with this stuff.

  6. I’ve coached youth sports for a long time and this year I had the worst bunch of clingy little crybabies I’ve ever seen in little kids soccer. I really feel bad for the kids because they don’t know what they’re missing and I can’t imagine the parents can’t see the problems. The kids would play for 5 minutes then beg to come out of the game to sit with their parents. The crying for attention was almost too much to take. I finally had to put in a rule that kids couldn’t sit with their parents on the sidelines when they were out of the game. If they were having some problems and needed to sit with their parents then they couldn’t come back in the game until they could pry themselves away. I felt bad for those kids and I felt bad for the kids who just want to play because they had to deal with the near constant disruptions. I will say one thing though – I expect these kids to be less prone to rebelliousness in the teenage years because unless their parents do something for them they don’t seem to have the slightest inclination to do it themselves.

  7. Helicopter parents are amazing…and NOT in a good way. Recently I spent more time on the phone with a helicopter parent at a summer workshop camp than I did on the phone with my own family.

  8. There is plenty of antedotal evidence that helicopter/dirigible parents exist in meaningful numbers.

    At my 2-year college, we have a program to separate out the parents during the orientation and registration process (the parents have separate activities and people to speak with). Prior to instituting this program, nearly half of the new students came for advisement and registration with a parent over a shoulder. Despite focusing my attention and questions toward the student, frequently the parents would interject or the students would turn to their parents for answers when I prodded them to answer simple questions.

    My wife is a high school science teacher at a school with a substantial affluent base (relative to our part of Georgia) who sees this behavior with a disproportionately large number of Top 10% students (she teaches IB, AP, and honors classes).

    Delude yourself if you wish, but society is not fostering independence (or the ability to be successfully independent) with a large number of teenagers and young adults.

  9. Margo/Mom says:

    There is plenty of antedotal evidence that helicopter/dirigible parents exist in meaningful numbers.

    Antidote to what, I wonder?