We live in an increasingly complex and competitive world. Parents of toddlers are all too aware of the challenges facing their children growing up in an age of automation and artificial intelligence. As a result, they are rightly concerned about the best ways in which to support their children to ensure that they are successful at school, university or college and ultimately as working adults. In an attempt to both protect their children from harm as well as ensure that they reach their full academic potential, parents today are often much more involved in their children’s schooling than previous generations. During the Covid-19 pandemic, many parents have had the privilege of spending much more time with their children due to remote working practices. Many want to continue working from home because they feel they can contribute much more meaningfully by assisting children with time management, helping with schoolwork or preparing for tests and exams. Unfortunately, this kind of parental involvement has been labelled (often wrongly) as “helicopter parenting” or even “lawnmower parenting” - leading parents to question whether they are perhaps doing more harm than good. However, there is absolutely nothing wrong with parents being actively involved with their children. In a world where people are becoming more and more isolated as a result of the overuse of social media, children need the authenticity of a caring family environment more than ever. Children not only model their ethical and moral behaviour on that of their parents, but they also need their guidance in setting realistic but challenging goals which are in line with their temperament, talents and opportunities. Doing so does not constitute “helicopter parenting”. The problem comes in when parents fail to align their involvement with the natural development of their children or want to protect them from harm at all costs. We cannot go through life unscathed, and each of us needs to learn how to deal with disappointment and failure because it is part of life. Helicopter parenting is a result of a failure to recognise this fact. For instance, when children first learn to walk - they will fall - it is inevitable. Providing them with a walker (walking ring) to prevent this is not a solution, and in fact, leads to other unintended consequences. “Helicopter Parenting” can be compared to providing children with a “walking ring” - for life.
When parenting becomes obsessed with protecting our children from harm at all costs, with excessive involvement in each aspect of their life, irrespective of their age and the circumstances - that is when it becomes problematic. But that is not the same as thoughtful, caring parenting which aims to raise responsible children that are able to participate in and contribute meaningfully to society.
Dr. Jacobus (Lieb) Liebenberg