Helicopters, Snowplows, and Tigers – Oh My!

By: Deb Moberly, Ph.D.

Where Are You on the Parenting Continuum?

As parents we feel totally responsible for our children: their health, safety, growth, and development. Michael Christie wrote an editorial piece “All Parents are Cowards” for the New York Times where he related his fears and panic in keeping his children safe. Christie debates when to ‘let go’ and when to let children take on more responsibility and perhaps fail or get hurt. When does this feeling of panic reach an extreme (you might then be a coward) and when is it a reasonable feeling for us? You might think sure, when Jon has a temperature of 103 degrees, I panic. But do you panic when your child is invited to a friend’s house for a play-date? Do your feelings limit what your child can do and experience?

It does us good to examine our parenting approach, a check on what we believe and what we are doing. Is our parenting rationale, consistent, and does it fit our child and our situation? Perhaps being a ‘coward’ does not fit you, does the helicopter parenting approach? Helicopter parents ‘hover’ around their children all of the time, always being there to protect them from challenges and harm. Children might attempt a tough activity, but parents ‘swoop’ in to make sure things go okay.

Even more conservative is ‘snowplow’ parenting approach. This term is used for parents who remove all potential obstacles—trials and/or hardships that might be harmful for their children. So children are not placed in situations that might be difficult; parents make sure that they only experience success.

A discussion about parenting needs to include the ‘tiger mom’ (or dad). Amy Chou’s book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother describes her beliefs and experiences with her own daughters. Chou recognized her children’s strengths, pushed them to reach their potential, and focused them on activities that she believed were ‘good’ for them. Thus, making all decisions for her children and continuously pressuring them to not only to succeed but to excel.

And at the other end of a parenting continuum is the free range parenting style. Early in February, Danielle Metivis published a letter to the USA Today editor explaining their decision to let their two children, 10 and 6 year olds, walk home a mile from the park, becoming ‘free-range kids’. In route home, the police stopped the children, checking on them. This incident set in motion the process of questioning when parents let children assume too much responsibility too soon. The Metivis’ believe in free-range parenting and have made conscious decisions to have what they call a ‘common sense approach’ to parenting. However the Child Protective Services are still investigating the Metivis for child neglect.
Your opinion on these parenting approaches may be greatly influenced by what you experienced as a child and what your parent(s) used with you. How many of us have heard ourselves say what our parents said, “Because I said so”? Or used the same consequence: “if you do not behave, you are never going to Wal-Mart again?”

In pondering parenting approaches, I suggest that you:

  1. Take some time to think through what you believe.
  2. Decide how you want to interact and support your child’s growth and development.
  3. Read more about the parenting approach or approaches that seem to fit both you and your child.
  4. Examine how your parenting is influenced by the needs of your children, your physical and emotional well-being, and your friends and family.
  5. Discuss situations and experiences with your child. Find out her reactions and feelings to how you are parenting.
  6. Recognize that no one has the ‘answer’; all of us struggle with parenting.
Deb Moberly, Ph.D

Deb Moberly, Ph.D

Early Childhood Development Expert at Children F1rst
Children 1st was founded by Deb Moberly, Ph. D., a former Associate Professor and Early Childhood Coordinator in the Division of Teaching and Learning at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL). She has served more than 40 years in a range of roles in the early childhood arena—as a public school kindergarten teacher in Indianapolis, teacher/administrator of a nursery school coop, director of a private childcare center, director of the Child Development Laboratories at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale (SIU-C), and supervisor of pre-kindergarten teachers. She has also coordinated research projects and professional development centers at SIU-C and the University of Memphis.
Deb Moberly, Ph.D

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