Friday, September 21, 2018

Helicopter Parenting vs. Free-Range Parenting

There are many items in the news these days, encouraging "free-range parenting" instead of "helicopter parenting." 

A "helicopter parent" is one who is overprotective, excessively anxious, perhaps enmeshed, and who does not allow children to cultivate appropriate independence or autonomy. 

A "free-range parent," by contrast, is okay with children going off to play by themselves, with the understanding that enjoyment and learning in childhood requires free time, some risk-taking, and figuring out solutions to problems without parental intervention. 

But as with so many issues of this type, we have unnecessary polarization. These parenting styles exist on a spectrum.  And individual children may differ in how much they might appreciate or need one or the other style.  These needs may also change for these individual children over time.

Some children may greatly appreciate a more involved parent, at least at certain points during their lifetime.  Other children may greatly appreciate more autonomy and distance from parents.  Let's not impose a generalized parenting philosophy while forgetting to take the individual situation of the child into account. 

Another angle on this has to do with the enjoyment of parenting.  It is one of the great joys of life to play with one's child.  And I think it is a great memory for a child to see their parent enjoying time with them.   I have seen so many examples of unhappy children playing alone in the park, while their detached, seemingly uninterested parents are sitting on a bench looking at their phones, or are not present at all.  Sometimes, to me, it appears like neglect, rather than being wholesome "free-range." 

There are surely many examples of excessive "helicopter" parenting.  But there are also many examples of parents who are detached, uninvolved, and missing out on enjoying their children's daily lives.    Let's aim for a moderate and flexible approach, somewhere between these two extremes, with a willingness to adjust the style according to the individual child's personality and development.   

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