Helicopter Parents (The vice of over-parenting)
The other day I went for a haircut. Seated on the chair next to mine was a child of about four years and hovering around him was his mother. I was amused to see her continuously instructing the hairstylist as to how to cut and with what instruments. Just as the stylist moved she would move around the head of the child, supervising each and every strand of the hair getting styled. I could obviously feel the discomfiture of the stylist who was struggling to balance his work with the incessant instructions of the mother. Little did I realize that the child too was getting uncomfortable till he loudly shouted: “Mama you please go”! A hush fell in the salon but the mother – a cool cucumber just asserted “You don’t understand anything. You just keep quiet and let me do my work!” The child was obviously bullied to silence. That was a helicopter parent in full regalia - a classic example of what Time magazine once described as "Over Parenting"
This incident reminded me of the word I had read sometime back “Helicopter Parents.” My simple perception of the word was over-doting parents. Wikipedia was much more explicit in explaining this word: Helicopter parent is an informal expression for a parent who pays extremely close attention to their child's or children's experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions. Helicopter parents are so named because, like helicopters, they hover closely overhead, rarely out of reach, whether their children need them or not. Though hilarious their behavior is, I wonder how much good this type of behavior does to the child and even to the parents. It seems to be a rampant phenomena. No wonder Time came out with a title page on this.
I was recently told of a postgraduate student in obstetrics and gynecology who is a granddaughter of some old-timer gynecologists from Ahmedabad. Their son and daughter-in-law (this child’s parents) who are also doctors have taken the entire department on the head where their daughter is studying . Those of us who are in the know of medical education are aware of the fact that post-graduation in clinical branches like obstetrics and gynecology are extremely busy but immensely learning and foundation-laying years. The system needs the students to work very hard in managing patients under supervision of their teachers and entails hard slog but very educative process. The parents of this student who are also doctors have left their jobs and are now doing full time helicopter- parenting. They are filing police complaints against the teachers of their daughter, filing high-court cases against the institution on frivolous grounds and even dictating teachers as to how they should manage their patients. Indeed the teachers too in my perception are behaving absolutely cowardly dancing at the tune of these helicopters and hardly protesting. But that is not the point. The point is the harm that the parents are doing to their child. In her most formative years this student’ parents are not allowing her to learn and develop the necessary skills and expertise for being an independent gynecologist. I was told that the mother even goes in her daughter’s hospital wards to write orders and prescriptions of her child’s patients which her daughter is supposed to do!
It is very painful to see parents forcing their children to live life as they have lived. Countless promising careers including those in medical colleges have been spoilt as the doctor parents have forced their unwilling children to become doctors. In words of Mitch Albom “All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair.” Forcing children to carry the burden of your dreams is the biggest act of violence.
In my part of India months of March – April are very hot. It is this time when board exams are also conducted in schools. So consistently I see parents waiting for all three hours when their child is writing the paper waiting in scorching heat for three hours every day till all papers are over. Waiting for the first 15 – 20 minutes after the bell goes on the first day is understandable as there can be some technical help required in the form of forgetting some identity documents or writing pens going hay-wire or something. But all seven papers 11 AM to 2 PM or worse still 3 PM to 6 PM in 400C sweltering heat is something beyond my comprehension.
Is this helicopter parenting the result of rise in social prosperity of parents? Is it that the parents now have become more insecure though more prosperous? It seems to be a complex matter with no simple answers. It is more for the sociologists to decide. As of now for curious onlookers like you and me it is just hilarious and at the same time even a little painful reality of or society.