Helicopter Parents


By Christy Mactavish

If any of  you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.  James 1:5

Yesterday, my boys attended a really cool program at the Back Bay Refuge called Biology Adventures.  My husband and I were both so excited to see that all three of them were able to go together with their neighborhood friends, even though there was a wide range of ages.  We were also thrilled that they were going to experience some cool hands-on science and learn about our area’s natural habitat!

And to be REALLY honest, we were ecstatic that we would have the opportunity to go on a little “day date” while the boys were away!  That’s not so wrong, now, is it? 😉

About an hour into our morning, as I was trying to decide what sundress I would wear to lunch with my handsome prince,  the “Noir” ringtone on my cell phone loudly echoed throughout the room, indicating I had a text.  It was a message from my oldest son.  He was informing me that my youngest son was not feeling well, and I needed to pick him up.

My first reaction was like Swiper on Dora the Explorer, OH MAN!  Of course I wanted my youngest to be okay, but I was also pouting a bit because I really wanted this day date with my husband!  I then proceeded to call his cell and ask him what was going on.  But in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but think about how odd this was…Before cell phones, they would have looked to the adults in charge of them at the camp for help!  And then, if it were really an emergency, the counselors would have called me directly.

My oldest repeated that youngest was not feeling well–stomach ache.  I asked to speak to my youngest.  Then over the phone,  I heard the voices of the counselors asking him if he was okay.  I heard them instantly  take action to get him some water and fresh air.  And I’m sure you can guess the rest?  THEY TOOK CARE OF HIM!  No surprise!  That’s what they are supposed to do.  And he ended up having a fantastic time!

But then, throughout the entire morning, and into our lunch date, the “Noir” kept chiming as my oldest sent  little useless updates about their day, even a count down to when they were coming home (like I didn’t already know when he was coming home?) It was definitely frustrating.

Of course, I’m thankful that if there were a real emergency, my children could contact me with the cell phone.  HOWEVER!  This is an excellent example of how instant contact through cell phones can break down the “chain of command,” if you will, and create more chaos than good.  It’s the ultimate irony. This cell phone, a COMMUNICATION device, broke down communication!  All my sons needed to do was go to the counselor and share that he wasn’t feeling well.

I can’t help but be reminded of many articles I’ve written about helicopter parenting, and the child who called mom in the middle of college English class to tell her the bad grade the mean old professor gave! (Yes–true story–You can read more about it here.)  Instead of the child/adult learning to communicate and ask questions of the professor, they automatically resorted to mommy doing it for them.  This same concept played out with my children at camp.

I’m sorry if I sound like some harsh cold mom who doesn’t care about her children’s fun at camp.  I DO!  But I have a visceral reaction to the thought of my son thinking he has to tell me every single move he’s making when he’s not with me.  That does not foster independence in any way, shape, or form.  And I really don’t want him to think doing this is the norm!

Cell phones definitely add a whole other dimension to parenting!  Given the clear addictive nature of cell phones, we are challenged with teaching our children to discern what’s important and what’s not; what’s an emergency and what’s not; how to speak to speak to adults; how to stand up for themselves. Oddly, it really sounds no different than the task prior generations had; however, I believe our generation is faced with so many more challenges as we teach the basics of real communication.

What are your thoughts on this topic?  How are you helping your children understand the importance of real face-to-face communication?  What challenges are you facing with your children and their cell phones?  What strategies could you share to help other parents?

We ask for your wisdom as we embark on teaching our children the importance of communicating.  We praise you for all that you will teach us.
Click here for the first of five articles on helicopter parenting.

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Be still and know that I am God.  Psalm 46:10

Scenes one and two are inspired by actual events experienced by the author and her husband!  We own it…

Opening scene:
Mom and Dad waking at 5:00 am. Mom making lunches for the children. Dad popping Eggo waffles (or in our case, the cheaper store brand) into the toaster, both wrangling children out of bed while rushing around to get themselves ready for their day.

Youngest son wanders through the house limping with one sock and shoe on while searching frantically for another clean sock. (He, of course, settles for the dirty one he wore the day before.  Never mind that it doesn’t even match the one he is wearing!)  Middle son calls, “Mom, we’re out of toothpaste and you forgot to sign my assignment book!”  Oldest son asks, “Dad, are you going to pick me up after school, or do I go to after care while mom is in her meeting?”

(Please tell me you can relate to at least some degree!)

Scene 2:
Mom quickly opens oldest son’s assignment book and sees that she is required to sign a test that he failed in math.  In the midst of her rushing, she quickly signs it but bellows, “What in the world?  This is not acceptable!  What happened?”  The son responds, “I don’t know…I forgot to study…the teacher made me take it even though I didn’t understand some of it…”

With the morning quickly escaping them, and job responsibilities looming over her, she drops the subject and rushes everyone out to the car (or bus).

Scene 3:
Mom is finally sitting at her computer in her office.  Decides to pull up the parent portal to see her son’s grades in math.  She sees several low grades in his math class.  Guilt and confusion rush over her becaue she hasn’t had time to look at the parent portal in a while.  She should have known this!  She knows she hasn’t seen her son studying much math at home, but she also hasn’t had time to really look over his homework, because she has been so inundated with her own project at work.   She begins to question, Why didn’t the teacher tell me?  I was never informed.  This isn’t fair to my son.  He said he didn’t understand some of it? Why did she give him the test if he didn’t understand?

Closing scene:
Now, in all seriousness, this closing scene is where the story can go in any direction.  This is when we parents have an extremely important choice to make.  In the midst of our frustration, guilt, and panic will we literally stop, “be still,” and allow God’s presence to bring us clarity?  Will we allow ourselves to “be weak” and stand down so God can do his work in both us and our children?  Will we acknowledge that He is God and is in control?  OR will we blast a quick email to our child’s teacher requesting/demanding that our child be allowed to retake the failed math test, since the teacher obviously did not teach them properly?  Unfortunately, the latter happens all too often.



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Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.  Ephesian 4:15

With technology advancing at the speed of light and expectations by all increasing exponentially, parents and teachers/administrators have reached a crossroads regarding communication.  While there is no doubt that technology has several positive implications, the unprecedented access to information (like the ones described below)  plays an enormous part in feeding the helicopter parent phenomena.  How that information is handled and communicated determines the difference between a team effort among teachers and parents or a confrontational us versus them approach.

Access to internet–While there definitely is solid, valid, thought-provoking information always at the press of a button, that knowledge can feed a helicopter parents’ assumption that they always know more than the teachers who are working with their children.

Parent Portals–These allow parents to view their children’s grades at a moments notice.  It is basically an online gradebook where teachers must input each students’ grades in a timely manner.  While this is a wonderful way for parents to stay informed, it reduces a child’s learning to just a grade or an end product; and it makes it easy for a parent to forget that their child is going through a learning process.

Email–This is, of course, an amazing tool for communication. HOWEVER—I am always baffled with the irony that this amazing form of communication can create so much miscommunication,  and it can greatly damage the trust that is built between a teacher and a parent when misused.  Without going into my own vault of examples, please suffice it to say that helicopter parents can be extremely quick to spout off emails hammering a teacher for things of which their own children should be accountable.

Cell phones–Just the other day I was listening to Tim Elmore, the author of Generation iY, Our Last Chance to Save their Future, share an anecdote that perfectly describes the plight of cell phones and helicopter parents.  He explained how a college professor handed back some graded papers to his students.  One student received a C+ on her paper.  This was the first C she had ever received in her entire school career.  The young lady pulled out her cell phone and sent a text to her mother.  Her mother texted back saying, “Call me immediately.”  So in the middle of the COLLEGE classroom in front of all her classmates and her COLLEGE professor, she called her mom and then proceeded to hand the phone over to her professor!  I’m speechless…….Although I will say that Generation iY, Our Last Chance to Save their Future is at the top of my reading list now!

Instant access to information for teachers and parents alike can promote a stronger relationship that ultimately benefits our children;  yet, it can also foster quick decisions and impulsive communication that can hinder the trust that is at the core of any strong relationship.  It is up to us, the adults, to decide to work together in the most productive way.  We must not forget that all this wonderful technology does not dismiss the importance of respectful and meaningful communication.  The old adage, “It’s not what you say, but HOW you say it,” carries a lot of weight these days.

Helicopter Parents 5:  What Would You Do? 










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Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice? Proverbs 8:1

As a teacher, helicopter parents made me feel like they had abolutely zero trust in my abilities to educate their children.  In all honesty, it hurt.  I, like so many other teachers, had such a passion for teaching and helping the children in my care.  I took incredible offense to the unbelievably blatent disrespect some parents displayed all in an effort “to protect their children.” So much so that I had to begin to ask why? Why would a parent go to such an extreme?  What drives them to be so protective?  I needed wisdom to call out her voice, LOUDLY, just as the scripture above states.

In my quest for understanding, I discovered an article by Susan Gregory Thomas from Edutopia that was extremely insightful.  While it is not the end-all be-all answer, it definitely shed light on the generation that is known for “helicopter parents,” which I must remind myself, is MY generation…Generation X. (You can read the full article here).  The following excerpt is what helped me the most:

“…Generation X, according to a 2004 study conducted by marketing-strategy and research firm Reach Advisors, “went through its all-important formative years as one of the least parented, least nurtured generations in U.S. history.” Little wonder: Half of all Gen Xers’ parents are divorced. We were the first to be raised in record numbers in day care, and some 40 percent of us were latchkey kids.

We’ve been taking care of ourselves since we started going to school, and we don’t trust authority figures, because they weren’t trustworthy when we were growing up. Our parents didn’t know what was going on at school, and our teachers didn’t know what was going on at home. We’re not going to let this happen to our children — not even for a second. We’ll do whatever we have to do to make sure our kids get what they need.”

This article brought me to the heart of the matter.  It helped me put aside my offended feelings as an educator and opened my eyes as a parent.  You see, helicopter parents are really no different from you or me.  We are all trying to raise our children the best we know how.  Logically, we do this by either embracing or rejecting what we experienced growing up.  We look to ourselves and our life experiences to inform what we teach our own children.   I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I recognize my own helicopter-like tendencies when it comes to certain areas of my children’s lives.

The key word here, though, is that we look to ourselves…What if we were to look past ourselves?  What if we were to lay our childhood hurts at the foot of the cross, leave them there, and then truly look to God’s Word to inform us and our children?  Betty Staley, a Waldorf educator states, “Generation X is looking to teachers and schools to heal childhood wounds.” (Edutopia) If this is truly the case, then I would like to sincerely propose that there is a better way.  Jeremiah 30:17 says, “‘But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,’ declares the LORD…”  Now that is wisdom worth holding on to and passing down to our children.

Helicopter Parents 4:  Using New Technology Wisely

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In order to fully realize the answer to the question in the title, it would be helpful to look at the meaning of the word “train.” According to Dictionary.com and Mirriam-Websters Online Dictionary “train” means:

  • to make proficient by instruction and practice
  • to develop or form habits, thoughts, or behaviors by discipline and instruction
  • to make prepared for a test of skill

Simply put, training our children includes imparting instruction AND opportunities to practice what they learn. The simple definitions make it sound so easy! However, we know from our own experiences that when we need to practice something, struggles, difficulties and even suffering may come with it. Let’s face it–watching our children go through those struggles is incredibly hard! There is solace, though, because His Word clearly tells us that those struggles and suffering are used to bring hope!

Romans 5:3-5 says, We will also rejoice in our sufferings because suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. When we reflect on this scripture step by step, we can begin to see how God uses the trials and tribulations we face in our lives, no matter how big or small, to bring us hope and to shape and mold us to be more like Him.

Suffering Produces Perseverance…When there is suffering for whatever reason, we are challenged to dig down deep and figure out how to stop the “pain.” This pain may be something as simple as figuring out how to complete homework on time so recess won’t be missed the next day, or it could be as difficult as trying to process a divorce, a tragic illness, or the loss of a loved one. Either way, suffering forces us to analyze our circumstances and then seek out ways to persevere through the pain.

Perseverance, Character…In our efforts to persevere, we may try several different ways to solve our problems within our own powers. For example, in the midst of an incredibly challenging time in my life, I made numerous attempts to prove myself and my worth to others. I did not stop my pain, though—if anything, deeper issues of the heart that needed to be confronted were uncovered. However, experiencing what didn’t work in my own power ultimately brought me to the end of myself; and it was only then that I was able to surrender completely and cast all my cares on Him. I know now that was the Lord refining my character.

Character, Hope. And hope does not put us to shame…When we finally surrender and leave all of our pride, ego, hurts, or shame at the cross, we no longer look to ourselves for the answers. We look to Him. And that is when we receive the transforming hope that is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

You see, this entire “process” is how we are drawn to Him, so He can empower us to endure the challenges we will face on this earth. If we as parents, constantly intercede as the giver of hope to our children, then when will they learn to persevere? How and when will their character be developed? How will they recognize that they must come to the end of themselves, so hope can be poured into them by the Holy Spirit? If we try to omit any of these “steps” for our children, it bears asking, are we really training them in the way they should go?

 Helicopter Parents 3:  Why Go To the Extreme?

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Train a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6

What is a helicopter parent anyway? A relatively new term in our society, “helicopter parents” hover over their children and do everything in their own powers to prevent their children from struggling or getting hurt in any way. That doesn’t sound too horrible, now does it? Wouldn’t most parents do just about anything to protect their children from harm? However, helicopter parents take this concept to such an extreme that they actually hinder their children’s growth. They intervene to an extent that it inhibits their children from building crucial skills needed to truly survive in our world.

It is understandable that today’s parents feel tremendous pressure to protect their children from harm. Can you blame us when we are constantly bombarded with horrific crimes, like predators seeking out our children online and in our neighborhoods?  We have all heard adults reminiscing before about how they used to play in their neighborhoods for hours on end until the street lights came on.  Now, when children play outside, there is an urgent need to know their whereabouts at all times. The underlying logic is that if parents can control where their children are and what they do at all times, then they can be sure their children remain safe.

Deep down, though, most know that logic just does not compute, especially as children grow older.  Unfortunately, for many different reasons, helicopter parents feel much more comfortable trying to control their children’s circumstances rather than training them to persevere through them.

As a teacher, I will honestly share that my own personal experiences with helicopter parents have influenced my perspective, but my heart wants more than anything to look at helicopter parenting through God’s eyes. I want to seek His guidance to the many unanswered questions.

Questions like:

  • What does God mean by “training” our children up in the way they should go?
  • What pushes a parent to the extreme of being a helicopter parent?
  • Are there more global issues that contribute to helicopter parenting?
  • How can educators and parents build a bridge of understanding so the children benefit?
  • How does our Lord balance love and discipline with His children and how can we follow His example?

Lord, please let my subsequent articles glorify you by being rooted in prayer and scripture, so that your teachings may help us raise our children to be whom you need them to be. Amen

Helicopter Parents 2:  What does “training our child” look like?

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