Tag Archives: helicopter parenting

The Kids Are Alright


Wailing about kids today is a wholesome and robust tradition. Contrast and comparison is also a very effective way to understand one’s own self. “Parent Orientation!; my father slowed the car down when we got to campus!” when spoken out loud might expand one’s understanding of one’s own self-reliance. About two generations now have been grumbling and pontificating about the self-absorbed populace planted and sowed after 1980. Those in the earliest crop are now parenting themselves. Many born before 1980 or raised outside of the family-friendly entertainment industry/my child is an honor student/kindergarten graduation influence, find themselves wondering what will become of all these kids when they reach adulthood and discover there is no audience? Don’t worry; it’s not gonna happen.

No one grows up and enters their elder’s world anymore. In the 21st century our industry is ideas (via technology.) We are not building cities, roads and bridges. We are not harvesting national resources and building empires. Most of our cultural institutions and landmark buildings are just that; institutions and landmarks. There are not many young men and women going into the business of their parents’. Even if the ‘business’ goes by the same name, it probably looks quite different day-to-day. If dad went into his dad’s profession of banking, the work wouldn’t have varied that much. Sure dad would now be working with or for women, and maybe there would be no smoking, but the actual work; money in, profits out, wouldn’t have changed all that much. But by the time junior comes along the business is international and technology is king. Junior and his cohorts have never heard the term “banker’s hours” and if they did would assume it refers to 24/7. There are very few paths left where one could actually follow footsteps. Each generation now machetes their way through.

Nowhere is this more evident than in media and technology. Reality show proliferation doesn’t happen by accident. Dozens of channels specializing in ‘Queen for a Day” programming is calculated. It’s calculated by the television staff whose orientation to the world renders a “Look At Me!” premise totally plausible and laudable. It’s calculated by a television staff who also knows (or projects onto) its audience; “Who doesn’t want to be the center of attention?” And social media is not the result of a whole lot of leftover parts. Slowly but surely developers discovered that there was an insatiable appetite to ‘be seen.’ Certainly social media sites such as Facebook are a wonderful tool for connecting and reconnecting with friends. But it’s also an easy way to create a familiar and familial sense of importance. Status updates are filled with information that only a (helicopter) parent could possibly find interesting. Twitter is possibly one of the greatest ‘democratizer’ of our time; allowing for personal curation and access to previously unattainable information. But it’s also a way to type incessantly (and perhaps inanely) in the pursuit of attention.

Media and marketing have become so linked as to often be indistinguishable from one another. There is nothing surprising about this evolution. It is the natural by-product of generations who would not see a value in doing anything without an audience. All entertainment media now integrates Twitter and Facebook into their production. Try to even find a television program without a hash tag prompt on the lower left corner or a promo to “Like” the show on Facebook. Much of this marketing is relatively noninvasive and at times even informative. It’s nothing to shirk or even bemoan, but it is quite telling.

There are lots of real things to worry about. We can wring our hands over K-12 curriculum or childhood obesity. We can worry about higher education accessibility for our ‘best snack providers.” But we needn’t worry about how these kids will fare once the camcorders are turned off. As long as there are iPhones (or their yet to be born offspring) and mirrors, they’ll be just fine.

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Posted by on October 29, 2012 in Childhood, Media/Marketing


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Careful The Things You Do*

Hauling nutritionally balanced snacks to Little Leaguers (who engage in actual exercise for about 10 minutes.)  Creating elaborately themed birthday parties for children who would be happy with a whoopee cushion and a pizza.  Dressing little girls as miniature Mae Wests.  What do these, and many more slightly wacky things, have in common?

When asked, the majority of adults will explain (variations of the above) behavior with the following: “There’s such pressure.”  Such pressure.  From their child?  Visions of a pigtailed girl a la The Bad Seed dance in my head.  There she is in the middle of GapKids/Gymboree/Children’s Place, her $200 doll held aloft prepared to swing; “Buy me the fur shrug or the latte gets it.”  I don’t think so.  If so, someone call Willy Wonka and have him rustle up some oompa loompas.  I think what these parents in fact mean is that there is perceived peer pressure.  That’s right; peer pressure.  That plausible excuse for the pack of cigarettes your parents found in their car, the explanation for shoplifting that 45 (a small disc when placed on a turntable emits prerecorded sound,) and a plausible excuse for kissing that boy in the basement.  But peer pressure in adults?  How does that work?  How does one even keep a straight face?  I suspect that it is not peer pressure so much as it is herd mentality.  Semantics perhaps, but defined as “group think” it makes just a bit more sense.

Very few of us, no matter how many times we’ve done it, feel like professional parents.  Every child, every developmental stage, in fact every day presents new challenges.  Yes, there are some whose very nature is laid back.  They feel confident that their child is well fed, healthy, happy, and curious.  They don’t grasp at enrichment programs as if they were life preservers or buy every latest geegaw and gizmo.  Their confidence might be innate or may be a reflection of their diverse portfolio.  Perhaps all their identity eggs are not in the parenthood basket.  They may have a paid job or not.  They may be married or not.  The diversification is more internal than that.

But these are not the parents hiring aerialists and face painters for a bris.  They are not the ones baking for the school/church/scouts/karate class/soccer club every week.  The parents staying up to create bespoke goody bags for their 6 year old’s birthday party are hearing different voices in their head.  They want desperately to get it right and like the creature in the strange land (that all parents really are) they take every cue and piece of advice to heart.  A cycle is created of external reinforcement.  Where the trouble may lie (if you consider hovering parenting and spoiled children, trouble) is a sense of unease and disquietness.  Look around.  How much of the media noise is about “stressed moms” “mommy wars” or far worse “the hidden drinking life of moms.”  How long do you think it will be before we have a psychological condition known as “stressed mother?”

Feeling exhausted and strained is nothing new.  Mother’s little helper, anyone?  But the angst which comes from losing one’s internal compass is.  What would happen if we tried something new, yet very old for 30 days?  For 30 days, let’s not visit any parenting websites, chat rooms or magazines.  Let’s only talk to our friends and acquaintances about what’s going on in our own lives, not our child’s.  Let’s plan weekly dates with our partners (and hire babysitters.)  If something comes up in those 30 days which really warrants guidance, call a parent, or aunt, or uncle or grandparent.  Look to the elders, the survivors if you will, for guidance, reinforcement and comfort.  For 30 days, do not look to the others floundering in the sea of parenthood for help.

Let me know how it goes.

*Children Will Listen – Into The Woods, Stephen Sondheim (1986)


Posted by on March 1, 2012 in Childhood


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Somewhere That’s Green*

I read a story today about lockers not “Hurt” ones, but fully decked out Better Home & Garden, ready for their close-up, middle school lockers.  Need I mention (that according to the article anyway) they all belong to girls?  It took a moment or two for me to discern why this story irritated me.  I love small spaces.  I excel at space engineering, and fancy myself aesthetically inclined.  As a (relatively) grown woman, I am still not immune to the charms of a dollhouse.  In fact, the only reason I probably don’t have one is that I am not (yet) a recluse, and fear discovery.

Clearly the concept of interior decorating in miniature, is not what caused my ire.  How about the gender disparity then?  Why a story solely about “tween” girls and their decorating habits.  I mean if there ever was a career or avocation that was gender-blind, surely it’s interior design; for every Dorothy Draper there is a Phillipe Stark.  Should the reader of today’s article then intuit that the author and all parties mentioned deem the activity overtly feminine?  What other reason could there be for only discussing girls?  Unless someone can offer me an alternate explanation, I’m going with that.  So yes, I’m offended from a gender disparity viewpoint.

But in truth, that was only part of it.  I would have been happy to swoop my feminist cape in dramatic fashion and storm out of the argument.  But the author waved the crimson flag, and that flag was the locker chandelier.  That’s right ladies and gentlemen, for just $24.95 you too can own a motion detecting, battery operated LOCKER chandelier!!  But wait, you also can purchase carpeting, wallpaper, and (coming soon!) miniature recycling bins.  Okay, I made up the part about the recycling bins.  I think.  Now presumably, besides not being able to drive oneself to the mall, the average 11 year old does not possess an income that would support this “second home.”  And that, dear reader, is when I got most prickly.  It is implied (in the article) that mothers (my kingdom for one decorating inclined father!) are making these purchases for their daughters.  This troubles me in several ways.  I don’t think the average locker can fit a helicopter!  If a child’s first locker is not by definition, their own space, I don’t know what is.  It’s bad enough that parents support entire retail markets devoted to child/tween/teen bedroom decor.  Seriously, whatever happened to painting old furniture and hanging posters, or beads!  Are children only allowed to be creative in the confines of an expensive enrichment program?

So while I am irked with the perpetuating of the girl=appearances equation, I am equally irked by the snuffing of organic life of a child.  We all had lockers (I still have a scar on my pinkie to prove it) and we all made them our own.  Photos, mirrors, whiteboards, candy (was that just me?) extra lip smackers, created unique interiors.  This article suggests that (besides looking like a Boca Raton condo) what today’s (girl’s) lockers have in common, is their commonality.  They are decorated by mass market expensive products, purchased and approved by parents.  If you’re a parent, worried that your cherub will slide down the popularity ladder if they go one more moment without 10 square inches of green shag carpet, let me suggest the following: take your child to a crafts store.  Have them make their own wall paper, curtains, what have you.  Light fixture?  Well, I suppose flares are impractical, but surely there are more creative solutions than a $24.95 chandelier.

I think it’s safe to say that this article hit the trifecta or irritants for me: reinforcing the importance of appearances for girls, parents insinuating themselves into the (potentially) creative life of their children, and perpetuating the mass market retailing to children.  Not bad for one article!

* I cook like Betty Crocker
And I look like Donna Reed
There’s plastic on the furniture
To keep it neat and clean
In the Pine-Sol scented air
Somewhere that’s green

– Little Shop of Horrors, Howard Ashman

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Posted by on October 10, 2011 in Childhood


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