Danielle Lee: Good evening Jacksonville, and happy Saturday. I’m Danielle Lee and welcome to The Conversation with Dr. Ali Kasraeian. As always you can always join the conversation. Give us a call at 340-1045.
How are you doing today Dr. Ali?
Dr. Ali K.: I am good. How was your cruise?
Danielle Lee: Oh, it was nice. It was nice. It was nice to get away from the rainy Florida. I went to the Bahamas. I slept a lot.
Dr. Ali K.: Well, congratulations.
Danielle Lee: Thank you.
Dr. Ali K.: Well, welcome to The Conversation everyone. We have a very, very interesting topic and one of our favorite guests, Dr. Tracy Alloway is joining us from UNF. She’s a psychologist who studies memory. And last time she was on we talked about the impact of social media and things of that nature on memory throughout life. And today, we’re talking about a very intriguing topic of helicopter parenting throughout life. And it’s basically the concept of if your parent is too involved and too engaged that could potentially have negative impacts on how children deal with life as adults. Because then they potentially do not have the coping skills to deal with stress, and they don’t have the independence to maintain an autonomous life as an adult because they did not learn those skills through their formative years as we hope them to do.
And then on of the challenges that I see with that, just in general where you hear this stuff thrown around in the media a lot, but also in reading about this, it’s a very difficult task. We have to have one eye on your child now as they’re growing in the here and present to make sure they’re safe in a world that’s changing so rapidly and becoming seemingly more dangerous. And have the other eye on how that type of parenting, and how your parenting could potentially have an impact on the adult you and our society and your child hopes themselves to be and how you hope them to be.
So to help us navigate that really important and very difficult conversation is Dr. Tracy Alloway. So thank you for joining us.
Tracy Alloway: Thank you so much for having me. I always love being here.
Dr. Ali K.: So, I mean how do we even start this conversation? I guess the best place to start is what is a helicopter parent?
Tracy Alloway: I think the word itself gives us a great image of that, where you have this idea of a parent at a playground, for example, and they’re hovering. They’re always around their child. If they’re too close to the sand pit they’re hovering. “Don’t put that sand in your mouth,” or they’re always making sure their child is working within very tight boundaries. Which, as you pointed out, on the one hand it’s important to keep them safe, but on the other hand, it doesn’t allow them that sense of autonomy or agency to try to test their own limits as well.
Dr. Ali K.: That’s very interesting. This term, the helicopter parent was initially used in Dr. Haim Ginott’s 1969 book called “Parents and Teenagers.” And the teens in the book actually said the very same thing, they’re parents were hovering over them like a helicopter. And it wasn’t really until 1990 when child development researchers Foster Cline and Jim Fay, coined the term the “helicopter parent.” And now we refer to it all the time as, like you said, a parent that hovers too much.
And it’s a very difficult thing. We criticize a lot of parents for not being present. We have a difficult issue now in our society where fathers may not be present. There are societal concerns regarding parents not being present enough. But now, in the flip side, you look at the concern of being over present and hovering and the impact on children.
One question I had, is this a parent problem or is it a child problem?
Tracy Alloway: I think that helicopter parenting is most certainly a parent problem. And I think you made an important point, that there is a key difference to being present and being overly present. So the helicopter parent is the one that is actually doing the child’s homework for them. The parent that would call up the college professor for their child and say, my son or my daughter got a bad grade, what’s going on? Calling up a job because the child is having a hard time actually dealing with criticism at work.
That’s the kind of parenting we’re talking about. Not the parent that is caring, concerning, warm and empathetic.
Dr. Ali K.: So from the parent’s standpoint, let’s say someone is a new parent, I guess no one begins the new journey towards parenthoods thinking that this is the style of parenting that I am going to take. I mean if you google this stuff, there’s this whole gamut of range of cartoon-esque parenting that are put on there that are very hilarious. But if you’re concerned about you’re on that spectrum, it can be quite daunting and potentially insulting to yourself, especially if someone calls you one of these things.
So as a parent, how do you, one, avoid becoming too engaged and potentially being labeled like this, and if you are concerned of this, how do you step back?
Tracy Alloway: And I think one of the things is parents oftentimes use children as a stand-in for themselves, an extension of themselves. And that can lead to one of the big reasons they do helicopter parent. Because you think that child is a clear reflection of who I am, if they fail at school then I failed as the parent. Or if they fail on the soccer field, then I am not a good mom or dad pushing them forward.
So the first step is just break that link. Your child is themselves. They’re their own individual. You are your own individual. While definitely their behavior and so on is part of how you raise them, they’re not an extension of who you are on the soccer field or in the classroom. They make their own choices.
Dr. Ali K.: But do we throw that on parents? I mean, it’s very difficult. You go in certain situations, if your child does something, everyone else is looking at the parent, then this has to be a reflection of what they did.
Tracy Alloway: It’s true, and I think social media has only exacerbated that sense of things. And so my advice is just don’t post. There’s a headline that just came out that made the news where a father had put one of those backpack leashes on their daughter and received a lot of criticism for that. And that’s not new. Parents have been using that for some time.
But again, if you feel that that’s not something that you want people to comment on, just don’t post the picture and be confident in your own parenting decisions.
Dr. Ali K.: So, you’re a college professor, you see this, you have done this for some time. One, do you see this as a real problem that is happening at the college level?
Tracy Alloway: At the college level, certainly. But it starts even in grade school where there was a study that came out a couple years ago comparing the difference between structured play in children and unstructured play. So, structured activities would be where the child has baseball practice Monday, piano practice Tuesday. Something scheduled every day. So a very structured activity.
And they found a key difference in the brain, how they were actually able to make decisions, even as young children. That the children who had less structured play, so that’s the kind of children the parents would say, “Go outside, don’t come in til you’re dirty and muddy and tired and we’ll have dinner together,” those kind of kids were able to make goal-setting behavior a lot better. They were able to solve their own problems a lot better, and they had better general, what we call executive function skills. Those are the skills we use to make decisions, to be able to inhibit our impulsive responses, manage our cognitive resources.
And the reason for that, if you think about it, when you’re outside playing, you have to come up with your own goals. No one’s telling you this is practice, you do what I say. You’re out there, you’ve got trees, everything’s open to you and you just have to set your own goals. But you also have to have these social negotiations. What if your brother or sister, they don’t want to play what you’re playing, and you have no parent to mediate. No coach to step in and say, “Hey, this is what we’re doing now. Get in line.”
So all of that’s important.
Dr. Ali K.: So now, fast-forward to 2017, not that we were discussing about the parenting of antiquity, but in 2017 where those type of self-sufficient goals a child can set are translated into landscapes and playgrounds that may be a lot more dangerous and have participants and co-participants that could potentially lead the child into dangerous avenues that did not exist before. Or even 10 years ago where the children could potentially be led into very, very dangerous territories, which is obviously the ultimate concern of any parent, and especially, potentially, helicopter parents where they’re trying to keep their children safe, they’re trying to keep them from being hurt. And that overprotection and keeping them from really experiencing dangers can be from the concern from we are in a much more dangerous world.
And I argue that maybe the world wasn’t even more dangerous now, it’s just we can see that. The veil has been lifted from the dangers that are out there with social media and the internet.
Tracy Alloway: And that’s certainly an important point. And I think the way to combat that is first of all, use discretion as a parent. But also, let your child understand how to fend for themselves within very safe boundaries. So, rock climbing or bouldering are great ways forward, where clearly there are a lot of risk, but there are also a lot of safety nets. Literally, you’ve got a harness on you. So they can push their own limits, they can know what they’re able to do.
And likewise, set up practice situations. Even learn how to say no to strangers or those kind of things, so that you can feel confident as a parent that as they get older, they know how to manage those risks independently as well.
Dr. Ali K.: So are we at the point where, and I truly pose this as a question, are we to the point now that young parents of young children have to almost be coached and have to learn the dangers of social media and the internet and some of the dangers that did not exist whenever they were children?
Tracy Alloway: I would say so. I mean fear is a very powerful motivator and it keeps us safe, certainly. And we aren’t born necessarily knowing what to fear. You see babies reaching out for hot stoves because they’re curious. They want to explore and investigate the world around them. And so, it is important as parents, obviously, that we teach them what to-