From a recent comment, here is a post about a woman who got her 9 year-old child taken from her after she left her to play at a local park while the woman was working. The hosting website, xoJane, is some kind of lifestyle feminist place where 20 and 30-something women go to get themselves off on an orgy of not-judging-each-other.
The writer and her commenters share stories of how much less supervised their childhoods were (they appear to be late Gen X-ers), and how they could never bring their own kids up that way because of busybody parents around them, who would sick CPS on them if they let their kid play by themselves in the front yard. They didn't want to become helicopter parents -- they were peer-pressured and bullied into it.
Yet how do they argue back against the mainstream paranoia that says children are so fragile that they need 24-hour coddling or else baby holocaust? Like all good liberals, they share the moral framework that rests mostly on concerns about harm/care, and after that, fairness or equality of outcomes. (A review of the research on the different moral frameworks of liberals and conservatives can be found in The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt.)
The unwilling hoverers differ in claiming that the world is not as dangerous as the hyperbolic death trap imagined by the willing hoverers. Like Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids fame, they might cite statistics on the far greater risk of a child dying from a car crash vs. being murdered (kidnapped, molested, or other disgusting crime), and asking rhetorically if you are never going to let your kid ride in a car? Presumably not, so why shield your kid from a far less dangerous activity like playing for the afternoon at a neighborhood park, without you present?
Somehow, few hoverers have changed their minds after hearing this attempt to win a logical debate by appealing to rational concepts like transitivity and reductio ad absurdum. Not surprising: as Haidt emphasizes, our moral decisions come from intuition rather than reason. When we try to articulate why we made a certain moral judgment, we are fumbling for rationalizations after the fact, not trying to uncover what mix of intuitions gave rise to our moral hunch that something was right or wrong.
The parents who call CPS when you let your kid skateboard down the driveway with no helmet on, are not reasoning logically -- they just have a gut feeling that this poor child is being carelessly exposed to harm, and something must be done to rescue them. Hence, statistical evidence and logical reasoning will fall on deaf ears.
That only leaves liberals with their other, weaker framework for arguing the rightness or wrongness of an action -- fairness and equal outcomes. If a mother gets punished for leaving her kid at the park while working, this will result in a DISPARATE IMPACT on working mothers, poorer mothers, and mothers who are simply less emotionally attached to their kids. Given different parenting styles by race, this will also translate into a disproportionate share of black and Mexican mothers being the target of CPS.
The woman who inspired the whole discussion in the first place embodies all of these sacred victim groups in one person -- single, poor/working black mother whose preferred childcare arrangement had been to bring her daughter to work and hook her up to an IV of digital Benadryl for hours on end (laptop computer in a free WiFi zone). So many layers of injustice!
Yet most helicopter parents don't belong to a sacred victim group -- at best, "working women" or "single mothers." Hardly a male-to-female immigrant from Guatemala. Telling the parenting nazis to cool their jets because they're having a disparate impact on middle-class white women with jobs is just way too much of a stretch of the fairness principle.
Having exhausted the principles of harm/care and fairness/equality, the unwilling liberal hoverers have no other sticks with which to beat back the liberal paranoia that we call helicopter parenting, whether practiced by Democrat or Republican voters.
Rather, turning the tide against over-parenting will require a more conservative morality, which includes but extends beyond the two principles of liberals. Social-cultural conservatives (to distinguish them from Republican voters) also tap into intuitions about authority, in-group loyalty, and purity/sanctity/taboo, the last one being their most distinctive vis-a-vis liberals.
I'm not going to link to every post ever written here about the broader corrosion that helicopter parenting has led to -- see the "over-parenting" category tag over in the right-hand column. (And those are only the ones since I began using tags a couple years ago.) But all of those case studies and details can be distilled into the following points regarding the three additional conservative moral frameworks.
1. Helicopter parenting erodes parental authority by treating the children and parents more like peers, activity partners, and teammates, flattening out the hierarchy that exists between a caregiver and her charge, or a patron and his client. Permissiveness, a la Dr. Spock, is the rule, and corporal punishment comes under harsh suspicion. When children perceive their parents to be playing more of an egalitarian role, they don't allow them to raise their hand or boss them around -- none of us would allow our friends or teammates to do treat us that way. But it's not supposed to be that way between children and parents.
2. By hermetically sealing off the household from the broader community, whom they treat with indiscriminate suspicion, helicopter parents corrode the bonds that hold together social-cultural groups larger than the nuclear family.* As public gathering places are abandoned and guest/host interactions at the household level become rare, the sense of group membership becomes more cerebral, and hence more wispy and uncertain -- reduced to knowledge that we hold the same beliefs and follow the same practices as... well, y'know, the other people like us out there somewhere. Practices as simple as seeing the local mall all decorated for Christmastime, and hosting the neighborhood trick-or-treaters on Halloween, made our membership feel more corporeal and face-to-face -- and therefore more real, and more reassuring.**
3. Where to begin with the desecration wrought by helicopter parents? First, note that the very feeling of taboo in parenting disappears and is replaced by an engineering mindset asking which inputs result in which outcomes, with no "do not cross" boundaries set by taboos. Human beings are plainly not meant to be brought up cut off from social contact outside the nuclear family, and so will grow up warped and twisted rather than normal and wholesome. Not necessarily all the way out at the "abomination of nature" extreme, although more of the distribution does now reach out that far.
What cultural contacts the children are allowed to make require that the work be Bowdlerized -- sacrilege -- or had its purity watered down, or designed from the get-go to feel fake rather than organic. Worse, most of this diluted content-gruel is served up to them at a mass media trough, where the kids are parked in a state of vegetation for hours. (Search Google Images for "1950s kids television set," and marvel at how contemporary it looks to see the zombie-like trance of kids huddled no more than five feet from the TV, all to ease the anxiety that the smothering mother has about children playing outside unsupervised.) A good chunk of what they consume in private, with parents pretending not to notice, is lurid beyond belief -- the horror comics of the Midcentury and the gory and sociopathic video games of the Millennial era.
About the only case where helicopter parents show more, or any, interest in purity is in foisting an elaborate set of OCD hygiene rituals on the poor little dears. Both at home and, at least back in the '40s and '50s, at school through hygiene reel films. If anything, these superstitions appear to corrupt the child's health by preventing it from building up a tolerance to common stressors, as seen in the stereotypes of the sickly teenage nerd of the '60s (a stock character who seems to be missing from the '80s), as well as the Millennial who's allergic to everything.
I've dwelt at greater length on the theme of purity/sanctity/taboo because it is what most distinguishes liberal from conservative morality. Your typical liberal just does not get what's so wrong with a social and cultural climate that is warped, lurid, unnatural, and fake. "Whatever, I mean maybe it's like a little unfortunate to lose it, but it's not like there's something sacred about ____. The way we do things now is, like, way more convenient anyways." Glib and amoral attitudes carry the day.
Unfortunately things have to get pretty twisted in everyday life before the momentum halts and reverses direction. The social isolation in Nighthawks at the Diner did not look quite as dysfunctional as in Rebel Without a Cause or The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.
I think I'm noticing more widespread second-guessing of the helicopter parent norm, especially among new parents, who were the movement's first victims (the Millennials). They're aware that one of their most defining traits is how socially awkward they are -- and even they sense on an intuitive level that there's something fucked up about an entire generation being awkward. "If only we'd had less social engineering when we were growing up!"
Gen X parents and observers understand this as well, but it doesn't hit home so hard when it's some other group who were socially lobotomized in childhood. You'd have to have more of a conscience to go against helicopter parenting as a Gen X-er. If you're a Millennial, undoing the hovering and meddling style is not just correcting some abstract or remote wrong, as though you were sending off a donation to a worthy cause. In your eyes, it's correcting a personal injustice -- one that you and your age-mates were the victims and survivors of.
Every generation focuses on and exaggerates the bad parts of its formative years, and vows to change the world one household at a time when they start raising a family of their own. Millennials may have had a permissive liberal upbringing, but I predict that when it's their turn as parents, they will take a turn toward re-establishing the child/parent hierarchy, encouraging the kids to get to know and become a part of the broader community, and aiming for organic development rather than artificial programming.
* Civic and political-economic groups can be held together at the grassroots level even during an age of cocooning / helicopter parenting, as during the '30s, '40s, and '50s. The waxing and waning of civic groups reflects the cycle in large-scale status-striving and inequality, not the separate cycle in interpersonal-scale cocooning and crime.
** In these respects, the helicopter parents are no different from the cocooning society that they are a facet of, although they do tend to have an even more paranoid mindset since they have children to protect from the community, and not just themselves.