We've covered this topic last year (here and here), but I'm starting to see hints of it in real life now.
Yesterday afternoon I stopped at a park to eat, and the picnic tables were near a playground, where about ten children were playing. If it had been just three years ago, every kid would have had a parent shadowing their tiniest moves, serving as their playmate rather than one of the other kids, and any time a child came near a stranger (whether a child or grown-up), the parent would swoop in to block the potential contamination / abduction / whatever they thought was going to happen.
I glanced over a few times out of curiosity about how ridiculous helicopter parenting has become this year. But I was surprised to only see one obvious helicopter parent among the ten kids -- one of those overly involved goofball dads who thinks his kid would rather play with a grown-up goofball than one of the other kids. Just let them play by themselves -- except this time they were!
There was a group of much older adults, probably the grandparents, and being early-mid Boomers they were hands-off just as they were when they were new parents. But where were the other hoverers and smothering mothers? One group of children looked to be semi-supervised by a teenager, but not by an adult. These were all white kids, by the way, not the Mexican kids who are allowed to go out and play by themselves. That really stood out as unusual.
Then as one mother was leading her son back to the car, he jumped up on a picnic table, walked to the other end, and leapt off. A helicopter parent wouldn't have allowed any of those actions to take place (jumping off a table = skinned knee alert), and would've flown into containment / safety landing mode right away. Not out of respect for public picnic tables in a public park, but because she'd be paranoid about her son's safety, and embarrassed from her son making her look like a negligent parent in front of the other parents, simply by letting kids be kids.
She didn't encourage his behavior; she just went along with it, apparently thinking "boys will be boys." No parent would've thought that in this situation just a few years ago.
Aside from the teenager, these children were all about 3 to 7 years old. Their parents must be in their late 20s and early 30s, i.e. Millennials. The nonchalant mom with the up-up-and-away son didn't look old enough to be a late Gen X-er.
The small sample size here is not a problem, since there has been almost no variation in the basic parenting style for years now. Any break from uniformly 100% helicopter parenting is highly out of the ordinary.
I've heard Millennials on the internet and on TV say they're going to be less hovering when they're parents, but had yet to observe it in real life. Now that their kids are old enough to be seen on the playground, you might start to notice a change back toward the good old days of hands-off parenting from now on.
Don't expect it to jump right to the '80s kind of environment, when children went to the playground with no adults at all. It'll be more like the late '50s and early '60s, when the Dr. Spock and drive-in cocooning trends were just beginning to loosen up.
I have no delusions about how hilarious it's going to be watching the Millennials attempt to raise children. But I am still glad that the community-fragmenting trend of helicopter parenting is finally going to come to an end, and that kids around the neighborhood will once more be part of an organic connected peer group, without having to route all interaction through their parental delegates.