June 28, 2014

Today's grandmothers can free children from helicopter parenting

While I'm home for the summer, I'm having many more opportunities to observe the parenting culture, as my 6 year-old nephew is staying here without his parents. Just his grandmother and Uncle Agnostic.

Parenting styles appear to form right around the time a child is born, and remain more or less frozen from then on. Even though helicopter parenting was in full swing during the '90s for small children (the Millennials), the parents of teenagers still let them have their own life, and did not constantly hound them ("touching base") when they left for college. That's because these parents had their kids in the '70s or early '80s, and retained the mindset of that time, which encouraged doing things on your own, without endless supervision.

I'm seeing this again, where my mother is taking care of my nephew more like the way she raised us, and less like today's helicopter parents (including my brother). A major part of that is letting him play by himself, or making friends with other kids his age in the neighborhood — without "play dates," just interacting spontaneously amongst each other.

How could the other kids' parents allow their own child to participate in such dangerous activities? Well, it turns out the parents aren't home. One boy is the grandson of the woman who lives a few doors up, and another girl from across the street is being babysat by her grandmother while her parents are away on vacation.

Of course — grandmothers! How else could small children be allowed to interact with each other by simply visiting each other's houses and asking if so-and-so wants to come out and play? Today's helicopter parents are too paranoid against their community members, so leave it to those whose parenting style was formed back in the '70s and first half of the '80s.*

Kids have to learn how to treat others, and how to respond to others' treatment of them, away from authority figures mediating their interactions. That's called preparing for real life. Shelter your kids, and they cannot mesh into any normal social setting outside of their nuclear household.

If you would like to do something about your OCD parenting, but think you're too committed to hovering, then just bite the bullet and send them away to Camp Grandma for the summer.

Lots of X-ers don't exactly have the warmest relationship with their parents, but you can get over it for the benefit of your kid. They need an environment where they can take hard falls, schedule their own social activities, and face the consequences of their actions. And if you're like most parents today, you cannot bring yourself to give that to them directly.

* This would not have had the same effect when you yourself were a child, since it was your parents who let you enjoy an unsupervised life growing up. Your own grandmother was probably a worry wort, like mine was (and still is). They were bringing up your parents during the Midcentury heyday of Dr. Spock, "smothering mothers," etc., and that stuck with them right up through their grandparenting years in the '70s, '80s, and '90s.

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