Tuesday, October 8, 2013


We have a friend who teaches sixth grade in an economically depressed community in California. She and her husband were visiting us and the conversation naturally turned to students and schools and teachers and parents. 

I complained about all the helicopter moms and dads, hovering around our comfortable little town. These parents can be loud and bossy. They disrupt PTO meetings. They challenge grades. They demand only the best for their precious scholars.

Our friend replied that she wished it were like that at her school. "I never see a parent," she said.

Wow, that put some things into perspective. We're all so focused on our children's success. But, her students succeed or fail on their own, and against the odds. They have to get through school without much aid from (or intervention of) their mothers and fathers. 

They are hard-boiled kids, like the detectives from pulp fiction. They started out as fragile as any silver-spoon baby. But, they've had to get tough if they're going to get through school. And, sadly, some don't.

My daughter and the majority of her friends, on the other hand, are what I would call "coddled." They've spent the past 16 years gently cooking over a very low flame.

Many moms and dads today (and, believe me, I'm not excepting myself from this observation by any stretch) seem to think that the job of a parent is to make things easier for their kids. So we check their grades on web-based "parent portals." We email their teachers and make mad dashes to the school with forgotten permission slips, papers and lunch boxes. We passionately advocate on their behalf.

Some of the things you hear are just plain silly ...

"My daughter has test anxiety."

"My son is on the varsity basketball team; he shouldn't be penalized for skipping gym."

"Please excuse them from school next week; we're going skiing."

And, what can be particularly disturbing is that with so many parents making so much noise about their average ordinary kids, it's hard for anyone to notice the student that does need extra help. It's as though all the well-meaning mothers and fathers crying "Wolf" are making too much noise to hear anyone else. 

We've become so overprotective, that many of these teenagers don't know how to do things for themselves that they should already be doing for themselves. Back when I was a teen in 1970s New York City, we had more independence, more autonomy, and more responsibility. Unless my charge was turning blue, I didn't call my mother from my babysitting gigs. Macaroni and cheese dinner, bath time, a crying kid? I figured things out.

If I had two tests and two papers due on the same day ... guess what? I figured it out.

If I had after school plans with friends, we took whatever bus or subway we needed to, to get to whatever apartment we were going to. We figured it out.

I realize that living in a small town, it's different for my daughter. She often needs a drive (from a licensed adult) to get where she's going. Coordinating drop-offs and pick-ups means that I'm privy to a lot more of her private plans than I would need to be. (Or, quite honestly, want to be.) 

It's interesting then that a recent wake-up call for me came from her new driver's ed instructor. My husband and I attended the state-mandated parents' class. Of course, I was taking copious notes about my daughter's permit and license requirements. Always a plate spinner, I was already leaping ahead to how I would arrange her schedule for classes and practice drives. It appeared that all the other mothers (and one or two of the fathers) were doing the same.

The instructor (What a cool job, btw, every teen in this town loves her — and why not? She's helping them get their LICENSE!), she stopped us short.

"I'm available by email or cell, but I don't want to hear from any of you." 

This was a surprise.

She continued, "If your kids are old enough to get behind the wheel of a two-ton lethal weapon, they're old enough to schedule their own lessons."


She was right, of course. And this particular (I won't say "helicopter") enabling mother saw it immediately. With relief actually.

Some kids are a little hard-boiled. Some are a little coddled. 

I'm more than a little scrambled, myself.

If you enjoyed this post, order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com.

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