Are you drone, helicopter or free-range?

In 1977, at the age of six, I used to walk to pre-school alone, or under the not-very-watchful eye of my big sister. She was all of seven. One Monday, some big kids stopped me and stole my dinner money for that week. Nowadays, not only would I not be walking to school alone at that age, I certainly would not be taking money to pre-school! The truth is, parenting has changed drastically. “When I was a child,” begins many a boring monologue about how things used to be. In my house, this line brings on so much eye rolling and tutting from my two, you’d think they were having some sort of fit.

It seems though that I was the last generation to enjoy free-range parenting. In the 1980s and 90s, there was a distinct shift. As a result of bone-chilling abduction-and-murder cases such as Adam Walsh in the US and James Bulger in the UK, parents began to watch more closely. Not quite ready to take away their children’s freedom, they worried. Constantly. The grip of authority previously exerted by teachers and respected by parents, began to loosen. A stinging smack on the back of the legs was gradually replaced by quiet chats and “time outs”.

At the beginning of the 21st century, helicopter parenting emerged. Parents began shielding their offspring from any disappointment, making decisions for them and clearing the way of obstacles. Overnight, or so it seemed, there were no winners or losers. Everyone playing pass-the-parcel got a present. Everyone on the team got a trophy. Parents regularly questioned school authority and there were no consequences. If you forgot your packed lunch or homework, Mum would simply bring it to school. Children were under close supervision. And parents began to feel the pressure for their children to be the best.

And today, we are witnessing the birth of the drone parent. A scary new breed of hyper-vigilant, hyper-involved “mumagers”. Using today’s technology, these mums and dads optimize their young with social media apps, smartphones, GPS and 5G coverage throughout the known solar system. She’s your friend on Facebook, can read all your texts and peruse your up-to-the-minute test scores online. And luckily, Mum can now help you revise for your university exams via Skype, regardless of you having fled to the other side of the planet to gain some independence. And if you slip down a grade, she can email your tutor to ask why, without you even knowing.

Helicopter parenting is over-parenting. Drone parenting though, takes it to a whole new level. A recent study found that it can be significantly detrimental to your child’s development. Regardless of your good intentions, speaking for, making excuses for, problem-solving for, protecting and generally micro-managing your child is stunting their creativity and compromising their autonomy. For young adults in particular, over-parenting breeds narcissism and poor coping skills. The study has shown that this can lead to anxiety and depression in adulthood, as they realise they can’t stand on their own two feet. They are also more prone to self-destructive behaviours such as binge drinking and sexual promiscuity.

So, if you spend so much time at your child’s school that you have your own coffee cup in the teachers’ lounge, take a step back. Breathe. You’ve just got caught up in the Big Brother era of too much information, unnecessary comparisons and peer judgement. Come to grips with the idea that making mistakes is part of becoming a whole, sane, competent adult. Empower your children to make good choices for themselves. Show them how to go after what they want in life but don’t go after it for them. Lack of control does not mean lack of involvement, warmth and support.

My 70-year old mother messaged me at two o’clock this morning. “I see you’re on Facebook. You should be asleep.” I’m 44 years old and being drone-parented. It just goes to show that being a parent never ends. And she’s absolutely right of course – I should have been asleep.

by Emma Parker, Vice President – hyphen SA International Development Director – CEO hyphen Publishing Services, hyphen SA


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