Not too long ago, I read a great article in the New York Times Sunday Review titled, "Raising Successful Children." The article spoke to the pitfalls of how too many parents today consistently over-parent and overprotect their children. It discussed the trend of parents who coddle too much and those who choose to mitigate their child's missteps by helicopter parenting. As I read the article, I almost wanted to yell to the author, "Amen sister!" I, too, have seen an excessive amount of parents who make the mistake of helicopter parenting and what I call, "attaboy" parenting. The helicopter parent is the parent who catches a child not when he crashes and burns, but when he merely scrapes his knee. It is the parent who needs to alleviate every ounce of her child's anxiety and steps in way too often to micromanage situations. I define "attaboy" or "attagirl" parenting to be giving constant praise to a child regardless of effort and outcome. This is the parent who preserves her child's spirit and confidence above all else, even if that confidence is fabricated and erroneously credited in the first place. I think that we have way too many "attaboy" and helicopter parents today than "pick yourself up and dust yourself off" parents, and in my opinion, that's taking the easy way out of child rearing.
In my field, I constantly see parents excusing their student from homework assignments when a child has a meltdown. I have fielded calls from parents who ask me, or one of my tutors, to make the conscious effort to remind their child that he is very bright even if the child isn't innately brilliant in a given subject. I have seen parents instantaneously lift expectations from a child simply because the child whined loud enough or demonstrated a sufficient amount of anxiety. I have also experienced parents who insist upon diminishing criticism of their child just to protect a certain perception the child may have of him/herself. I have seen it all and this trend deeply concerns me -- not to mention drives me NUTS! When did giving a child expectations and then quickly backing off of them when times get tough become a winning approach? When did lying to a child in order to foster confidence become more important than teaching him coping skills and how to accept weakness or manage failure? When did babying a child become more imperative than teaching her the lesson that not all kids are winners all the time and in every arena? When did not letting our children fall become a primary parenting strategy? In my professional opinion, many parents today need to reel themselves in from falling prey to these indulgent parenting methods.
I strongly believe that exceptions and excuses are teaching our children/students to be lazy and erroneously self-important. I believe that lying to a child about his/her abilities, prowess or innate capabilities fosters mediocrity rather than greatness. If a child constantly thinks herself brilliant, wonderful and talented because she has consistently been told so, she will never truly excel and will always fear failure. She will never strive for more for fear of losing, as Levine's article calls it, her "smart status" and instead she will not rise to the next challenge. As I see it, she will swim around in mediocrity because it is nice and safe. Why push to improve if you are so "great" where you are?! I am the first to agree that keeping a child's spirit and heart intact are just as important as academic achievement or intellectual growth, but I also subscribe to the idea that coddling a child too much prevents true excellence from materializing and promotes a false sense of merit. Encourage and fortify a child, yes -- lie and fabricate to preserve, protect and promote a falsity, no. "Successful failures" are essential and beneficial life lessons. Letting children receive criticism and accept defeat helps them evolve and mature.
The hardest thing for a parent to see is a child struggle and fall; the most satisfying thing for a parent to see, though, is a child rise from that given situation more capable than they were before. The problem is that too many parents step in before the child is able to demonstrate capability, so those qualities of autonomy and adaptability are rarely achieved. Are we not a society who still values building character, having gumption and who supports the mantra "if you don't succeed, try, try again"? Have we really become a culture who now universally believes that every child on the team deserves a trophy regardless of effort and outcome? It seems to me that granting gracious amounts of leeway now trumps the desire to build a fighting spirit in our children. I hate to tell you Mom and Dad, but not every kid on the team deserves that trophy. In fact, some deserve a Groupon for 20 hours of private practice lessons with a personal sports coach.
I truly yearn for the days when we all recognized that there are MVPs, "Average Joes" and bench- warmers. I was raised knowing that sometimes you are the best and deserve the trophy, and that other times, your buns warm the bench and the sidelines have your name all over them. Back not too long ago, a teacher didn't excuse you from homework because you had a pity party, there were no "attaboys" from the coach just for merely putting on your team uniform and parents didn't tell you that you were great (in an attempt to protect your spirit) when you sat on the bench and held the coach's clipboard the entire game. I should know, I got toasty warm many a bench during my entire high school volleyball "career."
The sooner we teach our children that you don't deserve a medal, trophy, or even a paper certificate for simply showing up and the sooner parents realize you don't need to step in and rescue your child for being the bench-warmer who received the Groupon, the sooner we can go about the business of revering our children for the times when they earnestly deserve to stand on the podium and receive a resounding round of applause. Until those earned moments are achieved though, Mom and Dad, perhaps you need to release your talons a bit and realize that if your helicopter blades hover so low you could give your child a buzz cut just from your proximity, it's probably time to step back -- even just a few feet.