P is for (Helicopter) Parenting

There are some parents to deign to raise what have been dubbed free-range kids, children who get around on their own, pretty much as I did when I was eight or nine.

One of the things I want for my daughter is room for her to find her own way, without her mother or me hovering about. Yet I find myself looking out the window of our house, checking our own back yard, making sure she’s OK. I’m trying not to be a helicopter parent, testing the line between consciousness and overparenting.

Here’s a fact: more kids ride to school than ever before. “The most recent data on active transportation among school-age children represent a significant decrease since 1969. The number of students walking and biking to school has decreased more than three-fold over the past few decades, from 41 percent of students in 1969 to only 13 percent of students in 2001.” Surely, part of this is a function of consolidated school districts, which are generally larger. But one parent on our street acknowledges driving her child the few blocks to the school.

I can’t help but think that much of this trend stems from a six-year-old boy named Etan Patz. He walked to school in 1979 in New York City and never came home; it was only in 2012 that someone has confessed to killing the child at that time. Etan Patz was the first missing child to appear on a milk carton. In those days, one had to wait 12 or 24 hours before the police would truly respond to a missing persons report. But after other high-profile crimes, there are amber alerts that take the info about a missing child across the region, or even across the country, almost instantly.

There are some parents to deign to raise what has been dubbed free-range kids, children who get around on their own, pretty much as I did when I was eight or nine, going off to the playground with no parental or other adult supervision. And I did that before the days of cellphones. These current parents have been highly criticized in some circles. What if something happens?

I find myself regularly conflicted between safety and a more laissez-faire attitude.

ABC Wednesday – Round 11

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

27 thoughts on “P is for (Helicopter) Parenting”

  1. It’s downright scary these days. It seems like there’s been a lot of child abductions in the news lately. I’d err on the side of caution with some common sense thrown in depending on the situation. No need to hover over her 24/7, but don’t put her safety in jeopardy.

  2. It’s a similar story in the UK, especially kids being driven to school. Apart from missing out on the obvious health benefits of walking or cycling, they also have no feel for the geography of the place where they live – street names, shortcuts, landmarks etc. And of course they get the impression that the world is a scary and dangerous place.

  3. Perhaps more children should have involved parents. I’m not advocating helicopter parents but so many youngsters are growing up on their own without parental and adult guidance. After teaching adolescents and young adults for 28 years, I welcomed involved parents…even those who could be obnoxious, remembering that all kids need advocates. Kate, ABC Team

  4. There are so many gray lines in parenting. Figuring out when to intervene and when to let them potential ‘fall’ and ‘fail’ is so difficult. Know though that the lessons they learn from falling can be invaluable later. We just have to use (hopefully good) judgement, teach them to look around them, think clearly, work hard and be safe. All my gray hairs are from walking this thin line! I have no doubt you’ll do a great job.

  5. I think your daughter is probably lucky to be given a “longer leash.” I bet she will grow up to be more confident and capable than kids who are monitored at every moment.

  6. Better to be safe than sorry in this day and age. But one has to use common sense, too. Sounds like you’re doing a good job, Roger!

    abcw team

  7. It is hard to find that balance. When my daughter was in elementary school and wanted to ride her bike to her near by elementary school, I would run behind her.

  8. My granddaughters want to walk home from school but as of now I pick them up and their Mom picks them up at my house after she gets off work. My daughter is thinking about letting them walk home (about 6 blocks) in the spring. They will be together, they are 11 and 8. There are many students in the area that walk. After Jessica was killed in Colorado last month I am so conflicted about them walking!!!What can we do in the society we live in?


  9. I think these are scary times we live in, or perhaps we just hear about things more quickly and in greater detail now.
    When I was young (back in the dark ages,) I did walk to school. I had no choice. We only had one car and Dad used it to go to work. Our school was in our neighborhood. One used to buy a home to be in a good school district. Now often attending school is very far from home.
    I would rather err on the side of caution than be sorry.
    You sound like you are doing things well and the leash is long. I do like the term helicopter parents. There definitely are some of those.

  10. Our children had to walk to school, which was not far, but they had to cycle to the secondary school , which was 9 km’s. In winter it was very cold for them. My husband repaired the bikes whenever it was necessary but he never drove them to school. It was bad when they got a flat tyre. I myself had to cycle to school for more than half an hour when I went to the secondary school for five years. It was normal. Well times change!

  11. Ordinary Words…my hubby cannot stand to have any kids leave the house without some words of wisdom/caution: he falls back on this one occasionally…’don’t let the sun get in your eyes!’ My kids, now all grown, accept it and try not to roll their eyes…but secretly they are tucking the admonishments away to use when they have kids♫♪

  12. i walked to school during my elementary years, so as my other siblings and cousins. we were lucky, school was about 300 meters away. i hitch-hiked in high school without fear and found my mother by the gate waiting for me anxiously–i didn’t understand her anxiety at that time and even resented it. now i get nervous when i lose sight of my 14-year old nephew at the mall, or when his 17-year old brother is late. my brother (their dad) tells me i’m a worry-wart. we live in dangerous times, lots of psychos everywhere.

  13. It’s a ‘brave new world’ and safety is important focus for all ~ especially children ~ lots of ‘ill people’ out there ~ (A Creative Harbor) ^_^

  14. I grew up riding my bike to store, park, school etc. Our kids did similar…but my grandkids are so “Public Transportation” savey…I fear sometimes for them going here and there….but it’s certainly a cheap way to travel with gas prices. I must leave that decision up to their parents… I’m just an overprotective Grandma. HaHa.

  15. Sad times we live in, – one of my nicest memories is of a shortcut we took to school, lined and perfumed with wild roses in June.

  16. It is hard to find a balance these days, but I think with the number of children being abducted, sexually abused or killed, the helicopter style is warranted until the kid goes to college.

  17. This is the very first time you write about family.

    I too, find myself overprotective with my kids but I guess we can’t blame ourselves for feeling that way because of what is happening these days.

    Pile of Leaves
    Rose, ABC Wednesday Team

  18. I don’t think there are more bad people around than there were say 30 or 40 years ago. I do think the emphasis has shifted from the good to the bad in a significant way though. Which is a shame, since children learn so much from freedom! In the Netherlands there is still a significant number of children cycling to school, especially in rural areas. There are however ‘safe houses’ along the way in case of a puncture or when they don’t trust something. Plus it is always recommended to cycle in groups and they can be quite large: up to forty or fifty!

  19. Interesting topic. I am not a parent, so don’t feel qualified to say much or judge how others parent. I’m just glad that I was given free reign when I was a child; I believe it’s made me strong, independent and fearless. I did experience unpleasantries, like being in a bus accident at the age of six on my way to kindergarten alone and accosted by flashers in the park. But it never occurred to me that my parents should have been there and I doubt they could have stopped them from happening. I’m of that school that believes “sh*t happens” and nothing could be worse than living in fear. How much of today’s fears are really evidence based? We say things are worse than 30-40 years ago, but are they? And don’t most abuses still happen in the home? Sounds to me like you’re asking the right questions, Roger… and perhaps your daughter herself may have an opinion worth listening to as well.

  20. The double initial murders in Rochester, NY in the early 70’s had a profound effect on what parents living here felt comfortable letting their children do alone. Back then it was perfectly acceptable to let children between 8-11 years old walk a few blocks to the store for a loaf of bread or a stick of butter. Now we shudder to think of it.

    Perhaps the hardest thing to deal with as a parent is not really having our children out of our sight for a few moments, but the fear of repercussions from either strangers or Child Protective services. Heaven forbid I should leave my child locked in the car to run in 7/11 for a gallon of milk!

  21. 1979 and 2012 – that’s a long time. Poor kid. During days when my son rides his bike to school 2 meters away from our house, I find my neck lengthening watching out for him. Sometimes when I have time I ran along with him. Most times when I can’t I pay someone to watch out for him til he reaches the school.

  22. What missing kids? Almost all of the “missing kids” on milk cartons were either a) abducted by one parent in a divorce case, or more likely b) ran away from home. In San Francisco in the early 1980s I saw literally tens of thousands of kids living in the street, they often gathered in a big mob in front of the Mabuhay Gardens rock club. They came from all over the country, some of them were pre-pubescent.

    Meanwhile the California State Police were saying that in a busy year they’d get like 10 real child abduction cases. It was seriously a non-problem back then and I strongly suspect that it still is a bunch of hype. But this obsession with child abductions says a lot about the people who think it’s real, their isolation and resulting fear of the world.

    Keep an eye on your kids folks, but let ’em roam. If you truly love your kids, let them learn how to deal with life with confidence.

  23. Its a difficult balance, I don’t think there are more evil people than years ago when luckily I was growing up in “free-range” days but in those days adults were more active and would intervene in keeping an eye on children not their own.

  24. I remember this sad story of the little boy who disappeared. When my son was 10 he went by bike to school, before that it was the school bus. Lots of children walked to school it was in the 80th. Today parents drive them rather to school if there is no school bus especially since this terrible “Dutroux” affair, who kidnapped little girls raped and killed them and two of them starved and died in a hidden room. Ever since the parents have changed !

  25. Roger, I was living in NYC when Etan was taken. I don’t know if he was the first child whose picture was on a milk carton, but I do know I study every picture I see. It was heartbreaking to find he had been dead these many years, and the Amber alerts have been sometimes quite effective.

    Once, Riley came up missing. It was a snafu on her dad’s part, but he had left town with no emergency contact info and she was not at afterschool Fun Club. I was a single mom, so that afterschool was a Godsend. He had previously threatened (being so against any drugs or traditional medicine we dubbed him “macropsychotic”) to “take her away where you’ll never find her” if I started her on the Hep B vaccine.

    Well, she was in the middle of the course of shots when this happened. What a mess – police asking for pix of her with her dad… When asked if he had ever threatened to take her, I had to recount the Hep B story, but said, “I’m sure that’s not what this is about.” The police officer looked me square in the eye and said, “That’s what everyone says, ma’am.”

    Turns out she was rehearsing elsewhere for Odyssey of the Mind, a special program, but her dad had forgotten to let me know she was going that day, and it was not the usual day or time. When she came home, I hugged her so hard she almost cracked!

    One can NEVER be too careful, and yet, I’m not a Smother Mother… Thanks, Roger, and sorry for the bla bla bla, but I just got home and could not WAIT to read you! Peace and blue states, Amy

  26. The answer to that question “what if something happens?” is that stuff will happen. It does happen. But unfortunately for many children and teens the villains are not out there but at home. The likelihood that a kid is abducted is pretty slim – most abductions are by a parent. still frightening, and I can do without that sickening feeling of not knowing where my kid is, but I try to remember to ease back.

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