The Personal Toll on Helicopter PARENTS

Hi Readers! Just back from the dead, after a grilling incident left me with second degree burns on my right hand FINGER TIPS! Bad news for a blogger (and YEOW!!!!!). So I went to the E.R. and got some very powerful pain drugs. So powerful that they left me lying on the floor all day yesterday, lifting my head only to vomit. Now, happily, my fingers are fine (tap, tap, tap) and I have vowed never to take a Vicodin again.

And now, on to less personal gripes.

Check out this essay, “Helicopter Moms, Heading for a Crash,” from Sunday’sWashington Post . It’s by Margaret Nelson, author of Parenting Out of Control, and it basically says that by the time you have watched TV with your kids (to make sure it’s appropriate, and discuss relevant issues) and done homework with your kids (to help and guide them) and played with your kids and driven your kids and watched your kids at soccer/dance/chess/lacrosse, there’s not a lot of time left for your other relationships: With your spouse, your friends or your community.

I really related to the homework part. My husband and I DO spend a ton of time helping one of our sons with his homework and we  watch the evening dribble through the hourglass until but a few grains are left for teethbrushing and good nights.

Sometimes this time drain it’s not just a reflection of hovering and helicoptering — at least not deliberately, on our part. Sometimes it really is externally imposed by a society that demands a ton of kids and, by extension, parents. For instance — not that this is such a time sucker — but almost every quiz my sons take at school has to be brought home, reviewed and signed by a parent. Why?

And that’s not to mention the paperwork, the forms for every activity, the giant projects that a kid COULD do on his own…maybe in a few years. But it seems to me that sometimes the schools treat 8-year-olds like middle schoolers, middle schoolers like high school kids and high school kids like graduate students in advanced particle physics at Princeton.

Anyway, perhaps that’s a bit off topic (okay, AND a personal gripe. Just like I promised to move away from! It’s the Vicodin hangover typing.)  What I liked about the Washington Post piece is that, rather than castigate helicopter parents yet again, it mourns the richness of life they give up: the time to volunteer for a political campaign, or have dinner with friends. As Nelson says at the end:

Many of the helicopter mothers I’ve spoken to have told me, often with pride in their voices, that their daughters are their best friends. At first, I wondered why these women — some of them in their late 40s or 50s — wouldn’t prefer to spend their free time with people their own age. But as I looked more closely at the way they are tackling parenthood, I understood: They have no free time.

All the more reason to try to go Free-Range — not just on a home-by-home basis, but also to encourage a society that lets kids be kids, so parents can be part of the bigger world, too.  — Lenore

Anti-Homework Movement Growing!

At least it is in Canada, where one family’s actual contract with their school — “We the undersigned shall do no homework, nor shall it be assigned” (or words to that effect) is roiling the country. Editorials are jumping in on the anti-homework, pro-play, pro-down-time, pro-music, sports and outdoors side! Right on! Here’s an overview , from the great blog,

Read it and Seethe: The Homework Files

Hi Readers! I’m writing this at 10 p.m., when my younger son is finally going to bed after (not quite) finishing his 6th grade homework. I am so sickened by the fact the school day extends ad infinitum — and basically ate up all of yesterday, too, a beautiful fall Sunday. Grrrr.

Anyway, here’s a girl who put the whole issue into a letter that proves: 1 – Too much homework deadens the soul.  And, 2 – She is already so articulate she could drop out of school and still run for Congress. (Or from Congress, she’s that smart.) Here’s here piece, as posted, the fabulous blog run by Sara Bennet, author of The Case Against Homework.  Yes, I realize the letter was written by a private school kid and her experiences and expectations may not be quite the norm. (Who am I kidding? They are way OFF the norm!) But I still love her main point, as you’ll see.  — Lenore

Super-Involved AND Free-Range??

Hi Readers! Here’s an interesting angle on Free-Ranging, brought to us by Kathy Seal. Kathy is a journalist in Santa Monica and co-author of  Pressured Parents, Stressed-out Kids: Dealing With Competition While Raising a Successful Child  and Motivated Minds: Raising Children. Her websites are and Voila:


Ok, I’m gonna say something controversial: You can’t be too involved with your child.

You heard me right. Tons of gold-standard research shows that the more you’re involved with your kids –be they toddlers or teens — the better it is for them. And that doesn’t contradict my dear friend Lenore here one bit, because you can be involved without trampling on your kid’s feelings of independence and competence.

How? All you have to do is respect your child’s autonomy.   That’s what’ll prevent you from becoming one of those cringe-inducing helicopter parents. So what’s autonomy anyway?

It’s the feeling of initiating an action. It’s the opposite of feeling controlled by someone else. When kids — and all human beings — feel that what they do is self-initiated, they’re happier.   They also perform better, because the enjoyment motivates them to study or practice more.

Maybe you think there’s something icky about being highly involved with your kids. Like, it means you don’t have your own life, or you’re pushing them to achieve what you didn’t.  I hear you! Nobody wants to be involved like that.  So let’s define our kind of involvement as “support.”  Because a mountain of research has found that the more we support our children, the happier they are and the more they achieve. And it helps them feel secure and solidly connected to us, too.

My co-author, Clark University psychologist Wendy Grolnick, did a study of mothers of   elementary school children. The more involved the moms were with their kids — that is, the more time they spent with them, and the more they knew about what they did, liked and disliked — the better their children did on report cards and standardized tests, and the fewer problems they had in school. These highly involved mothers weren’t necessarily at home a lot, but when they were, they spent time with their children. They asked about their children’s school day, knew which subjects they enjoyed or didn’t, and who their friends were.

The big caveat is to combine your involvement with healthy respect for your child’s autonomy. And there are three ways to do that.  (I didn’t say three easy ways. But they’re not terribly hard either.)

1. Take your child’s point of view and acknowledge his feelings.

Say your 10-year-old isn’t doing his homework. He’s thinking, “It’s going to get dark soon. I want to have some fun now. I can do my homework later.”

You could take his point of view by trying to imagine, “If I were his age, what would I prefer? Riding my bike or reading a chapter on coal production?” Then you can say, “I understand that you’re having fun. But tonight we’re going to Aunt Karen’s for dinner, so unfortunately, this is the only time to do your science homework.” What counts is acknowledging your child’s feelings. You want to convey “I’m with you.”

2. Support your child’s independent problem solving.

One of the best ways to support your child’s independent problem solving is to ask questions, as I did when my son, Zach, was making a pinhole camera for the school science fair. Instead of taking him to a store to get the cardboard box he needed, I asked him, “Where could you find a big box?”

After a minutes he said, “I know — behind the store where they sell refrigerators!”

“How could we make the pinhole?” I asked next — and so on.

3. Give your child choices.

Even a tiny degree of choice boosts a child’s feelings of autonomy. So if your child is painting, you might say, “The materials need to be kept clean so you can keep using them for a long time.”  And she decides how to clean up.

As my own children have gotten older, I’ve found that questions like “Have you considered….?” or “Do you think you might want to …?” also do the trick.

Encouraging your children’s feelings of autonomy helps you stay involved without controlling them. All you have to control is yourself!

Up With Recess! (And Down with Homework)

In case you had a sneaking suspicion that when schools chip away at recess time, they are doing their students no service, along comes this nice little study to say: You’re right. And while we’re at it: Grrrrrr.

Thanks to No Child With A #2 Pencil Left Behind, more and more schools are sucking time out of play and handing it over to classroom larnin’. Nothing wrong with larnin’ of course. (Except spelling it that way.) But this study, released last week, found that kids who took a brisk 20 minute walk on a treadmill actually read at a GRADE HIGHER level than when they picked up a book after sitting around for 20 minutes.

Here’s the study:

And here’s the fabulous website stophomework — —  which is dedicated to bringing sanity to how we fill our children’s time. As Sara Bennett, the founder of the site and author of The Case Against Homework, points out:  homework not only takes time away from free play, in the grammar school years it does not give anything back. For kids below middle school, “there is no correlation between homework and academic achievement,” Bennet says.

 Still, I know my kids bring home homework every day, and have since kindergarten. It’s the worst part of their day (and mine!). And all it means, says Bennet, is that “Kids spend an awful lot of time doing something there’s no proven value to.”

Meantime, there IS proven value to play. It just seems weird to have to justify it that way: “Go out and play, sweetheart – it is so educationally sound!” But if that’s what it takes to get schools to start rethinking homework, so be it.  – Lenore