Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Attack of the Helicopter Parents

Today on Best of the Fray, someone posted a link to this article describing a tool called Edline which permits parents to see a child's test scores and papers. The article is primarily about high schoolers and how their overinvolved parents have invaded the ability of those children to develop into adults by, in part, using this tool. I made the mistake of opining negatively on Best of the Fray. The helicopter parents have come out in force against me, though, using their need to be superior parents as their primary weapon: we CARE enough to monitor!

So, am I wrong? Crazy? Or do others see a problem here too? Hmmm. Let's see.

The term "helicopter parents" came into usage in the 1990s to describe late baby boomer parents who have become so involved in their children's lives, particularly in the educational context, that they have been unwilling to allow their children to learn from their own mistakes. I recall first reading about this some years ago, and thinking that this could not be a legitimate problem, since a genuine interest in one's child strikes me as preferable to none at all. But things have developed somewhat from there.

This kind of "hovering" parenting is common enough to warrant warning statements from the College Board, the entity responsible for administering the SATs. Individual colleges, like the University of New Hampshire have had to actually persuade parents to act normal: ie, to allow their children to grow up. Even elite schools have had to deal with parents showing up to sign up their children for classes, arguing about grades, and complaining about roomates. It doesn't stop there. Companies from Goldman Sachs to Ernst & Young have actually had to develop programs to deal with young people whose parents are now involved in their career choices.

Now, you may say this insane activity is all a far cry from merely wanting to know how the kids have done at school while they are still young. In theory, yes. Every parent of course wants to know how their young children are doing and how they can help them do better. But fewer and fewer, it seems, understand that their job is to raise adults, not children. So they increasingly try to insulate older children from having to deal with the consequences of their own actions by monitoring the activity intra-day. This is partly because getting a child successfully into and through college and then a job is viewed as a goal of the parent's . It starts early enough that some high schools have had to toss parents out of meetings, and some private schools have had to point out that they will expel the children if the parents become difficult.

And some people, like me, think that the Edline function is an ennabler of this behavior:

Even more potentially corrosive is Edline -- a hovering tool extraordinaire now used by Montgomery County schools. We are, on the one hand, mocked for being overly involved parents, and then given a code to log onto a Web site to view every test, quiz and piece of graded homework. We can watch every recalibration of our child's grade-point average, then e-mail the teachers to complain. Gone are the days when a kid could lose a physics test, then make up for the bad grade on the next go-around with no harm done -- and no parent the wiser. Edline feels a bit like spying (although compared with the proposal to tag truants with ankle bracelets in Prince George's County, it's probably relatively benign).

Susan Coll in the Washington Post.

Even a self-described "overly involved parent" Matt Johnon from Maryland has this to say about the program on his blog:

What strikes me as odd is that the reliance on technology has replaced a basic parenting skill, that of being personally involved in your child's lives. Programs like Edline display a couple of troubling traits. First, as Coll pointed out, Edline is like spying and displays a lack of trust in your child. As a youngster, did I decieve my parents a little about grades? Yes, as did we all. However, my parents were involved enough (and knew my teachers well enough to call them by their first names) that such deceptions didn't last long. I grew to trust that my parents would generally take me at my word and they in turn trusted me to tell the truth, all of us knowing that eventually the real truth would come out and my version had better be pretty close to reality, otherwise, no soccer. Edline says to kids, it doesn't matter what you say, we are going to check now, rather than hold you accountable later. Proponents may claim real time corrections are possible with the technology, but real time corrections don't serve the child well because the correction doesn't carry enough consequences to be real. As a child, if my version and reality didn't jibe come report card time, I could say sayonara to anything I liked; soccer, hanging out with my friends, swimming, the beach, everything would be gone. Those were real consequences, not a week's grounding for a bad test.

Second, Edline and other technology tools give the adults in a child's life the veneer of being involved, without actually getting their hands dirty. In a age when teachers and other education officials are begging parents to be invovled, providing a tool like Edline will not help. On the face of it, the tool seems a little hypocritical. Edline says to parents, here is a way for you to be "involved" in your kids' education without acutally bothering the teachers. The technology also gives the teacher an out, permitting them to post the hard numbers on a childs' education performance without posting anything qualitative about that child. Since most parents whose kids are going well are unlikely to question the teacher, the teacher also gets a pass from being involved in that child's life and for those students stuggling academically, it is a statistically good bet that the parents may not care enought to pester the teacher. Everyone but the child gets a free pass.

Third, and finally, technology is a tool, it should not be a substitute. I have often argued that people often look at technology as an end rather than a means to an end. Edline and these other techno-parenting tools prove my point. They are the bells and whistles to parenting, not a substitute for solid, personal parenting.

Gee, I guess I'm not the only one. Let me add one more nuance: the school environment is the place where the kid has the most control over his or her own destiny. It's a world designed by and for kids and in the very best of schools, the environment empowers them. In short, kids get to try out self-determination there in a way they can't at home because of the very nature of family life. When parents insert themselves into that world unnecessarily, they ruin it for their children. They've robbed those kids of the world they design daily in favor of the more familiar parental model. That strikes me as an incredible loss.

What amazes me most is that all these comments seem not to be self-evident. That people honestly think that they need to examine their own behavior if their child doesn't do well on a particular test. Really, are you kidding? At what point is it your kid's responsibility? Maybe not at 10, but certainly by 15, a kid ought to be capable of learning basic life skills.

I know we are all fumbling our way, essentially, through this very important task. If I had a child with behavioral or academic issues, I'd be grateful for this kind of tool. More generally, I think the desire to be aware of our children's life and impulses is on the whole a good one. Nevertheless, I believe that our children are better served by learning from their own conduct than from parental fiat.


LentenStuffe said...


Because it is you, and because you linked to it, I followed the thread somewhat but had to abandon it real pronto when I saw that termagant fruit-cake get involved. Anything against the shrill dementia of that harridan, spiteofthemeek, looks tame and reasonable. She's insane. As we say here, 'she'd give a banshee a bad name.'

That said, I can only add (having four children myself) that trust and respect are at the root of sound parenting. Your interlocutor doesn't strike me as the sort of person who is capable of either, so why should she except her own children from the general contempt in which she holds her fellows?

Moreover, this vile woman has defamed me from the first day I've written on BOTF. Latterly, she accused me of being another cho, and when she wilfully confuses my writing style for my character (isn't that like calling Mark Twain a racist because he depicts racists?), people like dreambird, Archeo, TK/FB and DawnCoyote quickly jump on board to cheerlead her quite nasty vitriol.

You are in a different league entirely: You are a dignified person; you have style, panache, grace, wit, humility and great nobility. There's a few like you, Isonomist, Topazz, ShriekingViolet, Keifus, and Ducadmo who raise the bar that is lowered by these others. That you were imbroiled in this nonsensical debate with a loony-tune simply proves the successful nature of her kind of entrapment. She's a past-master at luring folks into her poisonous lair.

Forget about her and this entirely stupid debate. Of course you are right. That goes without saying. Heck, the other route of spying, distrust and mind-games is the kind of parenting that gives us the Chos of the world.

rundeep said...


One of the many reasons I love you is the fact that you can turn a phrase like "termagant fruit-cake." She does have a habit of going rather quickly to the ad hominem (or in my case, ad feminem) when pushed. Obviously, I struck a nerve here, and truly I didn't intend insult, but denying that overinvolvement can be a problem strikes me as, to put it kindly, a bit "ostrich-y."

Thank you for the kind compliments and I am most gratified to be in such good company. I'm sure your children are intelligent, happy, independent and verbal people all.

Keifus said...


Are you still a helicopter parent if you just like making the noise and spinning around? Whup-whup-whup-whup-whup. My kids hate me (not really.)

I know the parents of which you speak. Why, they're the same ones that adopt the swim-meet parent as the total immersion (so to speak) way-of-life. It's probably a little more honest in motivation than living vicariously or of misplaced personal accomplishment, but still, it sure seems like that sometimes.

I do hope that future college admitters or resume readers can see through that crap, though.

Good call on school as a place to begin trying on some autonomy. I hadn't really thought about that from a parents' perspective (and I'm shaking about some possible manifestations), but you're right.

Incidentally, do you think Slate writer Emily Bazelon is a helicopter parent? I sure do.

I suppose I'll have to follow up on the botf post now...

K (Didja see my project? I've been at a total loss of what to decide for you--too many sides.)

rundeep said...

Thanks for stopping by! I think that if your kids are embarrassed by you, you're doing just fine.

As to your project? Formidable! I can't tell you what book hides my essence. I can tell you some of the ones that have impressed me mightily from the top of my head: "Tropic of Night" (a smart, pulpy, spooky thriller) by Michael Gruber," "Jayne Eyre" the first novel I ever read which I remember till today, "His Excellency, George Washington" any of the Jack Reacher mysteries, and of course "A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man" which blew me away in college.

LentenStuffe said...

Not to rub it in or anything but weren't you trying to have a serious parenting tete-a-tete with this loon. This most recent post (and not anything you have said to her contrary) should put to rest once and for all any uncertainty about which one of you is the sane, model parent.

Such a person is really to be pitied and deserves compassion and patience and gentle coddling. If that's not feasible, then she should be ignored.

Dawn Coyote said...

ZB, you're lying, and you've been lying about me for some time. Please stop maligning me.

Archaeopteryx said...

The new phone books are out! I'm somebody!

rundeep said...

Cool! I'm attracting attention! Off to write another rant. (And lentenstuffe, yep, that is a strange one. And I agree totally with the compassion and coddling approach.)

Now y'all play as nicely as you can. Or I'll take your stars.

Archaeopteryx said...

Okay--on topic. This subject makes me think of the big brouhaha over at Schad's last month about the home-schoolers. And it underscores a point I was trying to make--it's unhealthy for parents to be too involved in the lives of their children. It makes them weak, watery, and weird.

LentenStuffe said...


Your participation in this thread ought to clarify where I was coming from. Who's really lying and maligning whom here?

Dawn Coyote said...

ZB: note the date. One month ago. Shall we recap all the times you've mentioned me in an unflattering manner that stand as precedent to my concession to bite that you are, in fact, off your nut? Because to go around saying nasty things about someone who defended you and was decent to you despite your dreadful behaviour? In my book, that's nuts.

I can re-cap if you like, all the way back to six months or so ago, when you first started lying about me. I don't go around deliberately humiliating people, but I'm willing to, in your case.

Or you can just never speak my name again, if you'd prefer that.

Your choice.

LentenStuffe said...


Would you mind awfully if I linked to your blog? That would be much more convenient than trying to find your link everytime in my comments.

(Dawn: whatever!)

rundeep said...

Link away lentenstuffe. Thrilled you'd want to.

Archie (first give me some pnemonic device that will let me remember how to spell that freakin' great nic, would ya?) then, yep. Similar issues.

twiffer said...

mistakes are the best way to learn. which is why i'm so well-educated now.


i can't, for the life of me, imagine why one would even need a real-time picture of a kids grades. unless you're the sort of parent who believes that getting a b on one physics exam will doom your child's chances of going to harvard and becoming a doctor. or lawyer. or both!

sheesh. though i suppose the other option would be to talk to your kids. and who wants that?

Bite oftheweek said...

How interestesting that you would leave the thread to whine about being "attacked by the helicopter parents" here.

How awesome that you were rewarded immediately with zb, who jumped on your attack of me.


rundeep said...


bite me. Seriously. I came here because I didn't want to further personalize a conversation that was already too personal on BOTF. Not that many people show up here, and I prefer even my most bitchy moments to come without a big audience.

People are free to comment here or not. Absent something really threatening or gross, or spammy my intention is to publish all comments.

Schadenfreude said...

No matter where you go, there you are.

Schadenfreude said...

Comment moderation?

Oh, Jesus. Just disallow anonymous comments. Much less work - same effect - lower piss oof value, too.

By the way, lentenstuffe, why are you afraid of what people will read on your blog? Secret plans for world domination? Masturbatory fantasies about endangered wildlife? Recipes for roast suckling baby?

Hey, rundeep where's my link?

rundeep said...

Hi Schad:

It's only because I am a moron and can't figure out (apparently) how to turn it off that I am moderating comments. It is, indeed a PIA.

I'll link you as soon as I get a chance. Promise.

Schadenfreude said...

Go to your Blogger Dashboard.

Choose: Settings

Choose: Comments

Under Who can comment? Choose: Only registered users.

Under Enable comment moderation? Choose: No.

Click on Save Settings.

You're done.

Bite oftheweek said...

Do tell how your attack on those who disagreed with you on your thread isn't personalizing.

and yes, this was my first foray onto your blog. I was intrigued by the Title on the link I followed.

Imagine my shock

You published it to be read.

Fuck, why do I always think people are better than they are?

I am so saddened by the respect that I had for you that is lost.

Bite oftheweek said...

moderating now?

feel free not to publish me. It is not important, as it was meant for you.

You see, when I want to tell someone something, I generally like to say it *to* them. I am funny (and rare, I guess) that way.

rundeep said...

Thanks Schad. Bite, don't mistake a lack of tact with honesty or insight. Was your name in the post? No. Was there a link to anything you wrote? No. This is a rant I am free to write on my own blog. I tried to tell you stuff diplomatically on the BOTF thread and you chose to respond with personal attacks "to get my attention." That's nonsense. And I really really dislike dirtying the fray with duelling personal attacks. It's not appropriate, even if it is de rigeur.

My blog is not closed to anyone, I assumed you would/could read it. In fact, I thought you might have already done so. So I chose to take an issue to my own forum where others are free to comment. So I'm not "knifing you" in any way.

Mind you, my post is about the phenomenon, and my wondering how people could seem to doubt its existence even if they themselves were exempt from it . If you view that as an outright personal attack, sobeit. I won't try to change your mind, despite the fact that both my comments and post try to assure that though I disagreed strongly with your position, I didn't intend insult.

I do still have empathy for you. Seems like you've had some hard times and that may explain your interactions. I hope all goes well in your life.

As you can tell from my correspondence with Schad, I didn't know how to turn moderation off. You can delete yourself if you want.

Alina Chau said...

AWESOME helicpter car!

rundeep said...

Hi Alina:

Thanks for stopping by. Is that image yours by any chance? I don't even recall where I got it. Your blog's fun.

LentenStuffe said...


Just saw your non sequitor. I'm private to keep riff-raff like yourself far away, and of course my barbequed urchin is to die for. It would make a meat-eater of the most passionate vegetable.