Thursday, July 16, 2009

Trying not to be a helicopter parent

When you're a step parent, you're forced to give up some of your helicopter tendencies, at least for part of the year. You can't control situations that you're not privy to, no matter how much you'd like to try. But I don't think the hovering counts completely if you're kid is still in preschool.

On a typical summer Saturday, you'll find the kids in my neighborhood kids out on their bikes, and my youngest two want to join the fun. But my little son is only 2 1/2, and my tall daughter just 4 1/2 -- younger than any of the other kids by at least a year, in spite of her height.

So I helmet them up and let them grab her scooter and his trike and push them into the cul-de-sac, and I stand there, by the mailbox, watching them try hard to keep up with the others. They can't, of course -- the difference between 4 1/2 and 5 1/2 can be steep, for some things -- but they're not discouraged. They try, and I watch, and then I notice... I'm the only adult out there.

Overbearing or just cautious? At what point can you -- should you -- stop hovering?

Over at's Child Caring blog, I've put the question to readers. I'm guessing, though, that times have really changed since I was a kid. My brothers and I played outside without supervision all the time, when we were as young as 6 or 7, venturing off our front lawn and well into the woods at the end of the street. We followed my parents rules -- no bike riding on the busy road, no building forts deep in the woods during deer hunting season (really! A neighbor's kid nearly got shot once!), no going off without telling an adult where you're headed -- but it was the '70s, and things were different then.

Now, when my older kids (ages 15, 13, and 11) want to go to the park down the street by themselves, I let them — as long as they bring a cell phone and check in. I’d be willing to drop my teenagers at the movies with some friends, and only be a little tempted to spy until I was certain they’d entered the correct theater. And of course, it’s not a problem, for me, if they’re hanging out in the cul-de-sac. But the little two? I don’t feel comfortable letting them too far out of my sight just yet. has a quiz you can take, to see if you’re a helicopter parent at heart. (My results indicate that I’ve “found balance,” which is funny, because it sure doesn’t feel like it.)

When it is OK to be a helicopter parent? And how old do you think the kids should be before you stop?

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