In the past few years, colleges began experiencing a new phenomenon. Students no longer arrived with their cars stuffed with their favorite posters, jeans and t-shirts. They began arriving with parents in tow, sporting agendas and demanding a strong connection to home. Parents are no longer content to kiss Johnny good-bye in the morning and have him arrive home after school with just a key. They manage their schedules from pre-school to high school by checking grades daily on the internet, emailing teachers and providing hours of scheduled activities every day. Inside every school, dance studio and karate school you can find herds of parents watching every move of their future star. This phenomenon was dubbed ‘helicopter parenting’. What we must begin to break the mold and start loving your kids and setting them free!
“A Helicopter parent is a colloquial, early 21st-century term for a parent who pays extremely close attention to his or her child’s or children’s experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions. The term was originally coined by Foster W. Cline, M.D. and Jim Fay in their 1990 book Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility, although Dr. Haim Ginott mentions a teen who complains, ‘Mother hovers over me like a helicopter…’ on page 18 of the bestselling book Between Parent & Teenager published in 1969. Helicopter parents are so named because, like helicopters, they hover closely overhead, rarely out of reach, whether their children need them or not.” Wikipedia
Professors report parents hacking into their college student accounts to track grades, protest heavy course loads and catch up on dorm gossip. “Colleges are installing “Hi, Mom!” webcams in common areas, and employers like Ernst & Young are creating “parent packs” for recruits to give Mom and Dad, since they were involved in negotiating salary and benefits.” Time Magazine article 1940395. It seems that the transition to college has changed from a rite of passage into a family vacation.
Many students don’t seem to mind, but is this trend helping our kid’s transition into strong minded Christian adults? I have concerns. I am a parent in the process of releasing my 18 year old son into adulthood and wrestle with how to do this daily. Some days I want to grab him, wrap him in bubble wrap and time travel back to 1992. Trust me, we all go through this. But, then I look at the man he is becoming and I want to release him to serve God and express his giftedness as an adult.
My son traveled on two different Royal Servants mission trips. When he returned home, God had challenged him to do different things with his life. Everything in me wanted to keep things the way they were. But, I knew that if I demanded this we may miss God’s leading in his life. It was hard and I didn’t always like it, but, it was the best for him spiritually and as part of his growing process with God.
We call this “letting the rope out” at our house. We choose to give him more freedom in areas he will need to develop as an adult. Some of the areas are time management, friend choices, finances and activities. We could clearly see some of his choices were not the best, like staying up until 4 a.m. playing video games when he had a piano contest at 7 a.m. We decided that in the grand plan of his life, failing the piano contest was worth it if he learned how to manage his priorities. He didn’t fail, but he was miserable and didn’t score as well as usual. He hasn’t made that choice since. He learned to count the cost. We’ve also done this with finances. We gave him his back to school money to manage for clothes, school supplies etc. We set very clear guidelines and let him make his own choices. I was impressed by his choice to thrift shop instead of buying the expensive jeans and choosing to save money for a computer instead of blowing it all. He uses those skills to this day when he receives funds.
In this process, he is learning how to weigh the consequences of his actions and how to properly organize his life. By allowing him freedom to choose we have avoided many battles over curfew, homework and other typical fights. Obviously, if there is a pattern of very poor choices or harmful choices, this won’t be safe for your teen. Overall teens want to learn how to manage life.
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking my kids are just mini-me’s. They are not! And, I need to unpack all of the treasures God created in them and help them use them. We have used DISC profiles, Meyers-Briggs and StrengthsFinder to help our kids know themselves more. For my daughter, the StrengthsFinder was very eye-opening. She was struggling with friends and when we took her through the process, we discovered why! She had the strengths of: caring, competition and organization. Her friends were confused that one day she was nurturing and warm and the next highly competitive. Teaching her these simple concepts revolutionized her life. She also is organized and has ADHD. She now has words and thoughts to help her tackle her life and understand why. My role is to equip my kids with tools in their toolbox to help them in life. If I focus on this instead of managing them, I can help them for life.
We teach our kids a variety of ways to know God and communicate with them. Some people connect better with God through worship, walking in nature, in depth bible study, solitude or more. Help them find new ways to approach their devotional life and time with God. It’s a great way to spend time together. We sometimes make devotions in a bag for our kids…just take a paper bag and fill it with fun things to try. One example is, sit on a rock and write a poem about why God is your rock, go to the coffee shop and pray for one person who is sitting there, turn a verse into a song and sing it to the family, print out and frame a favorite verse for your wall, lead a family devotional based on something you read in the bible this week.
When my kids ask me, “Can I spend the night? Can I go to the mall? Can I…..” I ask them, “What do you think?” Many times by the end of the answer, they have answered their own question. Instead of me saying no, they learn to process why and how to make a choice. They have learned to listen to their bodies and plan life wisely. Yes, they are normal and sometimes make crazy choices but, they know it’s crazy and can articulate that! Committing to talk through things takes time and it pays off.
Many times we reach a great compromise by brainstorming and finding creative solutions. My son and I talk often about how different life would be if I ‘told’ him what to do instead of teaching him how to process. He says that he would be very rebellious and on a dark path. Because we choose to communicate, we work through things and remain in community. We have avoided lots of heartache and grief.
We know that sometimes children walk away from their parents and faith, this season is filled with grief and fear. All a parent can do at that time is seek God and cling to Him. And, love their child in the midst of their messiness. We find that it also helps to find other parents who have lived those circumstances and join forces to encourage each other to remain faithful and brainstorm how to handle the journey. It is a delicate balance between grace, truth, guidelines and consequences.
As I’ve met with teens over the years, I am surprised with what they share. On the outside they are rebellious, hardened and unfazed by truth. But, as we talk, they share the deep internal struggle and yearnings for a simpler way. In general, most are very aware of what they are choosing and how it conflicts with God. The Holy Spirit is at work reminding them of truth, even though they are running away from God. We have worked with youth over 20 years and in that time we have sat in many living rooms supporting families in crisis. The kids that have parents that show them love and grace rebound much faster than kids that feel judged. No matter how hardened your son or daughter becomes, the seed of truth is planted in their hearts. The truth of God thrives in grace filled environments with solid guidelines.
My challenge is for Christian parents to move from Helicopter Parents to Strategic Commanders. Family Leaders, who are committed to training their kids to make wise choices, think critically, know themselves and serve others. Godly parents who know their Savior and commit to raising kids who know the heart of God and choose to grow in their knowledge of Him. Imagine how powerful this generation of kids could be if we released them into adulthood with this foundation.
Originally Published October 13, 2013