Four months ago, after traveling home from supper with friends only to witness a near-fatality involving two children, I wrote an article– the title of which was “Why I am Glad to be a Helicopter Parent”. In the article, I wrote shamelessly about being a helicopter parent as it concerned the issue at hand- safety of children on roadways where traffic can be found.
Fast forward to this week in which two children ten and under were picked up by police officers walking home from a park in Maryland. Their parents defend the children’s freedom to travel without a parent’s protective watch, calling it ‘free-range’ parenting.
As a result of this latest story on parenting extremes, I have given some thought to my strong feelings about my own parenting with a protective stance towards safety on the road, as well as why others feel differently about the issue. And because of this, I thought I might weigh in on the issue again, giving a bit of a defense for parents, like myself, who are more prone to be protective- and thus deemed to be helicopter parents.
In my own situation, I am a helicopter parent in this issue because of my history. In my extended family, three aunts were in serious, life-altering car accidents- killing one and leaving the other two with paralysis. Add to this, three years ago, my own children were involved in a car accident due to teenage drivers not paying close enough attention to the roads. Add to this, on our road alone, there have been three tragic car accidents since I have lived here, one of which involved two walkers being hit and killed. And if this were not enough, at the end of our driveway is a small culvert. I can call up five accidents to mind that have occurred in that spot since my son was born. And that is just a quick estimate.
That area of which I speak is potentially where my children play- and certainly an area that we as a family have walked together many, many times over the years. I am just saying- who could ever say that an accident wouldn’t occur during one of those times. I err on the side of caution.
Car accidents happen everywhere and if we lived our life in fear of them occurring, we’d never go anywhere. However, for the precise reason that car accidents do happen- and some of these accidents occur in certain highly-susceptible areas (like the end of our road where the Yield sign is ignored), then parents need to act defensively. This is an issue where parents must make a risk-assessment and ask the question: can I take a risk by letting my child have freedom to travel roadways alone or is the risk too high based on the probability that something might go wrong?
This is not about NOT trusting your child in this situation- and everything about having very little trust in the driving public.
Secondly, I am a helicopter parent in regards to safety issues. I am NOT a helicopter parent in regards to everything the Children are involved in as kids. I know I should be more vigilant about checking their i-pods and social media sites- but I am not. I should be better at applying sunscreen in the summer- I haven’t always been on top of my game in that respect, so I am not a helicopter parent there either. And I give my children a fair bit of lenience with regards to freedom in our home. The latter, primarily because I have deemed this home a safe place- what my children do with their time here is largely up to them, give or take. It is understood that the children can make choices about how they spend their free time, and I leave things like homework largely up to them to figure out (unless it is something requiring my attention).
This is not to say I never check i-pods, never apply sunscreen and never get involved in homework- I do. I just wouldn’t take a strong stand of labeling myself a helicopter parent in these issues. Which is to say: every parent finds themselves at one time or another- on a continuum. Free-range might be at one end of the spectrum and helicopter parenting at the other or perhaps disciplinarian at one end and lenient at the other. There are no end to the ways in which parents label themselves, no end to the ways in which we can be divided.
So helicopter parent today might be free-range tomorrow depending on the issue.
With regards to the two parents in Maryland- I really do not feel strongly one way or the other about their parenting ‘feelings’ on letting children roam free and unattended. I am sure there are a number of reasons for why they feel less-protective about safety than I do- many reasons of which would take time and effort to discover. The feelings they have are personal to them. However, the minute they let their children out on the street- it is no longer just them involved in the scenario- it is now about the children and the world at large. And in my experience, at least when children are driving in a car with me, I know the exquisite value of the passengers- which is more than I can say for some drivers who give not a thought to anyone except themselves.
So to let children walk unattended or not? That is the question. To this I say, if we are willing to take that risk, we gamble a lot. But we know as parents intuitively when it is a risk we can wager on.
As for me- at this point in the game, it’s just not a lottery I am willing to play.