At times, I’m certain, I over parent. Maybe it’s from what I see in the news or from working with teenage boys, but it is easy to become worried, jaded, and consumed with all the possibilities of what could happen. Like others, I just want my children to be safe, independent, and responsible, take calculated risks, experience failure, treat others with kindness, and be grateful. Did I say independent and safe? Am I asking too much?
There is no “one size fits all in the discussion of when you should teach your child independence and when is too soon. The question is one we all should consider; how much space do I give my child and when?
I am pro child independence. My goal is simply that when they are old enough and move out, they don’t come back to take up residence. I am not hoping that my children boomerang back home as adults. After all, we know that our children need to step out into the world at some point.
At times, my goals for teaching our children independence clashes with the angst that I create imagining “what if scenarios. Those scenarios gain credibility if I watch the endless news cycles and then compare that with the memories of my 3 channel TV existence and how I perceive it used to be. Like most adults, I look back at things and reflect on how the world has seemingly changed. As we age, something in us doesn’t trust what we see in the current culture as we compare it against our own experience.
The reality is the human condition has always been the same. Through the generations, parents have largely loved and worried about their children. There has also always been fear of the evil in the world. The tension that exists between our love and worry for our children is where “the disconnect begins and with it comes helicoptering. Hovering and creating boundaries for our children, whatever our reason, are a matter of trust.
So what is the best way to balance “free range parenting vs. “helicopter parenting?
Just a few decades ago, during my childhood, a parent who hovered over their child would have been seen as someone who was invasive and overly suspicious. These days, the parent that provides too much freedom, is seen as someone who ignores the reality of world and simply isn’t a responsible parent. Children are getting a lot of conflicted messaging as we try to teach them independence while at the same time tell them never to talk to strangers. The issues at stake seem to ebb and flow between teaching independence and personal responsibility to protecting and keeping them safe.
I want to do both! I imagine most parents do.
Independence is seen as giving them the space to learn from their failures. Boundaries are seen as creating points of protection and safety. The issue for us as parents is we often either give them too much independence too soon or we are so concerned about what could happen that we make their boundaries so small that it’s seen as stifling. We each have our own reasons, we call it our “parenting style, but like all things, there should be a balance between the two perspectives. This applies in all areas really, from using technology to dating to riding a bike in the neighborhood or crossing the street.
No other person knows my children better than I do (except my wife, of course). After all, we’ve been watching them since the day they were born. I am sure Danielle and Alexander Meitiv would agree with that. Parents are the most equipped to make the decision of when their child is ready to have a little bit more freedom. Parents are also the ones who should be able to recognize, when it is safe to do so. The illustration of crossing the street works; a 12 year old should not require as much help as a 2 year old.
Why do we as parents teach them safety, helicopter, hover, and at times over parent; because we love them. It is not some sinister plot to keep them at home for the rest of their lives. But as Thomas Aquinas said; “Love is not synonymous with undifferentiated approval of everything the person thinks and does in real life, nor is it the wish for them to feel good always and in every situation for him to be spared experiencing pain or grief in all circumstances.
Imagine this. Your son or daughter has a phone that you gave them, for any number of reasons, when they were thirteen. It becomes a normal part of how they communicate, either via talking, texting, social media, or whatever. A few years later, at the age of 16, they now have the opportunity to drive independently. If their habit is to text as a form of communication, and they have seen you texting while you drive, what makes you think that the new freedom of driving will take away the habit they have? Do we think that suddenly a habit of texting will change overnight because they now have the freedom to drive?
The point of this is not to come up with every scenario of what could go wrong. Nor is it to think giving them free range to figure it out will suddenly provide them with new traits and responsibilities. We don’t stop driving just because it’s possible to have an accident, nor should we give the keys of the car to our children before they are ready. The principle is to know your child and establishing safe boundaries while allowing them room to roam. As they grow, so should your boundaries. When they make a mistake, be there to guide them back on their feet.
Giving them a safe space to be independent is a matter of trusting what you know about your child and knowing when they are ready. Each child is different so don’t force it too soon or wait too long. Be the parental teacher, providing them advice while at times giving them a safe space to fail. You, better than anyone else, know them.
More on the issue
Free Range Parenting vs Helicoptering
Free-range parenting case unleashes national debate
Investigation into Md. free-range parenting case unresolved after meeting
Sign up for our monthly newsletter and weekly devotional