This morning on Here and Now, a radio show on NPR, invited guest speaker Lenore Skenazy, reality show host, to talk about issues in extreme helicopter parenting. In her show, World’s Worst Mom, Skenazy addresses a new level of fear in parents: one young mother is so afraid that her children might get raped or kidnapped by strangers that she does not allow her 13 year old son to go to the men’s restroom alone at a mall. She takes him with her into the women’s restroom. She and her mother call her husband a “dummy” for letting their son go to the restroom alone. She tells her children not to talk to strangers, because “strangers will kill you.”
Six years ago, Skenazy let her then-9 year old son to take the New York subway by himself. Criticized as “America’s Worst Mom,” Skenazy blogged and eventually wrote a book about helicopter parenting and the need to give children a little more independence. On the show, Skenazy talked about the different sources of fear, such as the media, traumatic personal experiences, and even the parents’ parents’ fear for the safety of their grandchildren. There is so much news coverage about child abductions, rape, emotional abuse, that it is not very surprising that parents are now debilitated by fear for the safety of their children.
I admit it is difficult to ignore these news stories. For instance, last week, I read about the story of Etan Patz, a little boy who went missing after he went to school alone for the first time, 30 years ago. He was 6 years old.
“That was the last time I saw him. I watched him walk one block away,” Julie Patz testified at the murder trial of store clerk Pedro Hernandez, who’s accused of killing Etan. “I turned around and went back upstairs and that was the last time.”
I couldn’t stop myself from thinking that might happen to my daughter and resolved to take her to school myself until she is old enough to drive. That resolve lasted about 2 days.
Fear can be helpful in parenting, such as making sure my child wears a helmet even when she rides her bike in my driveway, away from the street. However, there is a point where fear is so debilitating, preventing parents from letting their children develop properly, causing their children serious emotional harm. It is difficult to know when to stop and let go, there’s no doubt about that. There is no perfect way to be a parent. We all have our own beliefs and strategies. But we must remind ourselves that children don’t stay children forever, and they need to learn how to do things for themselves.