People have been arguing about what is good parenting and what is not good parenting for years. The most current argument has taken the form of helicopter parents verses free range parent styles. Both sides are convinced they are the correct method and that the other side is practically criminal. So the question is, which side is correct?
The Two Styles Explained
First let’s examine what each type of parenting actually is. A helicopter parent is one that hovers over the child, makes most if not all the child’s decisions regarding free time, education, friends and activities and basically controls every aspect of the child’s life. Free-range parents believe that children should be left to explore and wander freely as they choose, setting very loose boundaries on where the children can go and what each child can do. It’s easy to see that these two parenting styles are polar opposites of each other and that when these styles collide, it’s often an acrimonious event.
Critics of helicopter parents feel that these moms and dads are too rigid and are raising passive children who are not capable of making the right decisions. On the flipside, critics of free-range parents believe that their style is negligent because it leaves the child vulnerable to too many things that could go wrong. Again, both sides are convinced they are correct and the other is completely wrong. There is seldom a meeting of middle ground between this two sets of parents.
Not New Territory
The thing is, neither style is new. Helicopter parents have been around for centuries, formerly referred to as overly-protective parents. For example, in the 1980s, when latchkey kids first became a thing, parents who would not even consider letting children stay home alone for more than a few minutes if at all would be today’s helicopter parents. On the flipside, the parents of the latchkey kids, children who came home to an empty house and had to take care of themselves for a few minutes up to a few hours until mom or dad came home, might be considered today’s free-range parents.
The difference is also apparent in how children played in the eighties. Children with helicopter parents were seldom allowed out and about. They were to stay in their yard or on their block and not leave without express permission and without a specific place to go. Free-range children could be spotted all over the neighborhood as they were allowed to wander as they pleased. Children from both camps grew up, got jobs and went on to live normal lives.
Science and the law are torn on the issue as well. According to a UC Davis law review article from 2011, in a custody dispute, a court is more likely to rule on the side of the helicopter parent and more laws are being placed on the books that reflect the parenting style. But children also need time to explore and try new things, according to Dr. Stephen Camarata, a child development specialist and professor at Vanderbilt University. He notes that children who don’t explore can become passive adults which could lead to issues with adapting into society.
Which Style Wins?
So which is better? Which is worse? Good question. And as we said previously, it’s a debate that is hardly new. But there is a third option that is picking up steam; intuitive parenting. It has elements of both helicopter and free range without going to extremes. Instead of planning every minute of your child’s day for your child, you let him or her choose activities.
• That might mean your child joins the soccer team but still wants to explore the back yard.
• It might mean a weekly trip to the library and weekend hikes on a local trail.
• It could involve letting your child choose what to eat, what to wear and their hairstyle.
They aren’t off running willy-nilly, one neighbor’s phone call away from foster care, but they aren’t under your skirt losing the ability to think for themselves, either.
No parent wants to look at their grown children and think, “Yikes, maybe my parenting style wasn’t the best choice,” which is one reason why most parents take their jobs very seriously. Both helicopter and free-range parents love their kids and just want to raise responsible, successful adults. The real key is knowing your child and realizing what works and what doesn’t. Each child is different and parents have to accept that a “one size fits all” does not work when it comes to raising children, no matter what the latest parenting book, style or trend might tell you. Treat your children as individuals, adapt to that, and things should turn out fine.