kitchen table math, the sequel: Helicopter parents of the world, unite!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Helicopter parents of the world, unite!

Last night we all drove in to Manhattan for dinner at Debbie Stier's, where we finally met V. and her son R.

V. has been a frequent visitor to Kitchen Table Math, and has become a friend of Debbie's, so we were long overdue to meet in person.


There was a wonderful moment at the end of the evening that I'm posting because I think it will resonate with a lot of you.

V. had volunteered to drive us back to Westchester, sparking yet another a what-is-the-matter-with-us? momentWhy on Earth are we ferrying two autistic sons on the train, on the Shuttle, and on the subway when we could be driving instead? 

No common sense-y.

Anyway, V. had volunteered to drive us all home, and was out getting her car while the rest of us walked to the elevator.

Chris & R. were walking behind us, and Chris brought up something to do with whether or not R. was going to be spending the near future preparing for the SAT.

I heard R. say confidentially to Chris (my college-age son, for passers-by): "You saw my mom."

Meaning: "my mom is intensely on my case about everything to do with academic achievement, so the answer is 'yes.'"

He said this in a tone of .... was it pride?


I think it was both, and Chris obviously thought so, too, because he instantly tried to top R's story.

"I spent my whole childhood hiding from my mom because if she saw me she made me do math," he said. Then he repeated himself a couple of times for good measure.

He was defending my honor.

He'd done the same thing earlier in the evening when Ethan delivered a hilarious monologue about forcing his mother to "un-RSVP" him to an event he had no interest in attending and hadn't been consulted on before Debbie said 'yes' on his behalf. Ethan said he gets emails out of the blue telling him when he has to be somewhere his mother has decided he's going.

Chris said, "I never get emails like that."

"I never get emails telling me I'm going someplace I don't know about and don't want to go to."

Later on, I realized the boys were swapping war stories about their mothers. 

War stories and tall tales. My parents' generation told their kids stories about walking 5 miles to school. Apparently Chris & Ethan & R.'s generation, a certain segment of it, is going to tell their kids stories about their mother making them do math.

Why does no one ever seem to notice this aspect of helicopter parenting?

We hear that helicopter parents are terrible parents, destructive to their children and debilitating in every way.

From time to time we also hear a grudging concession that some helicopter parents seem to produce reasonably accomplished kids who are none the worse for wear.

But we never hear, at least I have never heard, that helicopter parents are fun.

We never hear that the family math wars and the SAT battles and the (occasional) shouting matches that are such a vivid part of life with a helicopter parent are moments their children are going to remember and cherish.

Remember, cherish, and tell their own children about.


Anonymous said...

There are all sorts of kids. Some, including yours, may be happy to have parents make them do extra math at home. Or at least accept it. I wish mine had been, and it wasn't that I didn't try. I would have liked it if my kids did somewhat better in math than they did (ranging from quite poorly after 6th grade to quite good but very resistant, to OK). But that was not the hill I was ready to die on, as they say, and it would have required something close to death. I finally decided that the fact that they were really good at literature and history, respectful of those around them, and involved in good extra curriculars was going to have to be enough. YRMV!

SteveH said...

My brother and I once talked about how we wished our parents guided us more when we were growing up. Guided meant pushing in reality. With my son, it was always a matter of figuring out how to push without pushing. It was also about setting high standards before he knew what was normal for other kids. One technique was to get him far ahead by Kindergarten in a way that was as natural as possible. Often, how you do things matter more than what you do. Once he saw that he was ahead and believing that that was normal for him, he remained that way. He could never be a poor student after that. I think it took until about 7th grade before he realized that his parents were quite different that other kids' parents. In high school, he realized that even though he was a top student, we were constantly checking "Aspen" at his homework and grades. However, by high school it was easy. He cared. Being a good student was part of who he was.

If you wait until things start to go bad, it's almost too late. I saw kids in 7th and 8th grades who thought they were stupid. No. K-6 just left them in a very weak position academically.

Everyone talks about Tiger Moms and Coaching Dads, but there is a big world in-between. What kids don't like is to have their time wasted. When it got time to prepare for PSAT and SAT, everything we did was driven by real test questions and timing. I worked hard on not wasting his time. He did not take a generic prep class that just went through the motions.

We like most the college classes we had that set the highest expectations and had the most difficult homework - not at the time, however. There is nothing natural about reaching your potential. Unfortunately, K-6 does kids no favors when many parents are still figuring it out.

Froggiemama said...

I keep hearing how terrible helicopter parents are when their kids go off to college, that the parents are too overinvolved and the kids never learned to fend for themselves. Well, the college students I teach could have used some helicopter parenting, a LOT more helicopter parenting in fact. Most of my students have parents who neve went to college, never pushed their kids, never made sure they took the right classes, and who don't seem to care whether their kids work hard in college or not. I have never heard from a parent over anything. They don't provide career guidance, so the students are all floundering. I say, bring on the helicopter parents - we need them!

Glen said...

FM, you are so right. My son was well-prepared for Algebra I when he entered middle school, but they placed him in 6th Grade Math (pre-pre-algebra). I fought for him, got him into Algebra I, and he got straight As, qualified for Geometry the next year and again got all As. What if he had been a kid without a helicopter parent? How discouraging would it be for a kid in that position with nobody to argue his case for him?

There is a Public Defender's Office; maybe there should be an Office of the Public Helicopter Parent.

Anonymous said...

Because their teachers did not always correct all of their work for grammar and style (almost never in the case of the two youngest), I was the one applying the red pencil - before the teachers saw it. They all complained about it, but were generous enough to apologize - when they hit college. By then, they were grateful. Even now, on a visit to my DD (7 years post college), I was asked to look over a particularly important letter - as she described me to a visiting friend as a grammar nazi and thanking me for it.

Anonymous said...

I think you might be using the term "helicopter parent" to describe what I would call an "involved parent." People usually use "helicopter parents" to refer to parents who are too scared to let their kids do anything "dangerous." They are the parents following their toddlers all over the playground, even if the kid is steady on his or her feet and doesn't need help. They are the ones who are afraid to let their kids use steak knives before age 12.

I wouldn't classify a parent making sure their k-12 student is properly placed as a helicopter. I reserve this description for a parent calling a child's college professor to argue about grades or homework in anything other than life-or-death circumstances.

Glen said...

Anonymous, I think most of us here use "helicopter parent" a bit tongue in cheek. You have your own dividing line between involved parent and helicopter parent; I have mine.

But it appears to some of us that the schools' dividing line is:

Involved Parents: Parents who help with the school system's objectives

Helicopter Parents: Parents who pressure the school system to help with parents' objectives

Anonymous said...

What Glen said.

SteveH said...

Glen - exactly.

My wife and I used to get preemptive parent strikes from our son's teachers to make sure we didn't become one of "those" parents. When we got notes from them telling parents to practice "math facts" at home, we didn't say a word.