By Anita Rahman

Although “helicopter parenting” is a pejorative term, it is essential to understand the logic behind its concoction. The metaphor appeared as early as 1969 in the bestselling book Between Parent & Teenager by Dr Haim Ginott, which mentions a teen who complains: “Mother hovers over me like a helicopter…”

I believe being a parent is hard enough without being sucked into a world of phobias and over-protectiveness. It is disturbing how much the other side of the story remains blatantly unaddressed. Being a child and living up to your parent’s expectations can be more intimidating on top of all the unnecessary pressures and restrictions piled upon children by their parents. Being part of a society where most parents tend to believe in holding up family traditions, I know all too well how it feels to have parents “hovering” all the time. It not only stunts a child’s healthy mental development but also, often pushes the children further off track as an act of rebellion against such constraints.
Sadly enough, there has been an explosion of helicopter parenting due to a technology-soaked world getting more and more dependent on online activities as the new-normal, where everything you want to know or do or buy, is at your finger-tips. The dangers of this are apparent, but the reason behind a child’s precociousness to be involved within the net is undermined.

Booming skyscrapers, micro-apartments, shopping malls and corporate culture, has taken over our lives in the city. Even without a pandemic in action, the dearth of playgrounds, or parks to run around, play or cycle in has become extremely rare. With the rise of the nuclear family where both parents are working, and even if they do find the occasional time out have very few places to take their children for such activities. So what are children to do? Locked indoors, unable to get out, especially in these uncertain times of a pandemic, and even if they do, unable to have anything constructive or physically active to do, social media seems to be the natural alternative. The lack of mobility in the physical world gives them refreshing freedom to surf in cyberspace. Texting, posting, sharing, tweeting, tiktoking, googling make it possible for them to interact with the outside world. Indeed, being initiated into any community, cyber or physical, has its risks. Tracking software and chaperoning is not really a healthy solution. Sure enough, children can be prone to interacting with violent perpetrators, paedophiles, strangers and abusive peers online, but these threats equally exist in the society we live in. Cyberbullying is no different from bullying; paedophilia online is no different rather more dangerous face-to-face, befriending strangers is just as likely online as it is offline. But hovering never helps.
It is not without just cause that books such as Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (2011) by Amy Chua or Harvard Girl (2000) by Liu Weihua and Zhang Xinwu, were written by distraught adolescents. Even Hollywood has addressed this issue in movies such as Ice Princess (2005) and Step-up (2006), where, as in Harvard Girl, children are bred to gain acceptance to top-tier universities. As for the growing rate of cyberbullying and suicide, it is no different than head-on bullying. MTV Webbed (2013-2014) shows the shocking stories of teens and the increasing culture of cyberbullying, despite helicopter parenting.
They say curiosity killed the cat, but it is only natural for a child/teen to be curious in their most formative years. Being nudged and prodded to go in a certain direction, and think in a certain way, instead of trying to make clones of oneself, or making them live your dreams, is not the way to go. Communication and freedom are. The renowned urban theorist, Jane Jacobs, succinctly argued that safe neighbourhoods are built through a collective willingness of a community, not by surveillance cameras, or simply being shut indoors.

There needs to be a healthier communication between parents and children, rather than restrictions and hovering around just making them feel that they cannot be trusted or responsible. It silently erodes their self-esteem and respect for their parent’s lack of trust. As I have said before, parenting is hard enough on its own, but so is being a child/teen. There needs to be more collaboration and communication, whereas, a collective and healthy effort to bridge the gap and respect what each side have to say and wants to do. In American paediatrician, Dr Benjamin Spock’s famous words, “The child supplies the power, the parents have to do the steering,” rings true, but is prone to misinterpretations as how to steer, and take control altogether. It is very easy to lose sight of what is best for your child and focus more on what you think is best! So as Margaret Mead would put it, “Teach your children how to think, not what to think.”

Anita Rahman (alias) teaches English at a public university.