No, I said.
So she packed, as well as tidied her room, painted her desk white, walked into town to get toiletries and get Turkish lira, did an hour’s Taekwon-Do training and cooked dinner for 6 of us. She’s off to Turkey today and I won’t see her for two weeks. So I spent the whole of yesterday feeling guilty. Guilty that I’d said no to packing her suitcase. Guilty for not remembering that she needed foreign money. Guilty for moaning at her about painting her desk and guilty about having asked her to cook dinner. Was she stressed and anxious about any of this? No. She was happy and excited about her holiday and by doing all those things she felt independent and secure. I did the right thing – I think – but I spent the whole day questioning myself.
You see, as I talked about in my blog: Bonsai Parenting, we are doing far too much ‘helicopter parenting’, where we hover over our children like an irritating mosquito, swooping in if our child needs rescuing. Keeping a close eye on proceedings, ready to throw the rope down for them to grab hold of and get taken back to the safety of the home at the slightest whiff of potential conflict or danger.
However, I would even take it a step further in my analogy of how we’re bringing up our kids. Modern parenting is more like drone parenting: even more intrusive, with its ability to get in closer and to gather the necessary information required to control our children.
troops parents with a 24-hour “eye in the sky”, seven days a week. Each aircraft can stay aloft for up to 17 hours at a time, loitering over an area and sending back real-time imagery of activities on the ground. Although drones are unmanned, they are not unpiloted – trained crew parents at base steer the craft, analyse the images which the cameras send back and act on what they see.’
Information from teachers, tutors and sports coaches, to name but three. Parents are incessantly requiring feedback on their offspring, to use to remain firmly involved at every decision making process. Drones can spy, and as parents we are encouraged to spy on our kids: check their internet activity, read their texts, always be on the lookout for clues to them entering the dark side, from where we will immediately rescue them.
We’ll rescue them by droning on to teachers when our child is even slightly struggling. Droning on at the side of the pitch, telling a child how to play a game that the parent probably knows little about. This isn’t just words of support, this is telling them what to do and even worse, telling them what they should have done. This is apparently one of the main reasons kids, particularly girls give up sport in their droves as they approach the teenage years – they are embarrassed and made to feel even more self conscious by well meaning drones.
Drones, unlike helicopters, can swoop right in. They are on the PTA, on the school trips, on the school reading rota, they are constantly at school. Then the next thing they know they are traipsing around university open days where frustrated deans are prising their child away from them and telling them to go and do something else for a couple of hours. They are writing the personal statement, sorting out their child’s work experience and attending their interviews with them.
Drones are doing everything they can to prevent risk: risk of injury, risk of failure and risk of boredom. But this well meaning drone parenting is creating children who are more likely to develop low self-worth, who are stressed and anxious and who are more likely to engage in risky behaviour, such as binge drinking.
I’m not the parent who drones on at the side of the pitch – I leave that to the coaches. Nor am I the parent drone, hovering in the school. But I am a drone. I’ve realised that I have spent the past few months asking one of my daughters if she is ok. She became a little more withdrawn than usual and I worried. I worried that she had lost her spark and so I asked her: what’s wrong? Nothing, came her reply. But I asked again and over the months again and again: are you sure? No wonder she withdrew. She’s doing well at school, she has good friends, but I still worried too much. When parents drone on, anxiously asking: are you ok? they can make the child anxious because they sense that we’re worried and, of course, it can make them pull away. I am over-analysing, when I should be giving her the space to breathe.
The other time that I drone on is about chores. That constant: can you do this? Have you done that? I asked you to tidy up and so on, doesn’t teach them to notice for themselves when things need doing. I repeat myself too frequently. I am not raising robots, I am bringing up independent human beings, whom I want to be self-aware.
Parent drones are well meaning, because not being a drone can feel detached and alienating and, as I said at the beginning of this post, hands off parenting can make you feel extremely guilty. Ironically, in order to develop our children’s confidence, we need to develop our own. Do you think our own parents ever felt guilty when they told us to, “go and play”? No, because they weren’t surrounded by other parents who were hovering over their offspring and they weren’t being constantly fed horror stories in the media about paedophiles who lurk on every corner. They don’t. But they do exist. They exist in places where you cannot always be: it could be your child’s friend’s dad, or a family member. All we can do is to develop our children’s confidence and self esteem; let go and trust.
So next time I’m sick of my own voice droning on I might just shut up and see what happens. I might actually be pleasantly surprised.