STFU Parents: This Back-To-School Season, Don’t Be a Helicopter Mom
Ever since social media took over our lives, “back-to-school” has become a seasonally hot topic that nobody saw coming. Prior to social media, back-to-school was a time that primarily concerned parents and kids in ways that most adults recognize from our youth: shopping for new notebooks and pencils, taking advantage of clothing retail sales, and generally preparing for school to be back in session. No one cared about what their next door neighbor’s kid wore on the first day of school. No one cared what their friends’ kids’ in Utah’s interests were, and if they did, they were informed via basic communication like catching up over the phone or via snail mail. And those “fun facts” might even piggyback on a complaint, like, “Turns out Abby is obsessed with ceramics and the materials cost a fortune,” or, “James is great at swimming and driving to his swim meets is eating up all of my free time.” Parents weren’t standing around bragging about how many extra-curricular activities their kids were in so much as wondering how many more hobbies their kids could possibly pick up. They didn’t think their kids were brilliant for starting second grade with a favorite color (purple), animal (giraffe), and food (pizza). And if they did, they weren’t scribbling those interests on chalkboards or white boards or carving them into trees or whatever all the parents do today before posting the obligatory 2-5 pictures of their kids standing on a driveway, in front of their home’s door, or by the school bus. I could be totally wrong about this, but I *think* it’s because most parents just assumed that their friends (and possibly their relatives) didn’t really care.
I’ve written before about the fact that I don’t have a single picture from any “first day of school” from my childhood. I’m not surprised or disappointed by this; I’m simply reminded that technology has taken us a long way from those school days of yore, when the first day hardly warranted wasting 35mm film, or if it did (for parents who weren’t mine), one or two pictures would suffice, only to get developed at some random, future date. I’m trying to picture a parent taking a film roll’s worth of photos, or even finishing a roll of film on the first day of school, and then rushing out to get the photos developed so that s/he could see what they looked like, just in case they were to run into someone at the supermarket to whom they could show off the photos. It’s hard to imagine, and yet in 2016, according to my research (aka my own Facebook feed), the pride and excitement over the first day of school reaches a fever pitch every year from mid-August to mid-September. You can truly feel the love parents have for their kids as you scroll past a bajillion tiny smiling faces, many of which appear next to life-size “billboards” that list each child’s Age, Likes, Hates, Academic Interests, and so on. This is the world we live in now; if parents are impressed with their kids (or perhaps with themselves for raising good kids), they say so. They don’t consider whether people will care, especially since they’ve already Liked three-dozen other “back-to-school” posts and photos posted by friends and relatives. It’s kind of a congratulatory circle jerk, and it’s easy to feel like an asshole if you don’t Like the posts and acknowledge your friends’ pride in their kids’ achievements. Truth be told, I don’t even mind the updates that much anymore, because I’ve become desensitized to them, and the friends whose posts I’ve Liked are people who are special to me, so maybe, I guess, their kids are, too. Even if I’ve never met them and they live across the country and they have no idea who I am.
I love my friends and the fact that so many of them appear to be outstanding parents, but I still don’t know why I know so much about their kids. In cases with older friends or former colleagues, there’s a decent chance I know more about their kids than I might even know about them at this point. Parents today are certainly more obsessive than parents used to be — or at least, since helicopter parenting became a commonly used term in the mid-to-late ’90s. The combination of helicopter parenting and social media has created an environment where parents are deeply invested in their kids’ hobbies, academics, and futures, and this obsession can continue well into a child’s college years. Parents more regularly see their kids’ developmental failings as their own failings, and so because they want their kids to succeed, they’ll do anything to help them avoid failing.
Some parents no longer see it as a big deal to do things for their kids that kids should be responsible for doing themselves, and they’re offended by the suggestion that taking a few steps back and letting their kids fail, lose, get hurt, get heartbroken, etc. will be good for them in the long run. If anything, parents are dismayed by the idea that some parents don’t obsess over their children, and they see their role as a parent as something more akin to a stalker.
Theoretically, this sounds okay — “If you don’t hate me once in your life – I am not doing my job properly.” — but to what degree are parents willing to go to ensure their kids’ success? To what extent will they “stalk” and “hunt down” their children when they’re adults who can take care of themselves and perhaps make foolish mistakes? It’s one thing to be a “protective mama bear,” and another thing to let your kids get away with something because letting them fail or be a disappointment to others isn’t an option. Here’s a screenshot from a Gawker comment thread that sums this up with a single example:
I can’t help but think about this and other examples of helicopter parenting whenever I see all the back-to-school posts, because I wonder how long my friends will narrate on behalf of their children, or how that level of love/obsession will play out when their kids are older. All of my friends with teenagers — people whose kids were already well past the baby stage when social media came along — talk about their kids with an irreverent, yet loving, tone that suggests there may be a slight generational difference. After posting in great detail about their child’s likes and dislikes for more than a decade, will the parents of toddlers and kindergarteners today be able to separate themselves from their kids as young adults, and then again, even further, as actual adults? Only time will tell. For now, let’s check out several ways that parents buzz around their kids and chatter with bravado on social media — because if there’s one thing I definitely don’t recommend, it’s bragging about being a helicopter mom.
Here’s an update written by a college professor who’s had quite enough, and it’s only the beginning of the school year:
Ouch. Here are some other examples of what parents SHOULDN’T do when it comes to raising their school-aged kids.