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.
1. Don't Overschedule Your Kids
I dunno, Tarynn, this sounds super duper exciting, but it doesn't sound like either of these kids is signed up for Mandarin lessons OR archery OR watercolors OR choir OR Pilates. Sounds like a pretty light schedule to me, but there's hope for you and your developmentally-behind kids yet. After all, winter is just a few short months away!
Yep, when you're über-talented like Taylor, you don't get to watch your favorite after-school programs on television or "play" outside like some kind of ne'er-do-well. When you're above average, you can't behave like an average child who eats average snacks and does average homework after coming straight home from school with nowhere to go and no one to impress. You must rise above the desire to come home, throw off your backpack, and stare into space for a solid 15 minutes while shoveling goldfish into your mouth like it's the only thing in the world that matters. If you leave school right at 3:15pm, skipping all of the usual rehearsals and practices and tutoring sessions, and you turn on the OWN channel and veg out, possibly with a bag of Cheetos, and then do your homework between 4pm and 6pm like a plebeian, you'll get absolutely nowhere in life. So luxuriate in that lazy shit today, Little One. Tomorrow (and the day after that, and all of the days after that) will look much different and involve a lot more whistles and lectures. Ya gotta get to Princeton somehow! If not by winning "The Voice," how?
2. Don't Correct Your Kid's Homework
While I do understand Karen's irritation with her daughter's teacher's miscorrection, no wrong, if reasonable, note from a teacher can possibly look or be crazier than Karen's spastic response. What the fuck did she do to her daughter's exam sheet?? I've had this wacky submission sitting in my files for years, and I still don't know what compelled her to be this angry about something that could've easily been cleared up by having a quick word with the teacher. Or by, I don't know, writing a short, normal, adult note and attaching it to her daughter's homework. Instead, she chose to draw no fewer than 21 passive-aggressive smiley faces after writing 'Great Job Layla' in red marker, trumping the teacher's own red pen, like having a Sharpie somehow makes her notes more valid instead of more insane. All in all, Layla did a fine job on her spelling test, her teacher might want to ease up on mistaking 'n's for 'r's... and Karen is the one who really needs to grow up.
3. Don't Be A Paranoid Mommyjacker
Michelle, as glad as I am that you took the time to mommyjack Carrie's perfectly nice, well-reasoned status update with your crazy Child Molestation rant, I do hope you realize how nuts you sound. Even if your kid's teacher is a child molester, which is scary and rare, it has nothing to do with Carrie or her kids. Rather than leave a positive comment about how great Carrie's kid's school community sounds, you told her to be fearful and "take a good hard look at the teacher." Is that really the best response when she's clearly excited and hopeful? Is that the only thing you're ever going to say to anyone when they talk about going to a school orientation? "Be careful, your kid's teacher could be a child molester!" doesn't tend to go over as well as "Good luck to D this school year, I'm sure he'll do great!" Trust me on this.
4. Don't Do Your Kid's Homework
Ahh, this submission really takes me back to an old STFU, Parents blog post about a mom who built a medieval castle for her 8th grade son. Moms who do their kids' homework for them aren't cheating, per se... they're just, you know, doing all of the work for their kids and passing it off as their kids' work! That's all! It's called creative parenting, look it up. Plus, how could Eli be expected to finish his science fair project if he waited until the day before it was due to finish it? Duh, he's a child, not a wizard! Waiting until the last second is when you need Mom to step in and make it all come together. The ideas of a 40-year-old are far superior to the ideas of a child. How else was Eli supposed to place in the science fair competitions? By doing the work all by himself? Yeah, like that's practical!
5. Don't Pay Someone Else To Do Your Kid's Homework
Yo, Light Blue, can you chill with the pragmatism and the "life skills" lecture? Purple's daughter has a paper due at 2pm TODAY and your advice isn't helping. Unless of course you're best friends with Purple's daughter's professor, which could be a benefit. You said you're an educator, right? Don't all teachers know each other or something? Can you at least give a good recommendation for websites where you know kids steal college papers, since it sounds like you might be familiar with them? Now THAT would be helpful. Especially if the papers are of A+ quality and don't cost a lot, though Purple definitely has money to throw at this problem so don't rule out anything, even if it's very expensive. Purple will do whatever it takes to help her baby succeed in life, even if it means posting an inquiry on an L.A. Moms Facebook group page and admitting to being totally open to paying someone to do her daughter's college level paper for her. That's just how much she cares! All the "life skills" stuff can come later. For now, this paper has to get done ASAP sooo WHO IS GOING TO HELP??
6. Don't Stalk Your Kids, Especially When They're Old Enough To Get A Job
All right, I don't understand this picture at all -- maybe if you click to expand, there's more in the frame than we can see here? -- but I don't see anyone's "baby" of legal working age having a job interview. Maybe Shannon's "baby" is in high school, and she's posting a picture from inside an eatery as he interviews in a back office? Or maybe her "baby" is the man on the far right who looks to be much older than someone interviewing for his first job? Either way, I'm not sure this occasion needed commemorating in the form of this post. When your kid is old enough to interview for a job, do you really need to be involved in any way at all? I don't even think a parent should pick up a job application for a kid, much less snap photos as they sit through their first interview with a potential boss. Who needs a momarazzi in the corner acting like a creeper who can't believe her "baby" is about to get his first job? No one. Leave your kid alone, Shannon. Stay in the car or let him borrow your car or drop him off or just do anything besides this. Play Pokémon Go in the parking lot if you must. That would probably be less embarrassing, and you might even unlock a new level in parenthood by leaving your kid to navigate his first job interview completely alone. What a novel idea.