Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Get ready for helicopter government

"Helicopter parents" -- overinvolved, overbearing, moms and dads who just won't let their offspring venture into the world without a protective, hovering presence -- have made the news repeatedly over the past few years. This being summer, a new crop of articles detailing the woes sleep-away camp administrators are facing with clingy parents is making the rounds.

Hey, it's better than more presidential campaign coverage.

Anyway, from Lenore Skenazy via the Creators Syndicate:

So we have come to the point where children have to soothe their parents' separation anxiety. Next thing you know, they're going to have to send care packages.

Or maybe not, because the camps already are taking care of that. More and more have started posting the addictive parental treat of daily online camper snapshots.

"We promised our daughter $1 for every time we see her picture on the Web site," the parent of an 11-year-old camper, Texan Caryn Kboudi, said. This way, her daughter knows to look for the camera and make sure she gets her picture taken a lot. Meanwhile, mom can check the Web site 10 times a day — literally — to look for her.

Parents want written updates, too. "We're forced to tell parents everything the kids have done," said June Ingraham, spokeswoman for camp Sail Caribbean. "Like, 'They sailed from point A to point B; they went on land; they took a hike; they got ice cream at a local shop and stir-fry for dinner.' We put everything in there so that parents can live vicariously."

If feeding parental clinginess sounds to you like a losing strategy, you're right. Says the New York Times:
Starting about seven years ago, camps tried to satiate parents’ need to know by uploading pictures of kids at play daily to password-protected Web sites, a one-way communication tool that seemed to respect the sleep-away tradition of maintaining distance. But such real-time glimpses often aggravate the problem, as the obsessed become obsessed with what they are seeing — or not seeing.

“I have parents calling and saying they saw their child in the background of a picture of other children and he didn’t look happy, or his face looked red, has he been putting on enough suntan lotion, or I haven’t seen my child and I have seen a lot of other children, is my child so depressed he doesn’t want to be in a picture,” said Jay Jacobs, who has run Timber Lake Camp in Shandaken, N.Y., since 1980.

“In previous years, parents would understand that we were out in the field with children, and we’d get back to you after dinner when we had freer time,” said Mr. Jacobs, who has fielded inquiries from parents about what day the water trampoline would be fixed and whether a particular child still loved his mother after a promised package failed to arrive. “Now a parent calling at 11 will be off the charts if they don’t have a response by 1 or 1:30.”

Parents, says the Times, are even helping their kids smuggle forbidden cell phones into camp. They send two phones: one to be easily detected and surrendered, and a backup for actual use.

This is just nuts, of course. Frankly, when I was a kid, my parents were happy for the occasional opportunity to get rid of my sister and me. We couldn't afford more than a taste of day camp, so they sent us off to my grandmother. Grandma had an old-fashioned party-line telephone, which didn't stand up to excessive use, let alone helicopter-style monitoring. After some initial adjustment, my sister and I were fine. It taught us a little independence.

Party-line? Did I just write that? Wow, I'm dating myself.

Honestly, though, the smothering treatment helicopter parents inflict on nine-year-old campers isn't as frightening as what they do to theoretically adult college students -- or worse, to college graduates who have entered the job market.
At Hewlett-Packard, parents have gone as far as contacting the company after their child gets a job offer. They want to talk about their son's or daughter's salary, relocation packages and scholarship programs.

"Parents are contacting us directly," says Betty Smith, a university recruiting manager at HP. "This generation is not embarrassed by it. They're asking for parents' involvement."

She recalls one job fair in Texas "where the parent was there at our booth asking about benefits." The company has trained recruiters in how to handle parents.

Cell phones have taken some of the blame -- it's so easy to intervene in children's lives that parents so inclined can't resist. The digital umbilical cord replaces the real thing.

But there's more to it than that when parents are calling up HR people on behalf of twenty-something "kids." For some reason, many parents just aren't letting their offspring be independent adults. They're infantilizing men and women and depriving them of the opportunity to become full-grown human beings.

It'd be funny if it weren't so pathetic. OK, it is funny -- but it's still pathetic. And it concerns me ...

Really, what happens to the political culture when adults -- well, sort-of adults -- are accustomed to somebody always watching out for them, counseling them and bandaging their booboos? What becomes of the assumptions of individual responsibility that underpin (what's left of) a free society when teenagers become twenty-somethings, and then thirty-somethings, always with the shadow of hovering mom and dad cast across their lives?

Are these people really capable of functioning on their own, enjoying the fruits of their good decisions, suffering the fallout from the bad ones, and living as mature citizens of a free society?

Or will they always expect somebody to be there to pat their heads, make their decisions, fight their battles, and generally wipe their increasingly hairy butts as the years go by?

I think we know the answer to that. The children of helicopter parents are bound to become accustomed that hovering presence. Some will resent it and break free, but others ...

Others will happily turn to anybody who promises to institutionalize that shadow across their lives. And the people best equipped to make such promises are our ever-eager politicians.

If helicopter parenting is a current trend, helicopter government may be the wave of the future.



Anonymous The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit said...

Party lines, huh?

Bet ya know how to use a rotary-dial phone, too.

How 'bout this - would the phone number VAlley 2-2332 mean anything to you?

July 30, 2008 9:26 AM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...

Oh yeah. Rotary phones were a feature of my childhood. I loved the way you had to wait for the dial to spin back around before hitting the next digit.

And I just barely remember telephone exchange names. I think they were still being used when I was a kid, but had been dropped by the time I was actually initiating phone calls.

July 30, 2008 9:36 AM  
Blogger BobG said...

I remember the exchange names quite well. That was also when phones only came in two colors, black and red, and you had to pay extra for red. When other colors came out, you paid extra for them, also.

July 30, 2008 5:32 PM  
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March 19, 2009 1:13 AM  

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