Most everyone has heard the term “helicopter parenting”. It means to almost hover over your children at every moment of their lives to make sure they’re safe and that only good things are happening to them. Teachers frequently find helicopter parents lurking around the schools, sometimes even checking to see who their children are playing with at recess.
Helicopter parenting isn’t necessarily a bad thing. At the very least, you know helicopter parents care. But they generally fail by refusing to let their children fail. The kids never make their own decisions, so they grow up not knowing how. And a lot of the kids are dullards. If you ask them a question, they’ll look at their parents to provide an answer. Or if they’re alone, they might just stare at you and say nothing. They’ve never been forced to think on their feet, so they don’t even know how to start.
The alternative to helicopter parenting is called “submarine parenting”. That’s a term coined by Marie Schwartz, who runs a website called “TeenLife”. In submarine parenting, parents stay out of sight, or under the surface, letting kids manage situations as they come up. Parents pop up when needed, but for the most part, kids are allowed to guide their own way.
Dr. Ilana Blatt Eisengart, a clinical child psychologist, says, “When we swoop in and save our kids, they don’t get the experience of failing and picking themselves back up. If kids don’t develop resilience, when they go out into the world and hit the first big bump, they completely fall apart.”
Part of submarine parenting involves putting children into situations just a little beyond what they’re sure they can do. You help your child find a place where they aren’t completely comfortable, but where you are fairly sure they’ll have success. Then you step back and watch the outcome.
All of this reminded me of a conversation between Sean Connery and Harrison Ford, playing father and son Henry Jones and Indiana Jones in the movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”:
Indiana: “I can remember the last time we had a drink together. I had a milkshake. But we didn’t talk. We’ve never talked. If you were a regular dad just like the other boys’ dads, this would be different.”
Henry: “I was a wonderful father.”
Indiana: “Yeah? How?”
Henry: “Did I ever tell you to eat up, go to bed, wash your ears, do your homework? No. I respected your privacy, and I taught you self-reliance.”
Indiana: “What you taught me is that I was less important to you than people that have been dead for several hundred years and in other countries. I learned it so well that we’ve hardly spoken in twenty years.”
Henry: “You left just as you were becoming interesting. Okay, I’m here now. What do you want to talk about?”
Indiana: “I don’t know.”
Henry: “Then what are you complaining about?”
My favorite line in this exchange is “you left just as you were becoming interesting”. And yes, I’ve used the line myself. I had to wait 27 years after seeing the movie, but I eventually worked it in.