Do Helicoptered Kids Do Better? A Free-Ranged Young Woman Weighs In on

Hey Folks — I liked this comment on the post from the “Wonderin’ ” mom who looked around and felt perhaps the helicopter parents had done it “right,” and she’d been wrong to Free-Range.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Long time reader of this blog, first time commenter. I just felt I had to respond to “Wonderin”‘s questions.

I was definitely raised Free-Range. My dad is a hippie, and my mom is from Africa, so that’s just how they were. I had a horse when I was 13 and I was able to walk over the stable, saddle up the horse, and take it for long trail rides into the canyons. All without a cellphone or a way to contact home! I also then had to clean the horse, feed it, etc. At 16 my mom did let me go to Europe by myself though she put me in touch with wonderful friends over there to help guide me. I had a great time.

I was always self-sufficient. I got the sense that my parents trusted me to make decisions, and through that responsibility I was also serious about making decisions (the big ones anyway). I was an honors/AP student in high school, head cheerleader, and involved in the arts programs at school. I did all my own college applications. I did my own studying for the SAT. I did well, I got into a number of good schools. I decided on Berkeley, where I had a wonderful experience. I joined a sorority and held a position on the leadership council. I tried out different majors and after settling on Art History worked to make sure to graduate “on-time.” After college I did float around a bit trying to figure out what I wanted to do. But I got enough odd-jobs (including being a part-time bank teller) to get my own place and move out of my parents house. And once I felt ready to really settle down and have a career I got myself my first job as an assistant at a web design company. I took that opportunity and ran with it. I thrived at work and quickly made my way up the ladder. I moved companies a few times. I am now a Vice President at a tech company (at 30 years old).

All this to say that being Free-Range or being a helicopter parent won’t mean your kids are successful or not. I think that’s a very black and white view of things. To say that I have been successful because I was raised a certain way seems to over-simplify my life. I think there are a number of reasons for my success. And there are a number of factors to other people’s successes or failures.

But, I personally feel that they way I was raised has helped me excel in my work environments. People like working with me because I can take initiative and I’m not afraid to take on responsibility. I also am not afraid to work hard because I don’t feel entitled or expect things to be easy. There have been a lot of times over my career so far that I’ve been asked to do something at work that I’d never done before, and I felt intimidated. But I was able to trust in my abilities and at least try, even if it meant I didn’t do it perfectly. That self-reliance and “grit” is something in myself I value. And I don’t know if it would have happened if I hadn’t been raised Free-Range.

So, please trust in the good things and lessons you taught your kids. Maybe they are floundering a bit right now, but it’s a journey and you never know where they will end up. – Shannon

23 Responses to Do Helicoptered Kids Do Better? A Free-Ranged Young Woman Weighs In on

  1. Melanie Jones December 4, 2013 at 9:04 am #

    I am all for letting helicoptered kids continue with their helicoptered parenting plan. But the reason I follow this blog is because parents that elect to send their kids off into the canyon on a horse seem to be under increasing scrutiny. And while I don’t see the calvary coming in to take kids away from parents that sit their kids in front of a TV 24/7 so they can be safe from predators outside, it does seem like there is a movement to make things illegal that add to a child’s independence and ‘grit’ as you put it. This has been an engaging and delightful discussion, but I hope that parents that value their kids riding off into the canyon, or riding a bike unattended in the cul-de-sac, or sitting in the car for five minutes while mom runs an errand, will keep up on the trends in your own neighborhood and stand up to protect the rights of parents to parent as they see fit, even in the face of myriad liability concerns.

  2. Forsythia December 4, 2013 at 9:28 am #

    If people helicopter their kids, that’s their business. If it impacts me in any official way I will do something, but only where it affects my workplace or if I’m teaching. I know it would never work with my kids, and I know that my 17 year old will be able to live independently now if he had to (because he will need to in another year).

    The real issue is the legal codification of helicoptering. That is what we all need to worry about.

  3. E December 4, 2013 at 9:43 am #

    I guess my takeaway from the Mom post from yesterday is twofold. 1) you should try to limit your exposure to what everyone else’s kids are doing because it will just drive you crazy. 2) if you are starting to think that there is an imbalance to your kids lives, then spend some time on that and decide if the something needs more attention or concern. That’s not helicoptering, it’s just common sense and wise.

    When a teenager is struggling (in any area) some people take the approach that ‘it’ll work itself out’ or ‘they’ll be fine’. That’s probably true for many, but some kids do need more than time. As a parent, I don’t think you want to look back and think you overlooked things in the name of some parenting style. Maybe there’s an issue, maybe there is not. Presuming there is not can be as much of a mistake as presuming there is.

    It’s hard to know if the Mom from yesterday is dealing with valid behavioral concerns or just lower GPAs. Are academics being ignored or are they just not ivy league material.

    We can all list our own experiences, but we all know our own situations better than anyone else. If there is a real concern from yesterday’s Mom, I wouldn’t just ignore it (whatever IT is).

  4. Becky December 4, 2013 at 10:00 am #

    “1) you should try to limit your exposure to what everyone else’s kids are doing because it will just drive you crazy.”

    This. The families in my social group all managed to get pregnant around the same time and even though I know the above statement to be true, it’s really hard for me not to look at my own daughter and think, “Is she doing as well as my friends babies were at this stage? If not, is it a result of something I did? Will she catch up, and what do I do if she doesn’t?”

    I have free-range friends, and hyper-worried helicopter-to-be friends, and friends who are a mixture of the two. I have a feeling that, in twenty years, all of our babies will be pretty much okay.

  5. E December 4, 2013 at 10:21 am #

    @Becky, and I think that’s perfectly normal way to look at it. We ALL want our kids to develop in a productive healthy way. We also want to look back and know that we gave them the support they needed, if/when they needed it.

    Speaking personally, I have a college aged son who just a year ago said “I think I might be dyslexic”. I was floored. I literally thought back to 1st grade when he was a little slower in reading than other kids (Moms always compared reading levels) and a comment from his teacher about how most kids “click” and then their reading takes off, but that with my son, it was just a really slow progression. He was just an avg kid. He didn’t get pulled from class for G&T sessions, nor did he get pulled for remedial help. His grades were fine and he got into colleges he applied to (though he’s not currently attending).

    As a parent, it’s frustrating that we didn’t have him evaluated for dyslexia as a child. He’s reluctant to see someone about it now. He talks about how long he used the crutch of knowing when to use “b” vs “d” by spelling out “bed” and how the “b” is the headboard and the “d” is the footboard.

    I never felt it right to ask about the avg kids never getting small ratio help like the gifted/talented or the remedial kids. That just seemed like complaining. But now I wonder if a smaller setting would have revealed an issue that could have been evaluated further.

    It’s definitely a regret, even if I’m not sure how/when we missed the right cues.

  6. Liz December 4, 2013 at 10:32 am #

    Shannon, you’re exactly the type of candidate I would like to hire and share a workplace with. Thanks for sharing.

  7. pentamom December 4, 2013 at 10:39 am #

    “When a teenager is struggling (in any area) some people take the approach that ‘it’ll work itself out’ or ‘they’ll be fine’. That’s probably true for many, but some kids do need more than time. ”

    I’ve found the best approach here is neither Tiger/copter “We must ACT!” approach that I see a lot of my friends taking, or the “it’ll work itself out” approach done indefinitely, but the approach of, “Hmmmm…let’s see how this plays out for a while” approach. If you don’t see progress/resolution over time after a bit of watching, or the progress is extremely slow, then maybe it’s time to think about acting.

  8. E December 4, 2013 at 10:54 am #

    @pentamom, I think that’s good advice. Concerning the mom from yesterday, it’s hard to know if there’s something in her gut that’s concerning her or if it’s just the comparison to the “perfect” kids.

    Another anecdote. When my oldest graduated from HS, there was an email list for getting parents info concerning graduation and other Sr year ‘stuff’. A year after they graduated, a parent sent out an email to the dead/defunct list about how her daughter’s first year at college had been “honor role, sorority, etc” and how she’d love to hear how everyone else’s kids were doing. I was already appalled because clearly this was a very public list, not even one that’s specific to your facebook friends. Anyway, the next reply came from someone I DID know. While her kid had flunked out, and had some legit behavioral issues, she chose to say that “all was well and he’d completed his first year at college X”. I unsubscribed.

  9. Gpo December 4, 2013 at 11:07 am #

    I don’t think this debate about free-range and helicoptering is so black and white. First off nothing happens overnight. You don’t learn independence in one day. It is gradual. You prove you can do something and the next day you get to take it a bit further. In the end I think teaching a kid good work ethic is more important than anything. You give someone clear expectations and then you give them ownership in the process. For kids it starts out small. We gave our kids the expectation that when they were put to bed they were to stay in bed. At first it wasnt perfect but we held our ground. Then that led to getting dressed and ready for the day. That led to doing some chores before school. That led to making their own breakfast. Then on Thanksgiving I got up early went to the gym. My 8 yo got up before the others. When I got home she had set the table for a more formal breakfast with place cards. We didn’t ask her but she came up with that on her own.

  10. Gpo December 4, 2013 at 11:18 am #

    To continue a bit more. We have basically given total ownership of school over to my 7th grader. We don’t help her. We expect her to do her best. We don’t check homework. We don’t even physically check to see if homework is done. It is all on her. She knows that. It is so pleasant not to have to deal with that as a parent. It didn’t happen overnight. She learned that skill. Just like with her swimming. At swim meets when she was 9 or 10 I stopped making sure she got lined up for an event. It was on her to make sure she was paying attention and in the right place at the right time. This was well before her friends. Parent would always being worrying if their kid was ready for an event.

    The way I look at it once I teach a kid to do something then I no longer have to deal with that activity. So I might as well do it as soon as possible. Hopefully that leads to my children getting out of my house ASAP. Because in the end that is the only goal with children. For them to leave and be able to support themselves. Anything past that I don’t care what they do.

  11. E December 4, 2013 at 11:57 am #

    @Gpo, that’s the way we all want it to work. But if you have a child who is shirking their academic responsibility you are at a crossroads. If you find out at report card time that they didn’t take care of those responsibilities, you have to make a decision about how to proceed. You can decide that the low grades are just a result of the choices the kid makes and that’s that, or you can try to influence course correction. It might be lack of caring on the student’s part, it might be a subject in which they could use tutoring or assistance or something else.

    If a parent is satisfied with the effort to grade result, then you don’t ever meet that crossroads.

  12. lollipoplover December 4, 2013 at 3:10 pm #

    “But I was able to trust in my abilities and at least try, even if it meant I didn’t do it perfectly. That self-reliance and “grit” is something in myself I value. And I don’t know if it would have happened if I hadn’t been raised Free-Range.”

    I think so much in parenting tells our kids to be their best and do their best at everything and stresses competition over simply playing. I’d much rather my kids be good at many things than great at only one. I see the specializing in one sport at such early ages and it scares me. Trying new things, even if you aren’t great at them, is good advise for all ages, not just children.

  13. Gpo December 4, 2013 at 6:49 pm #

    @E. Don’t get me wrong. I monitor the kids grades online. And if it got out of line before report cards I would take action. But I am not going to get in the day to day activities unless needed. In 4th or 5th grade we had to have a come to Jesus talk about doing your best. As long as there is effort I am fine. Slacking is not acceptable.

  14. Reziac December 4, 2013 at 9:14 pm #

    Has anyone thought to ask the kids how THEY feel about being proctored and shepherded and scheduled and kept ‘safe’ from the real world every moment of every day?

    I’m forcibly reminded of this:

    When Moore asks Manson what he would say to the students at Columbine, Manson replies, “I wouldn’t say a single word to them; I would listen to what they have to say, and that’s what no one did.”

    Because in my observation, having all the choices and all the risks and all the chance to grow on their own taken out of their lives makes kids feel like a NON-person.

  15. mobk December 5, 2013 at 1:12 am #

    Maybe Free Range kids turn out “better”, maybe they don’t. And we can post anecdotes all day about our over achieving free range rug-rats and it proves nothing. But it all kind of misses the point. Since when was Free Range parenting supposed to be about the path to success? if there was one message I got loud and clear from reading Lenores’s book – it was “lighten up people!”

  16. charlene December 5, 2013 at 1:48 am #

    This makes so much sense. In the workplace, people in their 30’s and younger, not everyone, but a lot of them have a bad rap for not wanting to work, but expecting that they should advance without really earning it. I am 38 and sometimes get grouped in with the “entitled generation.” I always thought it had something to do with everyone getting trophies. But what she says about being motivated by nobody else but herself… And trying new things is part of the philosophy of free range I strive for with my kids. Thanks for the reminder!

  17. Andy December 5, 2013 at 3:33 am #

    Am I old and cranky if I find the both “I’m better then all other kids of my age” and “I’m better parent the other parents on my block” essays topic annoying? I mean it is important to be self confident, but there is a line between that and bragging.

    Maybe I’m just old, cranky and not really adjusted to “the most self promoting person win” world.

  18. Shannon December 5, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

    @Andy. I’m sorry if you found my comment bragging. The original post questioned what contributes to success, with success defined as good grades, good colleges, and a good job. By that criteria I think someone can call me successful. And I wanted to give my thoughts on why I have been that kind of successful as that was the question posed.

  19. E December 5, 2013 at 12:51 pm #

    @Andy – I totally get what you’re saying. I said something similar in the original thread. We went from a parent concerned about “perfect” helicoptered kids to comments about people’s AP-course taking, successful, whatever Free Range kids.

    I have 2 kids, same gender, same parents, 3 years apart. They couldn’t be more different. In just about every way.

    I thought the original poster was being honest about the challenge of parenting….no one wants to look back and go “wow, I really made a mistake”. In the world of “share everything” it’s just gotten a little harder not to compare yourself to what’s thrust at you.

    I think the only issue the Free Range Mom has is if she thinks there’s a real “problem”. Not having the highest SAT score isn’t really a problem. But if there are behavioral issues/concerns or the child has gone from free range to 0 accountability, that might be worth evaluating and rethinking some of the framework within which the family is operating.

  20. Maggie R. December 5, 2013 at 2:44 pm #

    Well, I wonder how much depends on the definition of “helicopter parent.” I don’t view being involved and concerned and providing some structure to kids’ lives as helicoptering. Micromanaging your kids’ academics, keeping them in a regimented schedule, and being afraid to let them explore in age-appropriate places where there is no reasonable expectation of danger are the behaviors I associate with helicopter parenting.

    I very much plan to be more involved and concerned with my kids’ academics and want more structure to their free time than my parents provided. My parents weren’t bad parents; they just grew up in another era. And simply the traffic in our metropolitan area means that I’m going to have be more cautious about their early mobility than my parents were with ours. But I don’t think that will make me a helicopter parent — gulp, right?

  21. EricS December 6, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

    @Gpo. And that’s how many of us were raised back in the 70s and 80s. Even generations before us. Teach your kids what they need to know, then let them do it. You are there if they get stuck or require advice, but not there to do it for them. We all feel bad when our kids fail at something. We feel their pain. I think that’s why many helicopter parents do what they do. Because they don’t like seeing their children feel “pain”, which in turn becomes their own pain. But these growing “pains” have been part of life since the dawn of man. And it will continue to be here. Better for a child to learn about young, so they know how to deal with it when they are older. Children are very resilient. That they, if conditioned properly, can bounce back relatively quickly on their own. This ability becomes much harder as we get older. The saying goes, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. Truth is, you can. But it gets harder the older they get. That some just give up trying.

  22. Kay December 12, 2013 at 12:47 am #

    Late with this response here but I have had trouble figuring out the line lately. The school makes parents accountable, not the children. I feel the child should be accountable to the teacher. I don’t like it one bit, I feel it creates a crutch out of the parent for the child. But we have to sign off on their homework, their agenda, other things. My son’s teacher expects parents to help children with their homework. I had always thought that in theory but after experience I question to what extent? Am I taking over the teaching when homework should be an independent practice of what was learned at school that day? I don’t agree with homework in early elementary and the large amounts you hear of in later grades and high school. Will my child have time to get an after school job, let alone do extra-curricular activities? And please don’t assign a project in which a parent has to do 80% of the work. That doesn’t teach a child anything.

    There used to be a time a generation or so ago when parents didn’t have to micromanage their children’s lives, especially their academics, and those whose parents did were considered weird and even soft. The thing is, young adults actually seem younger than they did last century. How is it that many teenagers and young adults were capable and prepared for the real world right after high school and demonstrated maturity and handled their own problems but not today? It reminds me of an article I had read some time back:

    That man explains his parents lack of involvement and how it made a man out of him.

    We have expectations of our children, too, but demand they achieve it themselves. We will give advice and some guidance but we don’t want to control it for them. Wasn’t it here that it was phrased that my job as a parent is to make my job obsolete?

    Both my boys are in scouting. We waited to start them at Wolf because we didn’t want to work side by side with them during Tiger. We wanted them to be as independent as possible and responsible for their scouting. We encouraged Scouts, which they both enjoy very much because we expected it to reinforce good citizenship and self-sufficiency. It only occurred to me lately that I think some parents have their boys in scouts in order for them to put it on a college application. I don’t even know if one can do that but if one can, I am sure that’s why some parents I know have their boys in scouts. I can’t say how many times I have told my oldest he has to quit when it seems to me he isn’t doing the work and I’m not doing it for him (then told as an aside by the scout master he is doing very well). They both enjoy scouting and the oldest claims he is going all the way to Eagle Scout. I’ll believe it when I see it. I stress the high reputation of a Scout, sometimes in times of bad behavior, when I think they aren’t fit to wear the uniform.

    Sometimes I think that each generation thinks they’re going to do a better job than the one before. I started out that way with my toddlers/preschoolers to some extent. Everyone was going to play fair, I can make them smart, etc. But how does it help the child grow if you eliminate life lessons for them and are hovering over every little thing? I certainly don’t remember my mother interrupting my playtime with the neighbor girl, even when we were fighting. Neither did her mother. And boy did we fight. Maybe there wasn’t anything to improve upon after all and too much intervention has stunted child development.

    The whole mind set makes me feel tired. You just can’t go on a day trip somewhere for fun with your kids anymore. Competitive fellow parents, not to mention the media, inclines parents to have to think of educational value and how much your kid can get out of it. And all the educational camps. “Inventor’s Camp” and other camps that sound like they’re going to make Little Einstein’s out of your child. I was on that path but I left that way of thinking some years ago, it was no way to live. Why do we have to over-think everything? A passive learning experience is much nicer, I don’t want to think of what my kid can learn from visiting a cave. Maybe I just want to see a cave and I want my kids to see it, too.

    We are living in a Kindergarchy and I’m still in culture shock.

  23. Kay December 12, 2013 at 7:38 am #

    After I posted this I decided to google search “boy scouts on college application”. Well, well, I’ve been naive again. No wonder it seems like my oldest son’s troop is racing through merit badges. Here I am, using Scouts as a tool to supplement my trying to shape these boys into conscientious and capable men, I am even more sure certain parents are doing it for the college app. Everything revolves around the college app. That’s why those Manhattan parents do what they do, too, starting with the right preschool.