Son, that is dangerous in every single way!

How Helicopter Parents Needlessly Scared My Anxious Son

We can’t control the busybodies out there (sigh). But this mom wonders how can we get them to stop interfering with our kids’ sense of safety — especially if our kids are anxious to begin with:

Dear Free-Range Kids:

I have always been a Free-Range parent/educator and for me, it’s about common sense and raising kids to be confident and capable adults.  I have a son, 13 and daughter, 11, who enjoy walking and biking to school alone, messing around in the stream nearby, and going to the store to buy candy — all activities I enjoyed doing as a kid (well, maybe not the walk to school some days).
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My son has General Anxiety Disorder and OCD. While working with a therapist and doctor, we know when and how to help him to push his boundaries, and when he’s not ready.  Almost every one of his setbacks, sometimes resulting in panic attacks, has been due to the meddling of a helicopter parent.
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When my son was in third grade, we had an eighth grader walk with him home from school so that the following year, he would be ready to do it with his younger sister.  He was successfully walking home with his sister until around Halloween when a parent said to him, “Tell your mother it’s not safe for you to walk home without an adult.  You could get kidnapped or hit by a car.”
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Now, we prepared our kids for how to cross streets and be cognizant of vehicles.  Part of his OCD is that he is a rule follower so he knows the rules of the road better than most adults.  As for kidnapping, really???  Someone is going to grab one of my kids, who’s holding hands with the other, along a busy street???  We spent months and wads of cash on extra therapy after that.
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Later on he was playing in the stream (as in maybe a a meter in width, no more than 15 cm depth, shouting distance from our home) with his sister and a parent told him that pedophiles look for kids in the woods, and if the pedophiles don’t get him, the wolves would.
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There are no wolves in our community and last time I checked, no pedophiles hiding behind trees either! Before I sent my kids off into the wilderness alone, we had spent a lot of time exploring nature so they know what safety precautions to take.  We spent a few more months in therapy again.
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Now that my son is 13, he wants to be like his peers and go to the movies, the mall, the park, wherever his friends hang out and be like them. But the helicopter voices drown out reason and common sense.  He eagerly completed his babysitter’s course but won’t babysit now because a mother told him that he’s too young to babysit, because what if a child chokes!?!?!
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There have been studies that show how damaging helicopter parents can be to their own children.  I’d be curious to see how it’s affecting other children too, especially when I see how it impacts my son.
Naturally, I’d suggest reminding any anxious kids that there are people out there who are REALLY scared all the time, and part of their “acting out” is spreading the fear that overwhelms them.
And readers, if you have any advice for how to counter the messages our kids (especially our worried ones) get from a culture of fear, share it now!

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Son, that is dangerous in every single way!

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49 Responses to How Helicopter Parents Needlessly Scared My Anxious Son

  1. SteveS August 1, 2017 at 10:50 am #

    I have no easy solution. It is hard to un-hear something. Ideally, adults shouldn’t be giving random children advice about anything, nor should they be “parenting” them unless the child is about to do something dangerous to themselves or others.

  2. SHawth August 1, 2017 at 11:00 am #

    That is really rough, anxiety in a helicopter parent society.
    My daughter is generally brave. But, she had nightmares for a about two weeks after a field trip with other other mothers and their kids. There wasn’t anything said directly, just a lot of “Don’t you think you should …” said to me. She just picked up on the extreme tension.

  3. Workshop August 1, 2017 at 11:02 am #

    For children without an anxiety disorder, I would think that letting them go into situations that test their limits would be the way to go. That way they learn “I could do this really difficult thing, so this other thing that isn’t so difficult won’t be as bad.” And I’ve often told my own sons that “the reason grandma worries so much is that she is scared for herself. I know you know what to do.” Of course, I’ve trained them what to do.

    But a neurochemical reaction to stress that defeats parenteral education? That’s a tough one.

  4. Theresa Hall August 1, 2017 at 11:18 am #

    Maybe she should write dear such and such letters that say something about someone who can’t mind their own business. Like that letter where a man offered sympathy for a mom who 3 kids whom despite driving her crazy at times she loves dearly. It can’t hurt much.

  5. Steve N August 1, 2017 at 11:27 am #

    My first reaction is to smack the offending helicopter parent right in the mouth. Of course I would never do that, but just thinking about it sometimes makes me feel better. I’m getting cranky in my old age.

    By the way — get ready for the new Halle Berry movie, “Kidnap”. Here we go again.

  6. James Pollock August 1, 2017 at 11:28 am #

    “any advice for how to counter the messages our kids (especially our worried ones) get from a culture of fear, share it now!”

    You say “If I didn’t think you were ready, I wouldn’t let you do it.” (Whatever “it” is…)

  7. Emily August 1, 2017 at 11:54 am #

    For the “what if a child chokes,” surely they covered that in the babysitting course, right? I know they did when I took it. Heimlich manoeuvre. Not hard to learn.

  8. Katie August 1, 2017 at 12:15 pm #

    Wow. Where is this? (I’m going to guess Texas or the outer suburbs of DC or NYC) I’ll also guess they are SUV driving idiots. What a bunch of freaks! What are they going to do in 5 years when their 13 year old goes to college?

  9. Dienne August 1, 2017 at 12:23 pm #

    Wow, Katie. So, no regional biases for you, eh? Everyone who comes from Texas or the outer suburbs of New York or DC are all just about the same? And what is an “SUV driving idiot”? Anyone who drives an SUV is an idiot? Broad brush much?

    Anyway, who, specifically are you railing against? The mother who wrote the letter? Do you get that she’s trying to raise her kids with a reasonable amount of common sense and independence so they will grow up to be competent adults? Do you realize that it’s other parents who are interfering with her plans?

  10. Michael August 1, 2017 at 12:27 pm #

    Always teach your children to listen to but not necessarily heed other adults. We teach them to never go anywhere with strangers and to watch for situations that make them uncomfortable – in this case helicopter parents should be treated like other strangers. We taught our kids that other people’s instructions never negated our permission. They had to be polite but they had the ability to say no.

    The freedom to operate under parietal guidelines in the absence of parents is often cited by our adult children as an important part of their early maturation.

  11. Dave August 1, 2017 at 12:39 pm #

    I’d have a relaxed, matter of fact conversation with my son about the needs of other people to be “helpful” by sharing their own fears. Tell your son that some people mean well, but may not have their facts straight. If their advice or comments contradict your own, or common sense, it’s okay to politely ignore them. Or, just refer them to their parents.

  12. Abigail August 1, 2017 at 12:46 pm #

    Ugh! THIS – this is what I try to have my own mother understand. How so many in society make parenting more stressful than before. Not because it is dangerous, rather because fear has shackled us. As a mom of 3, grade school to toddler aged kids, I’m forced to keep them safe from real AND imagined dangers thanks to those who choose to harass with helicoptering.

    @Dienne, thanks for speaking out against the broad condemnation of certain communities and vehicle owners.

  13. Alanna Mozzer August 1, 2017 at 12:51 pm #

    Heard a mom yesterday tell her child not to dive down and touch the bottom of the pool because “it is too deep.” Kid did it anyway, and I wanted to shout, “Good for her!” The depth was nine feet. The child looked to be about twelve years old and would certainly have been old enough to accomplish this.

  14. Diane August 1, 2017 at 12:58 pm #

    I’m still trying to figure the connection between Texas and east coast big city suburbs. I bet most people in either of those places do not feel a great affinity for the other! Lol

  15. Jen August 1, 2017 at 1:14 pm #

    I had assumed that this letter-writer was from Canada given the description of the creek. . .

  16. That mum August 1, 2017 at 1:29 pm #

    They don’t have creeks in the US? What was Andy Griffith fishing in with Opie then?

    I don’t know the answer to this either. I just tell my kids, oh she just worries too much, or something like that. 99% of the kids around here are free range, but there’s always those few… One kid in our neighbourhood is not even allowed to leave his yard, I think he is 7or 8. All the other kids run around the neighbourhood till after the streetlights come on.

  17. Dee August 1, 2017 at 1:34 pm #

    This reminds me of the mom at my son’s daycare who told her son when he wandered a bit: better watch out for the big scary dogs next door who’ll eat you. I always wondered if the kid grew up terrified of dogs.

  18. Eric S August 1, 2017 at 1:35 pm #

    My advice, is to teach your kid not to listen to people who contradicts what YOU’RE teaching them. So if it’s ok with you for him to walk on his own, then anyone who says otherwise is to be ignored. Maybe even add because they are just “scaredy cats” who aren’t as smart or brave as your own kid. Which would be true. Empower him, by teaching him how to ignore stupidity. So that he doesn’t do the same things as those people. And keep encouraging him by doing what you’ve always done. Sounds like your doing a good job already. Just have to keep those distractions of helicopter parents away from your child.

  19. SteveS August 1, 2017 at 1:42 pm #

    We have creeks in the US. Regardless, there are busybodies everywhere. I live in the midwest, which is supposedly filled with common sense, and I hear this kind of nonsense

  20. Jessica August 1, 2017 at 2:30 pm #

    The creek description they’re talking about is measuring it in meters and cm.

  21. Kimberly August 1, 2017 at 2:40 pm #

    I find it interesting that these “do gooders” likely preach the “don’t talk to strangers” & “an adult will never ask a child for help” rules, yet disprove their own logic by imparting these messages on strange children.

  22. Elizabeth S August 1, 2017 at 3:24 pm #

    My 6 year old is very sensitive, high anxiety and very very rule abiding. Every kid is different, but we have found that “immersion therapy” has helped a lot. We stick to semi-controlled situations that will push his boundaries and give him practice with what makes him anxious. Perhaps -intentionally- going to some busy-body locations will give your son practice at assessing other people’s advice to see if it is realistic/accurate, and then moving forward from there.

    We also use the phrase “I trust in your ability to ___ ” filling in the blank with “figure it out/think it through/work through the challenge/etc. When left to his own devices I have heard him talking himself through things with similar wording. Perhaps coming up with a mantra for busybody situations will help your son talk himself through the situation?

  23. SanityAnyone? August 1, 2017 at 3:38 pm #

    I think most kids who have experienced trust and freedom are likely to roll their eyes or scoff quietly when another parent tells them not to walk up the slide or a million other prohibitions. Mine have come to me and said “that lady is really strict, Mommy” or “the teachers don’t trust us outside when the grass is wet, that makes me so mad”.

    I never thought about this specific case where parents are helping their anxious child cope not by overprotection but by careful exposure and preparation. It’s an interesting reminder that we rarely know what we’re walking into when we second guess a parent.

  24. Dienne August 1, 2017 at 3:43 pm #

    “I find it interesting that these “do gooders” likely preach the “don’t talk to strangers” & “an adult will never ask a child for help” rules, yet disprove their own logic by imparting these messages on strange children.”

    Good point, and possibly a good retort to teach your kids. “Junior, go out and have fun. Use your common sense and stay safe, and if any busy body tries to tell you what you can’t do, you tell them that your mom said you’re not allowed to talk to strangers.”

  25. pentamom August 1, 2017 at 3:52 pm #

    The description of the creek was in metric units, and the letter was being written to an American. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the letter writer was from the U.S.

  26. pentamom August 1, 2017 at 3:53 pm #

    But Katie thinks all the people of the sort she doesn’t like live in particular places she doesn’t approve of and drive vehicles that don’t meet her criteria of acceptability. It’s a pattern.

  27. Melissa August 1, 2017 at 4:00 pm #

    Ugh!!! I am just so grateful for this website and movement. It has been a HUGE help just to have a name for this parenting philosophy, because it has been very effective in retorting when a helicopter parent makes a snide remark to me. Before, I had to give a long explanation of why I think my child is not in imminent danger and that developing independence is essential and healthy, etc. Now, I simply say, “Thank you, but we believe in free-range parenting.” If they don’t know the term, I give a short definition. People seem more reluctant to challenge you when they find out it’s part of your BELIEF system. Plus some parents get interested and ask to hear more, and a few have actually started to see the light and loosen the leash after talking with me and seeing my occasional Facebook posts on the subject!

  28. Stephanie Welch August 1, 2017 at 4:34 pm #

    We live in a neighborhood with a whole fleet of helicopter parents. They just can’t seem to allow their kids and other kids in the hood settle there own differences and squabbles, without these helicopter parents interfering and calling the police instead of staying out of the way and letting junior and company decide to either be friends and play together or decide it would be best to stay away from one another for a while. Either way learning how to handle relationships wisely in childhood ups the odds our kids will grow up handling adult relationships as well. As for the many helicopter parents out there maybe wrapping your kids in bubble wrap to make sure they never get hurt is the way to go. After all can’t let the kid grow up to face life prepared he has to be protected. Hmmm! Sounds ominous to me. How about the rest of you parents.

  29. Claudia August 1, 2017 at 5:30 pm #

    I agree that giving your kids the message that you know that they know what to do to keep themselves safe is a good one to at least slightly counter busybodies.

  30. David N. Brown August 1, 2017 at 5:46 pm #

    The bit about wolves sounds like a sick joke, and not just on the obvious level. The only US states not contiguous w/ Canada that still have wolf populations are Oregon, Wyoming and Arizona, where I live. Here, they are barely holding out way down toward the Mexican border, with heavy assistance from captive breeding programs, and the PHX metro papers still print letters saying they should be shot on sight.

  31. Theresa Hall August 1, 2017 at 5:47 pm #

    If your kid is acting like a bully then it’s time to interfere but if they are just having a silly little argument then lay off.

  32. Renee Anne August 1, 2017 at 6:15 pm #

    Unfortunately, children have difficulty “unhearing” what adults tell them (because adults are supposed to be competent and wouldn’t tell them stupid fear-mongering crap, right?!). And that’s just regular, non-anxious/OCD children…..I cannot imagine what this parent went through trying to undo the damage.

    With that said, I have told children when something is truly dangerous (like after I caught a little girl of about 3 as she started falling off a play structure and was about four feet off the ground) but I don’t necessarily tell them that they’re not allowed to do something (that’s on their parents/caregivers – obvious things like running into a busy street for a ball do not fall into the “let the parents deal with it” category because you don’t just run blindly into the street).

  33. Donald August 1, 2017 at 6:29 pm #

    The best things that are remembered are things that we repeat. Religion knew this. I am NOT advocating religion. I am pointing out this learning technique that some may call brainwash. Religion used reputation heavily

    5 times a day, a Muslim would rehearse the central tenants of Islam. 7 times a day a Christian Benedicte monk would revisit the lessons of scripture. An orthodox Jew had 300 days a year marked out for commemoration and ritual ideas written in the Tora. A Zen priest would meditate up to 12 times a day.

    In school, repetition is used very little in comparison. However, there is something in the modern era that is very repetitive. Hate, outrage, and fear is on every news channel. It’s on 24 hours and a few people that I know get text messages sent to their phone about the latest tragedies. Many people binge out on police shows. They like to watch several murders rapes or kidnappings per night.

    Hate, outrage, and fear (HOF) is the new religion. It’s little wonder that some are struggling to know what is real. The dipstick on yesterdays post told off Lenore because he ‘knows’ more about reality than she does!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qbz7DC94G2U

  34. Jamie August 1, 2017 at 9:06 pm #

    I dealt with the fall out from very damaging “advice” from helicopter parents as well.

    I told my little ones that once we agree together that they are ready for something, it doesn’t matter what other people say.

    We practiced some sentences, like “thanks for your opinion” or “my parents know what I’m ready for more than a stranger does” or “your advice is not helpful, you should do more research”

    But also that they didn’t need to respond or engage if they didn’t want to.

    Not sure if what worked for me will work for others but thought I would share.

  35. John B. August 1, 2017 at 10:24 pm #

    Just tonight on the local news, with a new school year starting on Monday, they interviewed a Pediatrician who said although the age of 10 is the earliest recommendation to allow kids to walk to school by themselves, he felt that parents should wait until their child is older because, as he said, recent studies indicate that kids lack more judgment than we think and could accidentally step out in front of a car. He didn’t even consider a family’s proximity to the school whether it be close or far or the size of the town they live in nor did he consider how well trained the child could be. He was just adamant that 10 was too young!

    It’s too bad these Pediatricians don’t realize that kids would have a much greater chance of gaining unnecessary weight getting rides to school every day than they would getting struck by a car as they walked. So is it a wonder why the obesity rate among American children keeps increasing by the year?

    Pretty soon before you know it, 16 will be the new 10. It’s just getting worse folks as more layers of bubble-wrap continue to be strapped around our kids.

  36. Donald August 1, 2017 at 10:30 pm #

    “……a parent told him that pedophiles look for kids in the woods, and if the pedophiles don’t get him, the wolves would.”

    But this is what’s real! The police ladies on the forensic team that were high heels, lipstick, and don’t have a hair out of place say so. Therefore it must be true!

  37. elizabeth August 1, 2017 at 11:12 pm #

    This makes me sad. A person with anxiety already has issues doing “risky”(to them) stuff. Ugh. No words.

  38. William Tippins August 2, 2017 at 12:30 am #

    Why don’t parents just move to Europe? They care about families. They care about their youngest citizens. We don’t.

    No wonder I’m not going to have children, what an awful childhood they’d have in the so-called “Land of the free.”

  39. Joseph P Silvestri August 2, 2017 at 2:12 am #

    Thanks for sharing Lenore, and for pushing back with Freerangekids.com

  40. sexhysteria August 2, 2017 at 2:46 am #

    One possibility is for parents to be more aggressive against busybodies. Give your son a cell phone to video any idiot who approaches him and record the harassment. The kid can also ask if the idiot would like to state her name and address. Then when the kid gets home the parent can call the police to report the hysteric. If no criminal charge is filed, a private attorney could sue the idiot for damages. A report about it in the media would make other idiots think twice before they bother any more kids.

  41. Andrew August 2, 2017 at 6:54 am #

    “it’s not safe for you to walk home without an adult” – because children with adults are never hit by cars? Is there some sort of magic protective shield? Perhaps unaccompanied children might be less at risk, because drivers are more careful around them?

    “pedophiles look for kids in the woods” – Well Known Fact. They lurk behind every tree, along with the vampires and ghosts and ghouls and terrorists. Oh, and the wolves and bears and lions and tigers… That is why *so many* children are attacked in the woods every day, or devoured by wildlife. Must be literally hundreds a day, surely, in each wooded area. Well, dozens. Some anyway. Perhaps one or two per decade?

  42. Donna August 2, 2017 at 11:16 am #

    Mini-me had to come to court with me for a couple hours yesterday afternoon (no time to run her home between camp pick up and needing to be in court). I gave her money and told her she could go to Ben & Jerry’s to get ice cream while I worked. Several of the court personnel told me repeatedly how brave I was to let her go by herself. The kid, almost 12, was walking less than 4 blocks in the middle of the afternoon in the retail district of a college town, not crossing the Sahara on a camel! This did not require a great leap of bravery on my part (I wasn’t even slightly concerned about authorizing this in the juvenile court in the presence of at least 6 CPS workers). People really need to ratchet down their fear.

  43. David Buchner August 2, 2017 at 12:24 pm #

    Yeah, up there in Canadia they got them metric creeks, y’know?

    Sigh. Yeah, echoing what others have already written, I think you’ve just gotta talk about it all with the kid himself. A lot. But I guess they’re already doing that, with a diagnosis and therapy and all — first, just the knowledge that the panic attacks are his brain mistakenly going to survival mode all by itself when there’s not necessarily a real problem. Second, just frankly establishing the confidence that some people are wrong. That they’re afraid of everything and they want you to be, too, and just because they sound like they know what they’re talking about doesn’t mean they do. Maybe it doesn’t seem like much — but just as every scary remark from an outsider will stick with him, every reminder that his parents trust him will too.

  44. Judy Gruen August 2, 2017 at 12:37 pm #

    Lost in this discussion is any concept of religious faith — an incredibly useful antidote to anxiety, at least to some degree. I don’t mean to come across as preachy in any way, shape or form. I know full well that true anxiety requires a multi-pronged approach to get it under control, and there is no quick or simple fix.

    However, the belief in a loving God who’s “got your back,” so to speak, who is always there with you, and to whom you can turn and “give over” some of your worry and pain, is a true balm that not only can help with anxiety in the moment, but also can help strengthen a person’s own sense of self and strength.

    Just sayin.’

  45. shdd August 2, 2017 at 12:50 pm #

    16 is the new 10. I am “letting” my 15 year old walk a mile home from camp including a 57 step staircase. According to my husband’s family I am the mean Mommy who can’t adjust her schedule to pick up her child. In reality I am a hard working Mom who is trying to teach her daughter to conquer her fears. She has only seen deer twice and lived to tell about it.

    We are thinking of using the 57 steps in her college essay.

  46. Willow August 2, 2017 at 2:54 pm #

    Oh, that photo! The stick could poke your eye out. You could drone in the stream, or get giardia. I see leaves floating – there could be a dead tree ready to fall on your head. When you fall in and your hat floats away, people will be looking for a college football player, not a little boy. And those Crocs – they will deform your feet.

  47. Ben August 2, 2017 at 4:07 pm #

    “He eagerly completed his babysitter’s course but won’t babysit now because a mother told him that he’s too young to babysit, because what if a child chokes!?!?!”

    So pray tell, what do they actually teach in babysitting courses these days? A child choking is an actual likely danger, so why has that course not prepared him for what to do in that situation?

    Put him in a first aid course and then send him out to babysit. !

  48. anne August 3, 2017 at 6:50 pm #

    I would tell them that a child is more likely to be kidnapped by someone they know then by a complete stranger. Especially if there might be a custody disagreement.

  49. Joel August 4, 2017 at 8:10 am #

    Just had a thought, wouldn’t it be funny if one of these parents came up to a child to warn them of some Danger and a child flipped out maced the adult beat them soft with a collapsible baton and said oh sorry you’re a stranger and I thought you were going to abduct Me.