Saturday, January 2, 2010

Helicopter Parenting

He had been a behavior problem since the beginning of the school year. Finally, after a particularly egregious act, his teacher gave a punishment meant to get his attention: one full week without recess. She wrote a note to the parents explaining their son's infraction and consequences, hoping for cooperation and support from the home front. She was to be disappointed. At lunch time the next day, the mother appeared at the classroom door. She took her son out for lunch and did not return him to school until recess was long over.

The little boy got the message loud and clear: no matter what he did, he could count on his parents to shield him from the consequences.

Believe it or not, this is a true story. This type of occurrence didn't happen frequently, but in my 20 year teaching career, I saw my share of overprotective parents. They were the ones who turned a deaf ear to anyone who dared to voice concerns about their child. At the first sign of trouble, they would rush to the child's aid, even going so far as to interfere with consequences the child faced. A term has been coined to identify this "hovering" behavior-Helicopter Parents.

They start out with the best of intentions. They want to protect their children from the pain they perhaps remember experiencing in their own youth. Their hope is to provide every opportunity for their child to experience only happiness and success.

Great intentions, but not especially wise. Pain and disappointment are tools God uses to mature us. Without them, we will be immature and incomplete (James 1:4).

Another portion of Scripture discourages the idea of helicopter parenting as well: Galatians 6. "Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ... for each one will bear his own load." The two Greek words, frequently translated as burden and load, sound similar in English. However, the original Greek words actually hold two separate connotations. A burden is almost always used in a negative sense, for something particularly oppressive and overwhelming. It is too much for one person to bear, which is why Paul encourages a sharing of the load. In this particular context, a brother has sinned and is looking to be restored. Falling back into that sin can be avoided through the active support of the Christian community. They are not helping him avoid consequences. They are helping him to avoid a repeat performance.

On the other hand, a load is most often used to describe a burden due to a duty or obligation. Christ assured his followers: "My yoke is easy and my load is light." Most responsibilities are meant to be borne by the individual. There was a real sense of individual responsibility in the New Testament church. Paul wrote the Ephesians that each one "must labor, performing with their hands what is good" (Ephesians 4:28).

There are oppressive burdens we need the support of others to overcome. But this does not release us from individual ongoing responsibility in responding correctly to our circumstances. If we release people from accountability, we create an opportunity for them to illegitimately view themselves as victims when negative consequences for their actions occur. This is unhealthy and can lead one down an ultimately destructive path.

The same is true in raising children. Yes, you are your child's advocate and protector. But be careful how quickly you come to their rescue. Stop and pray for wisdom before leaping to their defense. Allowing them to circumvent consequences may well be robbing them of an important life lesson. As C.S. Lewis once stated, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." Pain is an effective tool in God's capable hands. He uses it to teach us responsibility, perseverance, and to give us a healthy, realistic self-image. Most importantly, when we are in pain, we look to God, bringing our relationship with Him to ever-deepening, more intimate levels.

Pain isn't always bad. Sometimes it is just hard. And the truth is, hard is often quite good for us.

"God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." Hebrews 12:10-11