In Defense of Helicopter Parenting

Sometimes it's a rescue helicopter, you know?

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Conventional wisdom on helicopter parents is that they’re, well, the worst. Overprotective. Smothering. Interfering. Keeping kids from growing and making choices and making mistakes and picking themselves up and becoming independent beings. They're the parents who interfere in youth sports. The parents ever-present on the playground. The parents who drive kids a block to school. The parents who swoop in when someone tries to discipline their darlings or criticize them or give them a bad grade.

They’re constantly hovering, rotors cutting the air, noise impossible to ignore, blowing things every which way in their wake.

And sure, there are those parents. If they didn’t exist, the Internet would have to invent them to give everybody somebody to roll their eyes at and complain about. 

Those of us parenting kids with special needs, though, may have another point of view on those helicopters. We know that growing and making choices and making mistakes and picking yourself up and becoming an independent being are good goals — but secondary to, for example, staying alive. We know that kids with particular difficulties with impulse control and social skills and transitions and executive function do indeed need saving sometimes, in a way their typical peers maybe don't. We know that mishaps and misunderstandings can have consequences for our kids more dire than most parents can understand.

We know there’s more to helicopters than noise and hot air and hovering.

Some helicopters are rescue helicopters. Sometimes people are too ambitious and need to be lifted to safety; sometimes the environment turns hostile unexpectedly and only a helicopter can sweep in and save the day. Being a helicopter parent sometimes means letting your child try something but staying vigilant and within eye- and earshot in case things don’t go as planned.

Some helicopters put out fires. They can plunge into dangerous situations and take care of trouble spots that would otherwise be impossible to subdue. Sometimes helicopter parenting means dashing in to quickly cool off a heated situation before somebody gets burned.

Some helicopters check the traffic. From their hovering vantage point, they can tell which way to go for a successful trip and which way will bring frustration, anger, and road rage. Sometimes helicopter parenting means setting a child up for a productive and enriching experience instead of one that will lead to dead ends, tears, failure, and bad feelings. You need to be on hand to see the lay of the land.

Some helicopters are medevacs. They’re useful for getting people to emergency medical treatment as quickly as possible. Sometimes helicopter parenting means hoping that your child with medical issues will be able to have a typical childhood experience but accepting that your knowledge of your child’s history and needs will be essential in a crisis.

It helps to be hovering when every second counts.

Some helicopters have stealth capabilities. They can provide surveillance without making a lot of fuss, but still be ready to drop in when needed. That’s something helicopter parents should aspire to — hovering, ready to rescue, extinguish, redirect, and provide medical assistance in a flash without making their presence painfully obvious. But if our kids need us? You better believe we'll be on the scene.

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