When should we jump in to defend our kids?

When they were young.

I was always a stickler for what was right or wrong and I never shied away from addressing any issue. I would go to bat for my kids whenever I felt they were being slighted. Looking back, I see that is a trait of helicopter parenting and I might have done more good for my kids by letting them fight their own battles.

Here are a few battles I took on when I thought my kids weren’t being treated right:

I wrote an email to my son’s AP History teacher to complain about his grade. He was .05 off an A and I felt the teacher should round it up. I got a note back explaining that if he were to round up my son’s grade, he’d have to go back and do the same thing for every other student in his grade book who was a fraction off the next higher grade. (Not a bad idea, I thought!) My son was being passed over for his school’s nomination for the coveted National Merit Scholarship award because of the B, but he lived through it.

When I felt a coach was picking on my son, I made an appointment to complain about it, only to find out that he had earned the “coach’s award” for best attitude and effort. That surprised me and I’m embarrassed about that meeting to this day.

When my daughter was given five days of after-school detention for forgetting to bring the photocopy of Christmas song lyrics to music class, I complained that the punishment was over the top. In fact, other kids were given two nights detention, so there was a definite crossing the line by the music teacher—in my humble opinion.

There are countless other incidents where I went to battle for my kids. I do believe I taught them the difference between right and wrong and that they should stand up for themselves. At least that’s what I told myself at the time.

I couldn’t understand why other parents would stand by and let bad things happen to their kids. I do now. Sometimes it’s better to keep your mouth shut and shrug your shoulders. I’ve found that some of the things that would have bugged me to no end, will soon disappear on their own within a few days or weeks. By making an issue out of little things, they can turn into big ones and burn a lot of energy and create angst.

My daughter complained to me last night that during a meeting with students on a group project, the guys were complaining that all the women coming forward about sexual harassment were “just looking for attention.” That infuriated my daughter to no end. I asked her if she was going to put up with it or wanted to go to the professor or counselor and complain. She decided to let it go. She’s a week from being done with the class and just wants to get through it. I told her I would stand by whatever she decided.

When my son received a letter telling him he was kicked out of school during the summer after his freshman year for bad grades, I was horrified. But, then I stood by and watched him research his options online. He wrote a letter to contest the decision and got hospital and doctor records to substantiate his unfortunate circumstances of an injury and surgery which caused too many missed classes. He was let back in without me doing a thing. After that, he earned As.

Me and my boy.

One thing I know about parenting is all we can do is try our best. It’s been my goal to raise kids who know the difference between right and wrong and will try their best as well.

What do you think about parents fighting battles for their kids? Are they helping or hurting them by getting involved?

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The not-so-funny truth about helicopter parents

 

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The goal is to raise happy, healthy kids who experience failure at times so they can also experience success.

 

I often joke that I’m a recovering helicopter parent. But, it’s not that funny after all. It’s important to raise kids who can handle the curve balls life throws at them. By not allowing our kids to fail, we’re robbing them of the ability to learn, grow, and understand hard work. Not only that, but studies show that kids with helicopter parents suffer more from anxiety and depression.

In an article in USA Today by Katy Piotrowski, M.Ed. called “How to help your adult children find success,” it appears success comes most often after failure. So, if we’re not allowing our kids the chance to fail, how will they be successful later in life?

Here are a few tips from the article:

“In a study reported in Psychology Today, the majority of children with helicopter parents have higher anxiety and view life’s challenges as being more daunting than those with more hands-off moms and dads. So what can we do, as parents, to truly support career success in our children? Psychiatrist Joel Young, M.D., suggests these strategies:

“Rather than sharing your goals and wishes for your child, listen to theirs. This builds their skills in independent thought and critical thinking, and sidesteps imposing your values on them.

“When your child receives a consequence, such as not getting hired for a job you think they’d excel in, don’t try to intervene to change the outcome.

“Avoid being your adult child’s keeper and don’t remind them of deadlines. By middle school, they should have learned to stay on top of their to-do lists.

“Instead of offering your solutions to their career challenges, encourage your child to come up with remedies on their own.”

Honestly, is there anything worse than watching your kids suffer, feel hurt or experience failure? We want to make life easy for them. But, while they are young, let them flunk a few tests, or oversleep for school. These are minor things that they can self-correct. They can learn from their mistakes. If we’ve helped our kids every step of the way from kindergarten through their senior year in high school, and they’ve never experienced failure, they may feel overwhelmed when they get a lousy grade on a college paper or fail an exam. They also may feel they aren’t worthy and are incapable on their own without their helicopter parent at their side to save them.

It reminds me of a book I learned about at a writer’s conference more than a decade ago called “Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes Into Stepping Stones” by John C. Maxwell. It was recommended for writers to read this book because in this tough profession we face rejection after rejection and the key is to keep going and fail forward, rather than failing backward. I believe it’s an important read for parents, too, so that we allow our kids the growth experience that only failure provides.

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Before my kids experienced anxiety, stress or failure. Those were the days!

What other sad side-effects do you think helicopter parents may inflict upon their children–with the best intentions? Do you know any helicopter parents? What have you seen them do that you would never do yourself?

 

Watch out college students, helicopter parents are coming, too!

 

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I was a helicopter parent when they were young.

I enjoy reading and posting stories about helicopter parents because the outrageous, over-the-top behavior of the few mentioned makes me feel like I’ve done a decent job parenting my two young adults.

In “Crazy Parents Are Calling Up Colleges Pretending to Be Their Kids” by Kristen Fleming in the New York Post, I wonder exactly who are these parents and what are they thinking?

A friend told me about someone they knew whose only child was going to start at the University of Redlands which is about 40 miles away. My friend was surprised to hear that the mom got a hotel room and stayed the first week so she could be close to her son. The parents didn’t want him to be alone. When he got a poor grade on a paper, the dad called the University president to complain! Yes, this is a true story. I can only imagine how the student’s four years went—or if he made it that long.

 

Here are two examples from the article:

“I think the wackiest example was when a mother called and asked for permission to do her daughter’s internship for her because [the girl] had too much anxiety. I said, ‘It sounds to me that this would be a fun and interesting experience for you but I don’t think your daughter is going to get any credit for it,’ ” recalled Jonathan Gibralter, president of Wells College in upstate New York.

An administrator at a liberal arts college in the Northeast, who asked to remain anonymous for professional reasons, has trouble keeping up with the parental texts and e-mails that flood her phone.

“Over the last two or three years it’s become unbearable,” she said. “I’ve had parents calling up and impersonating their children, asking questions that could have been easily asked by their kids. One lady didn’t even bother to disguise her Long Island soccer-mom voice.”

I learned that technology is partially to blame and that the cell phone is the world’s longest umbilical cord at my daughter’s orientation for students and parents at the University of Utah. We were told to not jump every time the cell phone rang or we received a text. Let our kids learn to problem solve was the advice. Usually, they’re just venting and the problem will solve itself or be no big deal after a day.

In the New York Post article, technology is pointed out to be an issue and one main cause of helicopter parenting:

Harlan Cohen, who wrote the book “The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College” is in demand at schools as an instructional speaker.

“I’ve heard all of the horror stories,” said Cohen, who recently led a seminar for parents at Purdue University in Indiana. “I’ve heard stories of parents wanting to come along for job interviews, coming unannounced to resident halls and reaching out to the president for every little situation.”

Still, he said, “I’m sympathetic to both sides.”

He blames technology for the seismic shift in academic life. Previous generations had to rely on landlines and phone cards to call home, limiting contact and allowing kids to feel their way through challenges. Now, armed with smartphones, students are apt to sound off with a text or social-media post after a frustrating encounter with a professor or roommate — raising the alarm back at home.

I have a relative who stayed up several nights to finish projects for her son and she also would rewrite his papers. She was very upset when he (she?) got a bad grade and made an appointment to speak to the teacher about it. She had the good sense to laugh about it and said it was hard not to say “Why did you give me this bad grade?” — rather than her son. It dawned on her that she might be doing too much for him.

Why do you think parents are so overly involved in their high school and college-aged kids lives?

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I think they’ve had enough of my posing them for pictures!

Why kids want instant gratifcation and how helicopter parents make it worse

Back when it was okay to helicopter.

Back when it was okay to helicopter.

Here’s a story I wrote two years ago about why kids today have more trouble facing challenges their first year away from home than previous generations. As parents, is it our fault?

The numbers don’t lie. ACT states that 50% of kids do not return to college for their second year, and then only 25% of those graduate in five years. US News and World Report, which ranks colleges annually, changed one of its measurements from a graduation rate of five years to six years! I don’t know about you, but I’d like to know the percentage of kids that get out in four!

Letting my kids play and be kids.

Letting my kids be kids.

I’ve given my two cents worth in Four Reasons Why Kids Fail Their Freshman Year. This time around, I asked Nicolle Walters, RN, PhD, Clinical Psychologist for her expertise. In addition to being a practicing therapist, she’s the mother of two kids about the same ages as mine.

Why do our kids have such a hard time once they’re away from us? They’ve worked so hard to fill their resumes with high grades, SAT scores, leadership, community service, sports, or music. Yet, these kids who look perfect on paper can’t handle the daily demands of life on their own. How much of the failure is our fault? 

According to Dr. Walters, our kids aren’t prepared for college. She said, “Part of the reason is our instant gratification society. They want everything right now—and get it with technology like streaming, etc. They don’t learn self-discipline. They don’t have to wait for things like we did.”

She said, “I know it sounds contrary or strange, but kids who come from dysfunctional families and had to take care of themselves are more equipped to deal with everyday problems, compared to kids who had parents who did everything for them.”

“Also, A lot of kids don’t learn how to work hard. If you’re smart, you don’t need to work hard in high school, and they aren’t prepared for college. Our kids need skills like planning ahead and self-discipline.”

Here’s another thought she had, “College is totally different. Class time is switched and it’s the opposite of what they are used to. They are used to spending eight hours in class and studying a smaller amount of hours at night. In college, it’s two or three hours a day of class, but they need to study for six to eight,” Dr. Walters said.

Today on TV, I heard a Stanford expert, Julie Lythcott-Haims, talk about her book, “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.” She says we are literally ruining a generation of kids. She said it’s not just at Stanford, but in colleges throughout the country. You can read more here.

This week on SwimSwam I list the things we do for our kids that we need to stop doing. Like today.

We are smothering our kids and crippling their self-development. I know this because I’m guilty of a ton of it. I’m looking back at how concerned I was with performance, how busy my kids’ lives were, and because of those two factors I jumped in and did too much for them.

My kids being kids. They're okay despite my hovering.

The kids are okay despite my hovering.

Here’re are links to a couple other stories I’ve written about getting our kids ready and self-sufficient for college:

My Confessions as a Helicopter Mom 

10 Things Our Kids Need to Know Before College

If we as parents are over parenting like the experts claim, then what should we do to help our kids? I’d love to hear your thoughts, too.

Parents Beware: Coaches Are Watching You, Too

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Signing day.

It’s college recruiting season for swimming and articles are tweeted and posted hourly of recruits signing with universities. I ran across an interesting article from USA Today about parents and recruiting called “How college coaches evaluate parents” by Fred Bastie, owner and founder of playced.com, a college recruiting company.

In the article, Bastie interviewed Pat Fitzgerald, the football coach at Northwestern University who said, “An increasingly larger part of the evaluation of the prospect, for us, is evaluating the parents. It’s a big part of the evaluation.”

He breaks down the troublesome parents into five categories:

The Helicopter Parent
The Sideline Coach Parent
The Scouting Director Parent
The Sports Agent Parent
The Lawnmower Parent

I remember my daughter’s college recruiting experience and I’m pleased to say that we did not do the things listed in this article that wave red flags in front of college coaches.

Isn’t it sad that some parents, who are honestly trying to help their children, could be the reason their child misses a chance at a scholarship or a spot on a team? I remember when my kids were younger, like 13 or 14, and at a swim meet with college teams and coaches. I was at the end of the lane, enthusiastically cheering for my kids and their teammates. One mom with two kids around the same age, pulled me aside and said, “Don’t you know that the coaches won’t want your kids because of you standing at the end of the lane cheering?”

At the time, I thought she was crazy. My kids were too young to be thinking about college and surely no coach cared what I did. I went on cheering. I do not think being enthusiastic is a red flag to a coach. And I was probably right that no coaches were looking at a 13-year-old who barely made it into the meet.

When I interviewed coaches for an article for SwimSwam magazine, many of them expressed concern about helicopter parents, but several coaches had another take. They looked at how the athletes treated their parents. One coach passed over a child for being rude and obnoxious to her mother. In that case, it wasn’t the parent who ruined the opportunity, but a kid who acted like a rude, spoiled brat. Of course, you have to consider someone raised that ungracious child in the first place.

In my opinion, it’s not the parent who coaches want to avoid dealing with, but it’s how well the children of overbearing parents will adapt to being away from home for the first time. It’s how well they’ll handle adversity and be productive, giving teammates. In the article, it states something our own club coach has said, “There are only two people the college coach wants to talk to: 1. the athlete, 2. the athlete’s coach.”

That said, what role do you think parents have in the college recruiting process?

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My daughter and friend on a recruiting trip.

 

 

Are millennials awful? Or, is it the normal “old vs. young” thing?

 

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My millennials and pupper.

While my husband and I were driving to the movies, I had the radio tuned to a top-40 countdown. We were at number two–ready to find out who was the top song of the week–when he turned off the radio and said he couldn’t stand today’s music.

I told him, “I guess you really are an old fart.”

He said he was thinking exactly the same thing. “I’ve become one of those old geezers who can’t listen to the younger generation’s music.” He said it sounded like noise to him and he didn’t get it.

That exchange struck me today when I was reading an article in Business Insider that talked about how helicopter parents may be better than what we get credit for and that the millennials are turning out okay.

According to Libby Kane in “Millennials are turning out better than anyone expected — and it may be thanks to their parents” her generation was set up for success better than previous generations and a lot is thanks to their parents. Many of the bias against them could be due to generational differences. She talked with researchers to find out if her theory was true.

“ ‘What we’ve learned in our Generation Nation deep-dive is that, while behavior and beliefs may be influenced by generations, they’re dictated by life stages,’ wrote the researchers, who decided to do this research to have cross-generational data points after years of studying millennials specifically. ’In other words, how Gen Z is today is just as Gen X would have been today had Gen Xers been born 35 years later.’

“I spoke to principal researcher Michael Wood about the report, and floated my theory by him. Are millennials really so entitled, and lazy, and difficult to deal with? (You know you’ve heard it.) Why is hating on millennials so popular?

“ ‘If you go back in time, Boomers were also referred to as the me generation,’ Wood told me. ‘We’ve always carried biases against people who are younger than we are.’

Millennials are those between the ages of 20 and 35. Both of my kids fall into that category, although on the younger end. The older millennials were set up for success by their “helicopter-caring” parents, and then their futures got hit by the economic crash a decade ago.

“One of Wood’s standout findings from the research was the incredible resilience of millennials. ‘They’re still very upbeat, they’re very hopeful, and they have a positive outlook on their generation and what they’re going to contribute to the greater good,’ he said. ‘I find that fascinating and reassuring, and it confirms what we’ve always believed.’

“In the report, millennials were more likely than other generations to agree with statements expressing a desire to make the world a better place, confirming a purpose in life, and projecting a confidence in the US, the government, and each other to work together to solve problems.

“Plus, here’s a sentence from the report to inspire some teeth-gnashing: ‘Playing against type, millennials are actually an employer’s dream.’ This is largely because millennials are willing to work hard for an employer who supports them, and they tend to blur the lines between life and work — they’re more willing than members of other generations to catch up on work during their personal time. ‘Millennials truly care about their work,’ wrote the researchers. ‘And they care about it beyond being a means to a paycheck.’ “

During college orientation with my daughter at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, I learned many of these facts about millennials in a talk called “Supporting Your College Student” presented by Dr. Kari Ellingson, Associate Vice President, Student Affairs, and a psychologist. I wrote some parenting tips from her talk here.

I think it’s important to learn about generational tendencies to better understand our own kids and what they’re going through. Here are a few of the things I learned from Dr. Ellingson:

Millenials are those born from 1980 to 2000. They are a generation that doesn’t like to suffer. They like having nice things and they don’t mind working for it. But, that can interfere with their education. It’s best if they work on campus. A student that works 10 to 15 hours on campus will do better in school than someone who works off campus, or doesn’t work at all. Also, delayed maturation is common. It used to be people matured around 19, 20, 21. Today it’s 26, 27 and 28.

HOPES
We all have hopes for our kids that include these things: Graduation. Career. Education. Responsible Adult. Financially Responsible. Time Management. Problem-solving.

FEARS
Our kids will go through fears during their years in college. For example, those who did well in high school with very little effort will find they won’t do as well in college and it can become an identity crisis.

They firmly believe not to stay in a major they do not like. A child dreams of being a doctor their entire life, but they may find they don’t like the smell of hospitals, or they can’t pass the Chemistry class–this can be another identity crisis. It’s important for them to take advantage of general ed requirements their first years of college to find what they do like. Internships are important, too.

INDEPENDENCE
First steps are towards you as a toddler. Every step after that is away from you. “How can I be on my own?” is another one of their fears.

Dr. Ellingson’s final statements stayed with me. “Most people who enter crises come out stronger and ahead on the other side.” And as for us parents of millennials?
You will change from “taking care of them, to caring for them.”

What are your opinions of millennials? Do you they think they are a different generation from us because of technology or traits such as laziness? Or are our differences between generations the normal living through life’s phases that we all go through?

 

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Back in the day.

 

What are 14 things helicopter parents do?

 

 

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My kids had long days of unstructured playtime at the beach.

 

I found three interesting articles about helicopter parents today. The first from the HuffPost is called “Do You Recognize the 3 Warning Signs of a Helicopter Parent?”
The author David Wygant goes into more detail that you can read here, but the bullet points are below:

#1: Their kids can’t really leave or go anywhere without them
#2: Vacations basically don’t exist without the kids
#3: No sleepovers allowed

I can add to this list, from my own mistakes and from watching other helicopter parents. I like to think of myself as a reformed helicopter parent—or at least one who’s been grounded. Here are my warning signs to add to the previous three points:

#4: You walk your kids into their classroom and “help” them put their things away.
#5: You chat with the teacher daily about your child’s progress and what they can work on to get ahead.
#6: You never turn down an opportunity to volunteer at your children’s school.
#7: You’ve been room mom every year.
#8: You arrange playdates with kids you would like your children to become friends with.
#9: After school, you empty your child’s backpack or book bag and go through all their graded work and homework assignments without them.
#10: You supervise homework sitting down at their side.
#11: You go to every swim practice and talk to the coach every day after practice to ask how your child is doing.
#12: You have nothing to talk about with your friends except how exceptional your children are.
#13: You have a tough time listening to anyone else and often interrupt or walk away while someone else is talking.
#14: Your children don’t have any downtime in their lives and you’re always involved in everything they do.

Like I said, I honestly did not do these things. Well, at least not all of them. Here is the second parenting article I read today called “Time To Ditch the Helicopter, Parents” written by Kevin Thomas:

During orientation programs, when students and parents split into separate groups, there are often talks to Mom and Dad about letting go and the dangers of the helicopter parent. These are nice ways of saying it’s not about you.

The helicopter parent, for those new to the term, is the one who can never stay out of the kid’s life, interfering, making the most the routine choices or performing the smallest chores for the child (who is no longer a child).

When my previous offspring prepared to attend a military academy, we read posts on a parents’ Facebook page, asking how to pack for their child. These young people were going off to college to learn how to become military leaders in battle, and they couldn’t pack their own duffle bag?

Love is not coddling. It about knowing when to let go.

The last parenting article is from 2015 and reposted recently. It includes an excerpt from Julie Lythcott-Haims in her book “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.” You can read more here.

Former Stanford Dean Says Overparenting Leads To Kids Being Unprepared For College

Around the country, students are moving into college dorms for the first time. As former dean of freshmen at Stanford University, Julie Lythcott-Haims observed parents becoming increasingly involved in their children’s lives. Consequently, their kids arrived at college without some basic living skills. In response, Lythcott-Haims published the 2015 book, “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.”

Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti’s revisits a conversation from August 2015 with Lythcott-Haims (@DeanJulie) about the book.

3 Parenting Tips From Julie Lythcott-Haims

Stop staying “we.” In conversation about your children, don’t refer to their work or achievements by using “we.” “We” are not on the soccer team, “we’re” not doing the science project, and “we’re” not applying to college.
Stop arguing with the adults in your children’s lives. Kids need to learn to advocate for themselves with their teachers, coaches or other school staff. They should have these conversations themselves.
Stop doing your children’s homework. The only way kids will learn is by doing their work themselves.

Have you seen parents doing things on my list? Can you add to it?

 

Letting my kids play and be kids.

I supervised from a distance, of course.