The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting

By December 8, 2009 blogging, Jessica, Rant

An article I’ve been waiting years for. Standout message:

We were so obsessed with our kids’ success that parenting turned into a form of product development. Parents demanded that nursery schools offer Mandarin, since it’s never too soon to prepare for the competition of a global economy. High school teachers received irate text messages from parents protesting an exam grade before class was even over; college deans described freshmen as “crispies,” who arrived at college already burned out, and “teacups,” who seemed ready to break at the tiniest stress.

My friend is a Kindergarten teacher and we were talking about this over dinner Saturday. We both work in academia, she at the secondary level, me at the post-secondary, and we both experience overparenting in our environments. Every summer and fall parents flood our campus with teenagers in tow visiting every department and collecting every brochure and booklet we print no matter how insignificant.

I believe a lot of this phenomenon results from the community nature of the internet that arose in the ’90s. Information is everywhere and it is instant and en masse. There are thousands of communities, blogs and Twitter lists directed at parenting issues, especially for mom’s. Every topic from knee scrapes to college tuition are discussed daily by thousands of people and while it beats the comparatively isolated environment my mother raised us in, it also can easily breed a lot of fear, competition and mixed messages.

Take food and diet for instance. A few weeks ago I stumbled upon a Twitter topic about healthy diets after watching Food Inc. Being in the agriculture industry I was initially impressed at how much the parents knew about what we do and how the industry worked, good and bad. It quickly went downhill when a popular mom blogger went off the deep end to say her kids had NEVER eaten a product containing GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms) and she couldn’t fathom how much guilt a parent must feel when they do. Ten more responses appeared agreeing almost instantly, although I could sense that they weren’t telling the truth and were just agreeing because they didn’t wan to be that parent. Deciding to stir the pot, I stated passively that as GMO label notifaction isn’t required in this country it’s impossible to know the absolute genetic content of our food and furthermore not all GMO’s are bad. I received messages for two weeks from angry parents saying they felt sorry for my children and might report me. The conversation eventually moved on to putting children on gluten-free diets even though they hadn’t yet shown signs of any allergy. It was starting to feel like M√ľnchausens, so I bailed.

I’m not saying I’m not without fault. I don’t even have children and sometimes am scolded for being a helicopter parent to my cats. Parenting is no easy feat, but I think people just need to forgive themselves and allow themselves to have fun with their kids and laugh. Neil cleaned a quarry’s worth of rocks in his mouth and I tried my first cigarette at eleven and we turned out all right, not to mention full of now funny and memorable stories of failure and trial. Like it or not, it is very true you remember these times more than the average or the uneventful.

What do you think of helicopter parents? Are you one? Think you’ll be one?