Helicopter vs. Free-Range Parenting

Today’s guest poster, Brian Jones,  has attempted an honest discussion about two very different parenting approaches. Please weigh in with your thoughts – what do you think? Which approach leads to better-adjusted kids?

Parenting is one of the toughest jobs in the world. After all, as a parent, you are in charge of shaping and preparing your children to become useful members of society. Today, many theories abound which attempt to distinguish the best method of child rearing. The parenting philosophy spectrum contains a wide range of options, yet the two at opposing ends are the most controversial those being the helicopter and the free-range parent.

Below we will outline what each style entails and determine what type of parenting is, in fact, better for children:

The helicopter parent

The helicopter parent is so named because their actions tend to mimic that of a helicopter. In other words, they hover around their children so much that the children are unable to make their own choices or do anything for themselves. Although these helicopter parentsparents are typically found hovering over their younger children, even older children or teens can have parents with helicopter tendencies.

Examples of helicopter parents include intervening in a playground scuffle instead of allowing the children an opportunity to stand up for themselves, signing the child up for various activities in which they have no interest or even, and this is something people have actually done, research different types of home security monitoring equipment to keep track of the kids’ comings and goings.

The actions of a helicopter parent tend to embarrass their children as they are made to feel perpetually inadequate to decide anything for themselves. Their parents have total control over every single aspect of their lives.

The result of this type of parenting typically goes one of two ways. The first potential outcome is an adult who has such low confidence levels that they do not even attempt to complete tasks themselves. Instead, they constantly ask for help as this is how they have grown accustomed to life working. These adults will make poor employees since they show no self-ambition or confidence in their abilities. Moreover, they tend to be fearful since their parents always presented everything in their life as a potential danger.

The second potential outcome for a child raised by a helicopter parent is the child going the total opposite way and rebelling against everything they were taught to think or believe. In some cases, an adult child will even cut themselves off from their controlling parents as a means of making their life their own.


Free-range parenting

Free-range parenting is as far from helicopter parenting that a parent could go. This style of parenting treats children as young adults who are free range childrencapable of making mature decisions themselves. Moreover, free-range parents tend to rely on others around them to help keep their children disciplined. Where helicopter parents plan each aspect of their child’s life, the free-range parent will likely not make decisions regarding any aspect of their child’s life.

These parents often do not make their children finish a sport they started if they decide they no longer want to participate. Moreover, there is no pushing a child to do better at school, behave kindly to others or even to go to school in some cases. This method, of course, is much broader than the examples previously mentioned.

Lenore Skenazy a columnist at the New York Sun brought free-range parenting front and center when she wrote about permitting her 9-year-old son to ride the Subway system in New York City alone. Skenazy received many criticisms by those who thought her actions were reckless, dangerous and irresponsible. However, there were some parents who agreed that kids should have more freedom than they were being given by most parents.


What style is best?

In theory, both parenting styles offer some positive aspects. However, neither is guaranteed to create the ideal environment for a child to grow and learn. Children need age-appropriate supervision and responsibilities, meaning that the correct style of parenting would be somewhere in between these two extremes.

For example, a great way to keep up with older kids without them feeling smothered is texting them after school to inquire about their afternoon plans or having a family wide predetermined plan of action as far as what a child should do after school and when they should be home. Most phone companies have family plans that make this possible and help children feel a little more independent.

When kids are younger, it is important for parents stay involved, but there are some things where it’s okay to take a step back. The main idea is to be involved and caring without overstepping boundaries. In addition, boundaries must be widened as kids continue to grow. After all, how can they learn to take care of themselves when they go off to college or move out if their parents always do everything for them?

In conclusion, the goal is to care about the child enough to inquire about their lives and encourage them to achieve greatness while respecting their wishes when it comes to healthy boundaries and choices that they are capable of making. The most important and probably the hardest thing about parenting is enabling and empowering.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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One Response to Helicopter vs. Free-Range Parenting

  1. Nancy Sathre-Vogel May 13, 2013 at 7:01 pm #

    @gingerbeard, Very true. Sometimes that balance is hard to find, but it’s a must for all of us. Too often, parents either don’t give their enough freedom or they give them too much – and neither one is ideal.

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