Just Hug Those Helicopter Parents


Parents always take a lot of heat in conversations about Generation Y. They're overindulgent, over-involved maniacs who've naturally raised kids with the most over-the-top expectations, the critique usually goes, and even when it's parents themselves doing the talking, they can't resist a little self-flagellation.

Just imagine, then, how things might unfold in a crowd full of those poor souls who've got to deal with both Yer parents and Yer kids every day—namely, teachers.

To say I feel for them would be a major understatement. But to their credit, the folks who attended my presentation at this year's National Association of Independent Schools conference were as open, optimistic, and flexible a group as I'd ever met. And they're in a uniquely awesome position to mold youngsters before the little angels turn into the bane of all middle management's existence. So when one educator asked me how to help today's parents help themselves, I gave him every strategy that came to mind—get them together, let them counsel each other, show them the consequences of their crazy coddling behavior, and on and on.

But I forgot the most important one: When parents struggle, as they inevitably will, reassure them.

It's bloody hard to raise kids these days, and even at industry events where everyone's supposed to be talking workplace etiquette and leadership styles, I see a slew of parents wrestling with the tremendous challenges of bringing up 21st-century babies. Take the mother of a teenage girl who couldn't seem to connect with her daughter despite her best efforts to bond over meals and do things together. She's always on her phone, the woman told me, with the Southern California sun and a whole entrepreneurship convention's worth of suits bearing down on us. How do I get her to talk to me? When I suggested creating some tech-free time in the family schedule, she couldn't even meet my eyes: She'll hate me, she said. And mostly, I wanted to hug her—because she looked that hopeless.

Sometimes it's tough to trust that your children won't hate you. Sometimes, when giving them everything they'll need to succeed in today's world means both you and they are busy all the time, you'd rather not spend the precious hours you have together arguing about their iPhones. Sometimes, you just want to see them happy.

But here's the trouble: What makes kids happy in the moment won't necessarily make them healthy in life. Which, of course, is why they need parents—to make the hard decisions they don't have the patience or perspective to make themselves. That's easy to see (and do) when a crawling baby's trying to chew the nearest shoe, but as children get older—as they start to talk back, act out, and deploy those doe eyes with increasing emotional dexterity—put-upon parents can lose their nerve.

So...reassure them. Give those frightened moms and dads the support they need to be good, thoughtful, resilient parents. And remind them that one of the greatest rites of parental passage is that instant when they let their own innate sense of what's right and responsible override the craven instinct to give in to their little would-be monsters.

Call it the delayed joy of parenting. There'll be some tantrums to face, for sure, and comparisons to everyone from Stalin to Saddam will most certainly fly. But just take it from me, as the thirtysomething daughter of a woman who banned sleepovers, Nintendo, and Full House (Full House!) from her children's lives because she considered them universally detrimental to our personal development: We really will thank you later.


Today's image is courtesy of Five Elements Consulting Group and Alece Birnbach, who did this phenomenal graphic recording of my talk at the NAIS conference under Five Elements' auspices. For a roundup of my entire presentation, check out this post from Ravenscroft School Chief Technology Officer Jason Ramsden, who was kind enough to both introduce my session and talk shop afterward.