In Summary

But, first: two topics that are currently under discussion are childhood education, and the role of parents in their children’s education.

In my article on future marketable careers sometime back, I used the phrase ‘helicopter parenting’ – and, in the feedback I received, it was argued that the phrase was ambiguous and needed elaboration. In this article is an elaboration…

But, first: two topics that are currently under discussion are childhood education, and the role of parents in their children’s education.

The early years of a child’s life are key to the child’s later life – and possible ultimate success.

Recent research findings associate brain development in the first three years of life and academic performance.

These early learning experiences are crucial in determining emotional and intellectual development – and will ultimately affect how a child performs in school.

Children systematically exposed to early childhood programmes have enhanced cognitive, verbal and social development, which is maintained into the first few years of school.

Furthermore, such children develop significantly higher IQ rates (Intelligence Quotient); enter school better-prepared to learn; are less likely to exhibit later delinquency and antisocial behaviour; tend to demonstrate higher levels of school achievement and better social adjustment – and are also more likely to pursue university education.

Parental involvement is often seen as a cornerstone in a child’s education. It can make a considerable difference to a child’s school life, both in academic success and in general ‘enjoyment’ at school.

Children whose parents stay involved are more likely to have higher self-esteem; be disciplined; have greater self-motivation – and tend to achieve better grades, regardless of their ethnic, social or racial backgrounds.

Important here is the degree of parental involvement: there is a need to have a balanced approach – otherwise, there is the risk of becoming a ‘helicopter parent,’ also called a ‘cosseting parent’ or, simply, a ‘cosseter.’

‘Helicopter Parenting’ (HP) is an extremely regimented and directed parenting style with the goal of protecting the physical and mental wellbeing of the child – sometimes at the risk of stifling the child.

HP usually involves telling, explaining and, at times, demonstrating – but never motivating or inspiring the child.

Generally, a ‘genius’ has 2 qualities: (s)he is 1 per cent inspired, and 99 per cent perspiration, sheer hard work.

HP does not create meritocracy. Merit begets confidence; confidence begets enthusiasm – and enthusiasm conquers the world.

But, somewhere along the way, the ‘wires’ between trying to be a supportive, positive parent and a hovering, overly-protective, ‘helicopter parent’ get crossed.

You might be a ‘helicopter parent’ if:

• Your 4th grader comes home from school crying because her best friend Janet called her a bad name – and your first response is to complain to Janet’s mom.

• If you find yourself up at 11pm ‘rewriting your child’s English essay’ because you are not satisfied with what your child wrote.

• If your eight-year old still has the training wheels on his bike. Not that you let him ride it that often. The sidewalks are dangerous and they ride too fast for you to keep up…!

• …Or you and your son are having a meeting with the teacher, and when she asks him a question, you answer it for him.

All the foregoing are signs of a helicopter parent.

It is best not to hover over your child. Don’t tie your five-year old’s shoelaces when she can tie them, or dress her when she can dress herself.

Avoid hovering over and holding your child back from ‘normal risks’ that a child would take at that age level.

Don’t make your child the ‘centre of your universe.’ Don’t try to get all your emotional needs ‘met’ by your child. If you’re there at his beck-and-call – and over-functioning for him (in other words, doing for him what he can do for himself) – he’ll have a hard time functioning on his own in the world.

Most importantly: don’t allow his achievements to determine your self-worth and validation as a parent.

Don’t label your child. Negatively – or even positively – labeling your child is not a good idea, because it can create a self-fulfilling prophecy, or push her into a box that isn’t right for her.

Don’t remind one of your kids that she is ‘the pretty one,’ ‘the funny one,’ ‘the lazy one,’ or ‘the one who will turn out just like Dad.’

What’s a better approach? Let your child experience the consequences of his actions. The Kiswahili proverb ‘when a child cries for a razor blade, give it to him’ is an anti-dote for helicopter parenting.

Zulfiqarali Premji is a retired MUHAS pro-fessor. His career spans over 40 years in academia, research and public health.