The firing of Texas Tech head football coach Mike Leach just got more interesting, at least from my perspective. Leach indicated in a New Year’s Eve interview with ESPN’s Rece Davis that not only was Adam James, the player Leach is accused of having locked in two buildings as punishment for not being able to practice, a spoiled and lazy malcontent but that his daddy, former NFL running back and current ESPN/ABC analyst, Craig James, is a helicopter parent! A helicopter parent times ten! Leach said that the senior James among other things: regularly called his son’s position coaches, Texas Tech administrators and Leach himself to discuss Adam’s playing time and that he also had attended practice sessions. Leach told Davis, “Craig James required more time than all of the other parents combined.’’ The elder James’ has issued a response as to why his family felt they needed to handle the situation the way they did here. There is a lot of meat in this story, but for the purpose of this post, I’d like to focus on the seemingly out of control phenomenon of helicopter parenting.
A helicopter parent is defined as, “A mother or father that hovers over a child; an overprotective parent…”and as “… a colloquial, early 21st-century term for a parent who pays extremely close attention to his or her child’s or children’s experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions.” Overbearing is a word commonly used in the multiple descriptions I found online. The term was coined in 1990 and while that seems a bit early to me, I can’t say for sure because I didn’t become a parent myself until 1993.
I probably first noticed that parents could become perhaps a bit too “involved” when my first-born was in elementary school. I remember a fellow parent lobbying (and not secretively) for their child to get a lead role in the class play. It worked. Much later on, I heard a mother bragging that she had just gotten accepted to the University of Texas. This mother, whose child was a high school senior, was openly admitting to having filled out the application! Other parents I know have called coaches to find out why their children weren’t getting enough playing time (sound familiar?) and have gone to school administrators to argue that little Sally should be in Honors Algebra even if the math teacher didn’t think so. The best, and most recent example, that comes to mind was the over-the-top reaction of parents whose children came out on the losing side of a mock trial. The parents were asked to be members of the jury and let me tell you, the outrage over junior not winning was palpable!
I was a latchkey kid. One of the main reasons I wanted to stay at home with my own children was because my parents were not very involved in what was going on in my world when I was growing up. And to her credit, my mom has acknowledged this. Also to her credit (my dad’s too), I am a self-sufficient, self-motivated, capable woman! No, I didn’t enjoy doing so much for myself when I was a child. I woke myself up, got myself dressed, did laundry, packed my lunch and did my homework all without the assistance of my parents. If I had an issue with a friend or a teacher or later with an employer, I dealt with it on my own. I don’t know if my parents were just too busy with their own stuff or if it was generational, but my brother and I took care of much of our own business. My parents were loving and raised us well but they weren’t all up in our grills, that’s for sure.
I know my husband and I do way too much for our children. We are not helicopter parents, nor are we overbearing or overprotective, but we are probably too hands on. We definitely have intervened a time or two, preventing one or both of our children from suffering a natural consequence. Nothing major, retrieving from home and then delivering to the school assignments that were due that day, or purchasing (for the second or third time) books that had been lost because they weren’t properly taken care of. Perhaps those actions aren’t as bad as calling a coach about playing time, but they do stifle growth. Kids need to learn from their mistakes. They need to learn that there are consequences. Why have we intervened? Fear, I am sure. Fear that somehow our child would end up with a lower grade, if we didn’t step in and save them. And if they had, maybe they would have learned something.
It is tricky to find the balance. I feel for parents who have really crossed the line. How will they stand it when their kids are off at college? How will their kids manage? How well will Adam James get along with his teammates and coaches if it turns out that his dad stepped in prematurely? I am not saying that is what happened, just wondering. None of this is easy. Time Magazine featured a very informative article on the subject of helicopter parents this past November. You can read it here. If the author is correct, sounds like the pendulum is about to swing in the other direction. I hope so, we parents need permission to chill out.
How were you raised? Are you raising your children (or will you?) the same way? Please feel free to share any good stories you may have about helicopter parents.