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Is Technology Creating Overprotective Parents?

How to avoid the common pitfalls of the helicopter parent that come with technology.

I have no idea if I’m a helicopter parent. Like other flaws, and especially parenting mistakes, helicopter parenting is hard to detect in yourself and easy to see in others.

There’s no concern that I’ll end up financially supporting my grown children (too cheap) or that I do too much for my kids (too lazy), but I am sometimes overprotective of my kids, which always seems completely reasonable at the time. All of us crazy parents seem reasonable to ourselves.

As technology moves us along, however, the ability to hover is more tempting than ever. When the current generation of parents was in college, the once-per-week phone call home was the norm. Now a new crop of college kids are at universities, and they can all but take mom and dad along.

The ability to text, email and Skype your kids may just help you maintain a close relationship and allow your freshman to ease into independence. But for some parents, the close contact becomes troublesome. If they haven’t seen a text, tweet or status update from their child in a few hours, they get a little itchy for some reassurance that their kid is okay.

Kids, too, can get too dependent on their access to their parents. The ability to transfer funds with a few clicks means that one quick text may fund their next few weeks of expenses.

My kids are still young, and I don’t always know how to define what the right balance is between guidance and hovering.  

When I was in college, my dad likened his job to being an archer and his kids were the arrows. It was his role to launch us as far as he possibly could. I certainly called my parents for advice and money now and then, but they did not get into the details of my daily decisions or monitor my academic achievement. That was up to me, and I appreciated their trust.

I’m a long way from having kids in college, and I don’t pretend to know what it’s like. But right now I’m wanting to know how to parent my kids in a way that when they get to college, I’m launching, not hovering. 

Some of it seems pretty gray, where I’m sitting right now. At what age do I have my kids get their own breakfast, keep track of when homework is due and remember to brush their own teeth? How do I teach them nutrition so that at the age of 19, they’re not living on Lucky Charms, just because Mom isn’t looking?

Recently I read an article given to me by a friend, in which the author is a professor who gives examples of pitfalls related to helicopter parenting. She introduces a new term that I really like, called the “ramp agent.”

A ramp agent is the guy at the airport with flags who directs the plane into the gate. The person who does this job is not responsible for flying the plane, just providing support and guidance.

The ramp agent is a good picture for parents who are trying to avoid the catastrophes that can come with hovering. We don’t need to do things for our kids, but our job is to be there to signal when there might be trouble and prepare them for their next flight.

As far as using technology to help you in raising a responsible young adult, I saw a great tip that I'm sure will be long extinct by the time my kids are in college. One parent said on the comments section of the article that playing Words with Friends with your kids is a little trick for parents of college kids.

I thought this was genius. It’s not contact that causes the problems preventing independence, but rather the details of information passed back and forth between parent and child. Playing an online game with your kid is a perfect way to use technology for reassurance that all is well, but without the hover.

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