I find myself caught up in a parent-spiral and I believe many of my thinking co-parents feel the same. Parents are expected to do ever more for their children – and these expectations do not only stem from the children themselves. The pressure is always on, from other parents, the media and society in general.
Although a rather spoiled and over-cared-for lonely child myself, I still took the bus/bike to school, walked/biked the long dark way to ballet training and violin practice, had a job from I was around 12 and did my homework on my own in my room.
My older son (22) was far more spoiled than I was, but somewhat less spoiled than his peers and than my younger son (10) is now (to older son’s constant chagrin). But my young son is far less spoilt than a number of his peers.
Spoiling children with love and attention is always good and never bad, but driving them everywhere when they could perfectly well walk, bicycle or use public transportation can’t possibly be good for anything? And giving them money every day to buy junkfood because they won’t eat a packed lunch, what good is that for a child? At the skatepark where young son goes to practice his skills on his scooter, there are many boys with very wealthy parents. Some of these ten-year-olds have more scooters and scooter-parts than they know what to do with, they always seem to have money to buy junk food and mountains of sweets and soft drinks and they clearly have no concept of money at all, because they all throw away the bottles. Young son has thus been given a way to replenish what in his view is a meagre allowance, so he brings big plastic bags in his backpack and collects the bottles the other boys throw away. At the top of the season, he can make around 100 DKR a week (10£). There’s little competition, because a number of the other boys’ parents have forbidden them to collect bottles… Also, when he buys scooter parts, he often gets free stickers. These stickers he sells to some of the others boys for ludicrous amounts of money. I allow it, because if these children have money to spare to buy overpriced stickers, then it’s their parents’ problem, not mine.
A personally felt consequence of helicopter parents and their over-protected children is that the new, huge skatepark in Fælledparken in Copenhagen is now being closed to children riding scooters. I feel really sorry for my son and all the other boys who have practiced their skills in the road and at smaller skateparks and who know how to fit into the hierarchy of the skating community.
The reason it has come to this is only partly that anybody can ride a scooter (not so with skateboards and rollerblades), even if they’re only 2-3 years old. The real reason is that parents will take their small and/or inexperienced children to the skatepark and allow them to meander about on their scooters in the midst of a large group of very skilled and much older skateboarders and rollerbladers. This results in a lot of near misses and also some accidents when an 80-kilo young semi-professional skater with 50 km/h is unable to avoid a 4-year-old tottering along the bottom of one of the deep bowls. When the skaters ask the accompanying parents to please keep their children away from the bowls and big ramps, the answer is always “MY child has as much right to be here as you have”. But that is wrong! They don’t! They don’t need ramps and bowls, they need a road or a terrace or a playground.
If it were only inexperienced boys coming on their own to the skatepark, the problem wouldn’t have reached the heights that is has now. Because most boys on their own would quickly learn to fit into the hierarchy of such a place. All groups have hierarchies, and the hierarchy in a skatepark is really simple. The best are at the top! And it doesn’t matter what they are best at (as long as it has wheels) or how old they are. The less experienced will very quickly learn to keep well out of the way of the really good ones and will know quite precisely when they are ready to start trying a certain ramp, etc. But the helicopter parents ruin this with their My Child Comes First-attitude and also create big problems for these precious children by cutting them off from a valuable life experience.
Why are we letting ourselves spiral into this way of parenting? Who benefits from it? Our children get fat, helpless in a kitchen as well as in traffic and never gain an understanding of money.