Helicopter Parents and Tiger Moms: Turns Out Neither Knows Best

Copyright JC Politi Photography

There was an opinion piece in the New York Times this weekend called “Raising Successful Children” which generated quite a bit of discussion.

The article examines the latest parenting research which found that giving children autonomy and allowing them to make mistakes leads to the best long-term outcomes.

My parents did a great job with this. I was sent to a sleep-away summer camp for the most of the summer every year in my formative years. I feel like this helped shape who I am more than almost anything else.

I worked for a wonderful organization called Amigos de las Americas which provides opportunities for young people to live in remote villages Latin America, where their autonomy is simply not in question.

These types of experiences can really help young people develop confidence in their abilities. The Times article lays out research to prove this hypothesis.

But it seems that it has become harder for parents to give their children space to make mistakes and to develop their independence. The article points out that there has been much attention devoted to “helicopter parents” and “tiger mothers” in the news in recent years.

I am not a parent and I can imagine that it would be difficult to find the balance between protecting your children and letting your children forge their own path. But I am intrigued and curious about what makes it more difficult for parents to do this today than when I was younger.

Certainly, when I was younger, we had parents who lived vicariously through their children, but I don’t feel like there was quite as much of what I see as overprotecting children.

What do you think? Do you think that parents are more protective now of their children that when you were young? Do you think this has to do with the increased dangers in our society like gun violence and crime? Do you struggle with this as a parent? Have you found any tips or strategies you would like to share with others?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading.

If you liked this, you might also like:

The Ritalan Generation: Why do some children fall behind in school? (newsofthetimes)

The Power of Strengths and Weaknesses: Giving kids permission to just be (newsofthetimes)

A New Kind of Playground: What happens when young children are connected with technology? (newsofthetimes)


Filed under Career Planning, Culture, Education, Love, Parenting, Relationships, social pressures, Technology, Youth Leadership

52 responses to “Helicopter Parents and Tiger Moms: Turns Out Neither Knows Best

  1. I am more protective of my eldest as he has Asperger’s so doesn’t have a standard view on the world and always will be very naive.

    My daughter, unfortunately, has tried things she shouldn’t have done. However, she has learnt from those mistakes (I hope)

    • I guess we have all done some things we shouldn’t have done and have learned lessons, right? But it must be so hard as a parent not t swoop in to prevent your child from having to go through that! Thanks so much for reading and taking time to leave a comment!

  2. I think it’s deeper than ‘the times’ — even our belief the times are more dangerous is not validated by crime statistics (at least here in Canada) but we still tend to think it anyway.

    It is so incredibly complex, from fear of the future and wanting to ensure our children have the tools and resources to contend with it, to wanting to make sure they’re always safe, to our own cultural biases that no longer fit the times.

    There are differences more in our attitudes. What is acceptable — sexual norms are a lot looser than when I was a child, and, as a parent, that made it more challenging for me as I was constantly coming up against my own bias versus ‘the times’.

    I think that becomes the biggest issue, to be able to balance, my own story with what is best for my children. And that was a constant balancing act.

    At 24 and 26, my daughters are ‘out there in the world’. They dress differently than I ever did,they do things I wouldn’t — it’s keeping my ‘right versus wrong’ out of it and accepting that they are competent, loving, caring young women that keeps the balance and harmony in our relationship.

    • Thank you for the insightful comment. It sounds like you have found an great balance, but I know it couldn’t have been easy to find that balance. Maybe that is what creates the tension and chaos in the teenage years. The stakes get higher and it is hard to make sure that you are doing everything you can to steer your kids in the right direction without being a helicopter or a tiger. 😉 Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. Sounds like congratulations are in order for a job well done! 🙂

  3. Dear Jenni,
    You know me: I tend to be over protective. But I am married to a husband that really encourages independence. I think our kids benefit.
    I guess we’ll find out someday! haha!!
    Love, Lis

    • I can honestly imagine the challenge. I can’t even imagine how hard it would be to let go of the back of the bike for the first time, much less let your kids head off to places where you can’t even reach them. It has to be one of the hardest parts about being a parent. And I absolutely know, without a single doubt, that you and your husband are doing a fantastic job with your kids. It just seems complicated to know what is the right thing to do and even more complicated to find a way to do it!

  4. I think that crime and violence is not a issue in all countries, of course regardless to where you grow up or live, you have to develop a certain “street smartness” that is usually your parents job to tech. However, for the problems we face now as a society, sadly, little or nothing parents can do to protect their kids. When I was growing up, the main concern of my parents was for me to have an education and give me the tools to succeed in life. I’m sure parents nowadays have the same concern, but giving the problems we face now as a society (named economical upheaval) is harder for them to think on the ways to open the way for their kids, unlike today 5 years ago was fairly easy to get a nice job right out of college. That being said, if you happen to be a responsible parent in a country where violence is also a factor you have a huge challenge ahead of you.

    • Great point. The “real world” that kids are entering these days is so competitive and theeconomy isn’t helping. I guess that is what drives the so-called tiger moms to push their kids to excel at everything. It seems like a lot more pressure on kids these days to do so much more. Heaven forbid a child isn’t in some sort of class or extracurricular activity. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment.

  5. As a teacher at a school with many “at-risk” students, this question is unfortunately less relevant, as it seems like many parents I deal with are totally disengaged with their kids. I hear and interact with many “strict” parents who limit what their kids do without helping them find opportunities to grow independently, and I’m not sure this is mainly out of fear or ignorance.

    • Great point. That is a topic for an entirely different post, isn’t it? About how to get parents to be more engaged in their kids lives. I guess it is complex on every side of the coin. Thanks for the important work you do and thank you for your comment. Congrats, by the way, on the response to your post about teachers’ salaries!! Well done!

  6. My son went to youth camps regularly from a very early age, and grew up to be a very responsible and independent young man. I’m sure the camps had something to do with his success in life and the vast number of friends he has all over the world. My father on the other hand, was overly strict and protective, maybe even possessive, and it did me no good at all, in fact I believe it actually stunted my growth.

    • Thank you for sharing your perspective. I know it has to be hard to find a balance and I can’t even imagine how complex these issues are to figure out as a parent, but it sounds like you are doing great! Thanks so much for weighing in!

  7. Cindy

    I think this is a very interesting and timely discussion. In addition to social and other types of independence discussed so far, I feel that it’s important to teach financial independence to our children. Parents who buy everything for their kids (especially when they are teens and young adults), are actually hurting them, because the kids don’t learn how to manage money, understand need vs. want, or learn how to make the countless daily finanical choices needed to become fully functioning adults.

    Thank you for posting such great thought-provoking articles. Amidst so many food and fitness oriented blogs, I really appreciate this one on the news and issues of our times.

    • Thank you so much for your nice comment! You raise an excellent point. Financial skills are frequently forgotten in these discussions, aren’t they? Do you have any suggestions for people who might want to do more of this with their kids? Thanks again for your comment and for reading!

      • Cindy

        My children are 23 and 21. We started financial independence lessons via a small allowance so that they could prioritize their “wants” and to teach the concept of saving. As preteens and teens we expected them to take more responsibility by earning spending money through pet sitting, babysitting, etc., in order to fund their “wants” and even some needs like clothing. As college students they became responsible for all their needs and wants except tuition, room/board, and health insurance. Of course not everyone can afford to do it specifically this way, but I am amazed at how many of our kids’ peers continue to get substantial allowances from their parents into their twenties, and still do not know how to handle a checking account or debit/credit card, or how to postpone expenditures or shop for value. It’s easier for kids to learn from mistakes in these areas when parents are still close enough to guide them and the stakes are relatively small (just like other types of independence). I hope this dosn’t sound preachy, but I think some parents find it easier to just give their kids everything and don’t realize they are potentially handicapping them for the future.

  8. When my daughter was growing up there were things that made me nervous in regards to her safety, but I also didn’t want to raise a frightened and paranoid child so I probably arranged, on the sidelines, everything I could do to keep her safe. I’m thinking our parents did the same and were just as concerned as we are today but wanted to help us grow as people so they managed threats to our safety without us even knowing…maybe?

    • Great perspective, Diana. I bet my parents were helicoptering from a higher altitude than I could see! 🙂 It must be very hard to let go of the reins and to know when is the right time to do that and when is the wrong time. Thanks so much for reading and for your comment!

  9. The world has become more complicated and dangerous, yet there has always been bad stuff for parents to worry about concerning their kids. I think having so much instant media makes parents more aware, and maybe a bit more protective about their children.

    • Good point. I can’t imagine being a parent – or a teen for that matter – with social media. That adds a whole new component to parenting. Thanks so much for your comment!

  10. I’m not sure what it meant by “giving the children autonomy.” My understanding of autonomy is that it is something that takes years and requires self-denial and discipline. If what is meant is simply letting the kids run wild I definitely disagree. They need structure and also need to know that the partents are in charge. There is considerable evidence for this. A psychologist friend of mine once said: excessive discipline can lead to neurosis, which can be treated; excessive permissiveness leads invariably to a character flaw, which cannot be treated.

    • Great point, Hugh. I think autonomy in this case means enabling your children to forge their own way instead of having everything handed to them. I think yu can have discipline and autonomy. But it is hard to know where to draw the lines. This article seemed to be pointing towards parents who try to do everything for their kids or who push them to do too much. I would be interested to hear your friend’s thoughts on this article.

      • Freud famously said there are two impossible jobs: being a psychiatrist and being a parent! There aren’t any formulas that will work for everyone — as is the case with marriages as I said some time ago. But if the child knows you love him or her and also knows that you mean it when you say “no” you’re in pretty good shape.

  11. I look at parenting as a stewardship. Since I was a single parent by choice, it was a very deliberate and conscious decision. I’d observed that there is never any good time to have a child, and being a parent was more important to me than being part of a couple. When my daughter was born, I realized that my job was to make her less dependent on me every day. I understood my responsibility to be to give her the tools and skills she’d need to make appropriate decisions and to allow her to make those mistakes while she still felt she could come to me to help her work through things together. My experience was that my siblings and I survived my parents’ parenting triumphs and failures, and I was confident my daughter would survive mine.

    She is 25 years old. She is a lovely, intelligent and compassionate young woman. She is thoughtful in her decisions, and even though she doesn’t like to make mistakes (who does) she has learned to understand them as opportunities…to do better, to do different, to scrap that plan altogether! xoM

    • Great comment. Sounds like you found the perfect balance…and all alone. Good for you! Thank you for sharing your perspective and experience. It sounds like we could learn a lot from you. Thank you for reading!

  12. Oh, I have been around some Stealth Bomber parents…insane is and understatement! Let your kids breathe and just let them be. Get rid of the bubble wrap and let them be themselves, mistakes and all….they’ll survive.

  13. In general, I believe that parents are more protective today than what they were in generations of the past.. This could be because of the escalation of brutal crimes,and fear of the naive child being taken advantage of in many different ways.

  14. Firstly, love, love this post. I have been advocating that resilience is one the best gifts we can give our children. They can’t learn this skill if they have never left to fail. I think it is harder for parents to let go in these times because the world has gotten to be far more competitive. They feel little Johnny or Susie will be left behind if left to their own devices. When I was a child we were left to play and skin our own knees. Now, parents are busy building their child’s CV’s from the age their child turns five – there is no time for failure or skinned knees. There is considerable peer pressure in this country to have your child, coached academically from the age of 8. I have also seen the product at the other end, 20 year olds who enter the work force never having been second best at anything and can’t cope with they don;t come out on top or with the uncertainty of the whole slightly less structured learning process.

    • Glad it resonated with you. I feel the same way. I am sure it is hard to figure out the best balance – there is no real owner’s manual for parenting. But it does seem like parents are pushing kids a little more than when I was a kid. You are so right about the competitiveness. I can’t imagine having had all that pressure when I was younger. But I bet it is hard not to get caught up in it! Thanks so much for reading and taking time to comment!

  15. elisaruland

    My strategy in raising our two children has been to be as direct and honest with them as possible. I think keeping things real will help them deal with the realities of life in the long run, and it helps encourage an open dialogue. Open communication is so important. The only people I’ve tried to shield them from are the Tiger Moms and Helicopter Parents…

    Thanks for an interesting and relevant post.


  16. Great post. We are trying to do the best we can and keep a good sense of humor. We are great parents about teaching the gift of reading, drinking milk and treating others like you want to be treated, but horrible about getting them to like vegetables and not being afraid to ask a teacher questions. I keep saying they will show how smart they are if they ask questions…. If I had two words of advice from one set of imperfect parents to another – confer with your spouse to make sure you are on the same page about parenting and have dinner as a family together as much as possible. Make up the rest as you go along and keep that sense of humor.

    • Excellent point: both parents being on the same page. Very important. I can point to a number of spoiled kids who play one parent off against the other and get away with murder! Support one another even if you think the other may be wrong. Discuss it later out of the kids’ hearing.

    • That makes sense. I can imagine it would be challenging if you and your spouse were on different pages in this area. I can imagine a sense of humor really helps! Thanks so much for reading and for the comment!

  17. I just googled: Are children more protected than in the past? Hokey smokes. There were how-tos for protecting from everything from the sun to bullies, to bad food. As a number of your readers point out..balance is the key. Now if we could just balance what kids hear in school.

    • Great point. It is hard to control every aspect, isn’t it? I have always heard that it is best to make sure that the majority of the influences in your child’s life are positive to balance out the inevitable negative influences. Thanks so much for reading and taking time to leave a comment!

  18. There’s a fine line between keeping your kids safe and smothering them. I may be guilty of crossing the line on occasion, but I’ve tried to give them the space to stand on their own and make their own decisions. My eldest had the confidence to strike out on her own at a relatively early age. My youngest has issues and we suspect a mild case of Asbergers may be at the root of his troubles. We’ve tried to back away and let him make his own mistakes, difficult as it has been. We’re not really sure what the end result will be, yet.

    • I bet every parent has been guilty of crossing that line at one time or another. How could you not? There are no right and wrong answers and it is just hard to know. Sounds like your youngest could be a journey with a lot of life lessons. And you will figure that road out together. Thanks so much for reading and for the comment!

  19. I happen to be born in the Chinese year of the Tiger, so maybe that makes me a bit of a Tiger Mom. 🙂 I consciously control a few aspects of my kids life, like requiring piano lessons until they reach 6th grade and summer adventures every year, but I make it a point to help both of my boys discover their own passions and support them when they make mistakes. I would say that my parents were more controlling and restrictive than me, and perhaps as a reaction against that, I’m more conscious of giving my kids more of a free reign in their life.

  20. You have so many great posts it’s hard to pick which one to comment on when I am pressed for time. But since I am a mom of three (20, 17 and 15), this one is near and dear. When we became parents we followed an “upside down funnel” parent philosphy which basically has the parent setting a tight control over the child’s environment and experiences. As the child matures and becomes more responsible, the funnel widens in age-appropriate ways. The end goal is to raise a happy, well-adusted child who is your friend as a young adult. Sadly, though, I see alot of parents starting out as their kids’ friend, being very permissive, and then trying to pull the reins in in adolescents, which of course the kids will rebel at that. I agree with Margarita that parenting is a stewardship: we need to instill values and reasons for those values, so they can be internally driven in their life direction, not just trying to please an external source (parent, boss, peers). We certainly cannot protect our kids from everything, nor should we: failure is the best teacher and varied experiences enricih their lives. All that being said, no doubt, like any other parent, I have hovered too much (c’mon Mom, I can do it myself)! Maybe by the time I am a grandma, I will have all parenting all tied up in a nice little bow! 🙂

    • It sounds to me as though you have the bow in hand! This is the best parenting advice I have ever read. I think it is what we tried to do with our two boys without articulating it this well. Very good comment! 🙂

    • Thank you!! That is very kind. I agree with Hugh. Your strategy is thoughtful and smart. I am going to keep the funnel concept in mind if I ever have kids. Thank you so much for your insightful comment!

  21. In the times of today, when street crime, drugs, and bad influence (media and friends) are playing such an important part in shaping up a child, parents have even a much more pivotal role to play.This puts them under lots of pressures.Also in my case, my hubby being very flexible, i am left with no choice but to be a disciplinarian.
    I believe certain mistakes kids commit in this age are deadly and irreversible.It’s not that parents are not providing awareness to their kids about right and wrong, it’s just that unfortunately, the world we have given them is unlike the goody goody fairy-like stories of tomorrow.
    Parenting is a bet, either you win all or loose all.That’s why i believe with the changing times, we have to change too.Our parents weren’t as strict because those times were not as challenging.
    I believe communication, interaction and giving time to our youth will strengthen parent-child relationship more than the child- society relationship.This will keep us aware of their needs, and their problems as well.They will also get to know in a better way what is expected off them.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment. As you note, all the various influences are important but the influence of parents is clearly the most important. Thanks so much for reading and for your comment!

  22. George Hayward

    My parents gave me a lot of autonomy growing up, and I think that helped. It was also nice having a sister around the same age. As for today, I’m not sure what the world of parenting is like. If they are more protective, maybe it has to do with being fearful, like you suggested, of crime, violence, kidnappings, etc. Surprisingly, I learned last year that the fear we live in is usually exaggerated well beyond reality.

    • That is so true! I am always interested to read the safety statements in travel books of places I know well and they make these places sound so frightening. Usually, it is just about making sure you are alert and teaching your kids to do the same. Anyway, it seems that way to me. Thanks very much for reading and for the comment.

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