Kwasi Enin, a high-school senior in New York who got in to all eight Ivy League colleges, credits his “helicopter parents” for pushing him to excel. So does this mean that helicoptering equals success and that “free-range” parenting equals failure?
As the actual founder of Free-Range Kids — the book, blog and movement that contend parents needn’t supervise their children’s every waking moment — of course I’d say no. But it’s not that I am down on helicopter parents. I’m not down on any parents who feel compelled to hover, considering the messages we get every day in every way to worry about our kids, from stranger danger to bullying to the financial ruin awaiting any child who doesn’t master the alphabet (and basic calculus) by age 3.
Parents are so besieged by warnings that they naturally wonder how to keep their kids on track. But does that mean the only successful kids are the ones with parents pushing? No, for these reasons:
1) First is the fact that success can be defined many ways, of which “Ivy League acceptance” is just one. But you knew that.
2) We have no idea where the free-range kids are going to college. And even if they all got in to Ivies, see No. 1.
3) Free-rangers do believe in helping our kids to succeed. The way we do it is by loving them (as I’m sure Enin’s parents do) and letting them know that we believe in them. (Ditto.) It’s just that we believe in them — and basic human nature — so much that we believe they can do many things safely and successfully on their own.
We still are happy to help — and often do — but we don’t think our kids need us to schedule every second, handle every issue or make every moment “teachable.” (Have you ever heard comedian Kate Clinton’s take on this? She talks about being introduced to a friend’s child, with the friend saying: “Sweetheart, this is Kate. Kate starts with ‘K.’” It’s so spot on!)
Meantime, we free-rangers believe in our kids to the point where even when it looks like “all” they’re doing is playing outside, walking to school or pursuing some hobby that we didn’t choose for them, we think they still are learning. Note: This may or may not result in higher grades.
We have nothing against helicopter parents or tiger parents, and most likely, we are some mixture of them all. I am — in part because “free-range” isn’t a parenting philosophy so much as a worldview: We do not believe that our kids are in constant danger, so there’s no need to act as if they are (or make laws as if they are).
All of us want the best for our kids, and all believe they can do great things. We share the belief that our kids should be grateful, engaged and kind. And that they’ve all got the goods to be “successful” — however you define it.