Avoiding the Extremes:
Slacker Parents Vs. 'Volvo Vigilantes'
Q. Is my child going to grow up to be a loser? We
have a family rule that besides Sunday School, piano lessons, and one sport at
a time, she can't do any other structured activities. It's only about half as
much enrichment as some other kids are getting. I think they're going to get
burned out and stressed out. But sometimes I wonder: are we short-changing our
all! It sounds like you have found that happy medium of productive, loving and
yet appropriate parental guidance. You have to find a place that is somewhere
between abject neglect, and poisonous enmeshment. Those are the two extremes of
parental involvement that drive educators crazy.
obvious that the "slacker parent" is failing. But not as many people see that
the hyper-parent is failing, too.
works best for kids is neither neglect nor overattention, but a more relaxed
family lifestyle. There should be less time devoted to structured sports and
lessons, and more time devoted to family dinners, conversations with family
members, family vacations, experiencing nature, religious education, adult-led
spiritual and civic activities such as choirs and service experiences, and more
time left with nothing in particular to do except . . . remember this? . . .
parents are workaholics, addicts, depressed, going through a horrible divorce, involved
in crime or otherwise in a life situation that causes them to be "slacker
parents." You have to have compassion for them: they are so wrapped up in their
own problems, they aren't being any help to their child. They miss every event
at school, fail to develop any kind of relationship with the teacher, fail to fill
out paperwork or permission slips, lose school library books, send their child
to school in the North without boots and a coat in winter, and so on.
other parents are so overinvolved with their child's education, excessive
volunteering at school, socializing with school staff, scheming for their child
to get ahead, and so forth, that they might as well squeeze into the student's
desk and take his or her tests! There's a name for parents like this, too:
"helicopter" parents, always hovering, or "Volvo vigilantes" - Yuppies with
money who don't mind bruising other people as they drag their child up the
ladder of success.
best course is somewhere in the middle. Parenting so that a child gets the most
out of the K-12 educational experience is an art that requires wisdom,
discipline, thoughtfulness, and self-control. The last thing you want is for
your kids to only know about competition - not kindness - or that they are only
loveable when they have performed at something - instead of the beautiful,
powerful unconditional love from a parent that all children deserve to feel.
Homework: Alvin Rosenfeld, MD, a child psychiatrist, is coauthor
with Nicole Wise of
the book, The Over-Scheduled Child:
Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap (St. Martin's Press, 2000). See http://www.hyper-parenting.com/talkmuseums.htm
for the text of an excellent speech he has given on finding the right balance.