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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 daughter?


Not at 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.


It's obvious that the "slacker parent" is failing. But not as many people see that the hyper-parent is failing, too.


What 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? . . . play.


Some 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.


But 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.


The 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 for the text of an excellent speech he has given on finding the right balance.


By Susan Darst Williams Parental Involvement 22 2008


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