How Parents Must Correct Our Overcorrections
By: Tim Elmore
A mother approached me recently after I spoke at a parents’ conference. She told me how much she cared for her 13-year-old son, yet many of his teachers referred to her, not as a “helicopter parent,” but as an “Apache Helicopter.” When she acknowledged how intrusive she was in her son’s life, I had to agree. She admitted to me, “I know I act like a helicopter parent, but I can’t help myself. It seems right to me.”
Truth be told, she had shifted into the “snowplow parent” category.
Parenting Style Has Shifted Over My Career
I began teaching high school students in 1979. Those teens came from the late baby-boom generation and Generation X. The parenting style at the time was strikingly different than it is today. While there were still some traditional families with stay-at-home moms, a growing number of families had two working parents. In fact, Gen X was called the “latchkey generation” because so many of them returned from school to empty homes, and were simply expected to plan their afternoons until mom or dad finished work. According to the long-range study, Monitoring the Future, in 1991, 76 percent of kids in eighth grade (the tail end of Gen X) reported regularly spending time at home alone with no adult present.
At that point, I watched a huge shift take place in parenting styles.
As Millennials were born, parents nationwide seemed to have an epiphany. Our conscience and our fears rejected this absenteeism. Research reveals far fewer Millennials had much time alone without parental or caring adult supervision. As the pendulum swung so far to the other side, titles like “helicopter” and “snowplow” surfaced. Teachers reported their biggest headache was the parents, not the kids. Kids became their trophies.
According to Dr. Meghan Gerhardt, “Millennials emerged from childhood as the most highly educated generation ever in the United States, but also the most dependent on adults at a stage of life when society expected them to operate independently.” Twenty years into my career, I saw a tangible shift in attitudes. Gerhardt agrees: “Having been raised at the center of their families’ conversations, Millennials often entered the work world expecting that their voices would matter to the same extent to their bosses, earning them the unflattering reputation of being entitled.”
We may have overcorrected.
There is a cycle in recent generations, at work, at play and at home. The current generation spots the flaws of the previous generation—workaholism, spoiling children, absenteeism, intrusive leadership, over-functioning—and we react like a grandfather clock, swinging our pendulums to the other extreme, attempting to rectify the damage of the past. We compensate to a fault, because in America, we don’t do anything halfway.
A Formula that Works in Any Age
I suggest we break this cycle of overcompensation and reaction. Instead of reacting to past faults or current trends, what if we chose a leadership style that is timeless—one that works well in any generation? While I am sure my wife, Pam, and I were products of the current parenting trends to a degree, we didn’t cave. We chose some values to guide our family by and didn’t fall into the trap so many families fall into: the race to involve them in multiple extracurricular activities each week, to push them to accumulate trophies and accolades and to enter the competition between parents to get them into a prestigious college whether or not it fits our children. And this has made a world of difference for our Millennial adult-children.
Below, I suggest how we might correct all our overcorrections once and for all:
Correcting Our Overcorrections
- React to past flaws
- Overcompensate to an extreme
- Compete with other parents
- On the run all the time
- Fixated kids who burn out as teens
- Play the short game
- Act in balance and wisdom
- Moderation in all activities
- Involvement in one activity at a time
- Collaborate with other parents
- Family dinner at home as much as possible
- Well-rounded kids as they enter adulthood
- Play the long game
External Window or Internal Compass
I remember when our daughter, Bethany, was a freshman in high school, she asked why we didn’t do what our neighbors were doing. Their kids were involved in every activity imaginable, and seldom had much time at home. It was like their whole life was a competition. They bought the latest mobile devices, played the current Xbox, and wore the elite fashion brands. Understandably, Bethany was enamored by it all. I remember sitting down with her and explaining:
- We were the Elmores and did not feel the need to compete with other families.
- We valued dinner with each other at home, as much as possible.
- We would each commit to one extracurricular activity per semester and finish it.
- We each had chores to do around the house because we loved each other.
- We would find ways to serve those who were underserved with our resources.
- We did not prioritize keeping up with everyone’s spending or lifestyle.
- We would employ the healthiest leadership style to produce ready adults.
Bethany seemed melancholy after that conversation. She told me her best friend’s parents had just bought a new house and wondered why we didn’t buy a new home too. I told her, “We don’t buy something just because we can buy it.” We were fine where we lived. In short, we led by an internal compass, not an external window, to gain our cues.
Reacting to others is seldom a great basis for leadership. Balance and moderation make sense.