Are you a helicopter parent?

Last week, when I attended a parents’ meeting for my 13-year-old son’s basketball team, the coach explained that he has “closed door” practices. He said it was fine for parents to peek their heads in near the end of practice each day, but other than that, none of us should be in the gym.

I actually have about ZERO interest in watching 7th grade boys practice basketball. I like this coach, and I’m pretty sure some obnoxious parent experiences are behind his new policy, but still I bristled a bit at the idea of being un-welcome at my son’s daily afternoon activity.

Should I, though? What is the right balance between being present with our children and yet not smothering them (and possibly disrupting others) with too much of that presence?

A reader recently sent me an article about how France handles helicopter parents by simply not allowing parents to be near their children during the (long!) school day.

The article argues that this policy makes for happier children and mothers in the end, and I certainly agree that the pressure to be present for your child’s (and even multiple children’s) every move throughout every minute of every day is exhausting and ridiculous. But I wonder where we should draw the line? Parental rights are obviously important, but is it reasonable for parents who send their kids to school or allow them to participate in extra curricular activities to expect that their presence at these events will always be welcome?

I am not so sure, but I would love to know what you think. Are you a helicopter parent? Do you expect to be welcome to attend every activity your child participates in? Would you bristle at the idea of “closed doors”? What is the right balance?

About Danielle Bean

Danielle Bean

Danielle Bean, mother of eight, is editor-in-chief of Catholic Digest and Faith & Family. She is also author of My Cup of Tea: Musings of a Catholic Mom, Mom to Mom, Day to Day: Advice and Support for Catholic Living and (with Elizabeth Foss) Small Steps for Catholic Moms: Think. Pray. Act. Every Day

  • Martha

    Having just completed my online VIRTUS update I felt the need to respond even though my “children” are 26-35 years old. If a coach will not allow parents present, this should send up a red flag immediately. You don’t need to be present every minute, but you should be welcomed to be there. If there’s been problems with parents in the past, then the coach could explain in a parent meeting that he is the coach and he welcomes input, but NOT during practices. If a parent is disruptive, then they could be asked to leave, but there must always be more than one adult present for the safety of all involved.

    • Claire

      I totally agree, Martha. My first thought after reading about the coach’s closed door policy (other than toward the end of practice) was that he might have something to hide.

      • Martha

        Over the years I’ve come to understand more and more how the “open door” policy is as much a protection for decent adult volunteers as it is for the innocent children and vulnerable adults.

  • Anna

    Seems like the coach has a balanced approach: it’s not that parents can’t stop in or unobtrusively check on how their kid is doing, but he doesn’t want them to sit there and watch everything every time. I would think many kids’ activities should be the same way: unless there’s some serious reason to think there’s trouble brewing, trust the child to be able to participate and the adults in charge to handle things, but still feel comfortable checking in briefly now and then. If there’s a policy forbidding parents from any observation or contact during an activity, that’s a danger sign, but if it’s a general please-don’t-try-to-be-an-assistant-coach to give the kids freedom to do an activity on their own, and to give the coach/leader/teacher the ability to lead the group without being undermined by overprotective parents, then it’s not a problem as long as parents aren’t banned entirely (though this depends somewhat on the age of the kids; I’d have way more of a problem being told not to be around my 5 y-o’s activities than being told to back off from my 15 y-o’s activities).

  • snogo

    I think that following any policy made in France is a poor idea. The French have all but lost their Catholic faith. Clearly they’re not doing things “right”.

  • Claire

    Most people who know me would categorize me as a helicopter mom. I personally think helicopter moms get a bad rap. I do not shield my son from the consequences of his actions, and I support his teachers when they are having issues with his behavior. But I am a helicopter mom in terms of my level of involvement with my son. It is a big deal for me to entrust him to public school for 6+ hours/day (especially since his school has very limited opportunities for parents to volunteer in the classroom). Last year when he started kindergarten, it was a huge shock to my system to have to drop him off at the door, rather than walking him down to his classroom and turning him over to the teacher who would be taking care of him for the day. I understand the need for security measures, but I found that a little excessive. I also don’t appreciate it when I am told to leave the room for certain community activities in which I know he’ll need more help than the facilitators will be able to provide (he has some fine motor challenges and distractibility which make it harder for him to function independently than the average child his age). I think that community facilitators are too willing to slap a blanket label on moms who might have a valid reason for wanting to stay nearby, and don’t want to advertise the specifics in a public setting. As far as France, I think the nation’s approach goes way too far in terms of usurping parental authority and replacing it with the state’s authority. I have heard that in many European nations it is barely an option for a mother to stay home with her children. It’s great to provide working mothers with good childcare options, but they cross the line into making it borderline mandatory.

  • greenacres

    My young children take Suzuki violin lessons. The method believes that for the success of the child a triangle is necessary: the active participation of the student, teacher and parent. After all, I am the one teaching and practicing with my children 6 days a week at home. Each child’s parent attends all lessons, both individual and group. However, the parent is an active listener. All questions about how practice went the previous week went, judgment on how the child played a particular piece, etc. are all addressed directly to the child as an autonomous human beings responsible for his/her own actions. This experience has trained me in my own parenting style. A parent needs to be present in a child’s life to varying degrees based on age, yet allow the child to speak for him/herself and, as difficult as it can be to watch, to allow the child to fumble and even make mistakes as he/she learns. I find myself shying away from “closed door” policies. I have not put my daughter in dance for just such a reason. I understand how young children can be distracted by the presence of a parent in a group class, but if expectation are clear and parents don’t undermine the instructor, it should be a win-win-win. As parents we put our children in activities for growth, learning, socialization, and character formation. Closed door policies and helicopter parenting ultimately fail to allow these intended purposes in a respectful and safe environment.

  • Meredith

    Danielle, the idea of a “closed door” practice is an immediate red flag, unless there are additional coaches who are also there working with the students throughout the entire practice. I ran this by my husband, who is a school principal, and he agreed. It may even violate the diocesan policies for working with youth if this is a Catholic school.

  • Lani

    I agree with Martha and Meredith. Teachers need to remember who pays their salary, and respect parents rights to raise their children. Schools should cooperate with parents 100%. If a parent is being disrespectful, they should be asked to leave. Our schools’ motto is “Where Faith and Family Meet”, and thankfully we have a principal who faithfully adheres to this motto.

    • Joanna

      I agree with this to a certain point….but it’s pretty obvious the “open door policy” has been abused in some way. As a teacher of 11 years in a Catholic school I have always welcomed parents into my classroom and made sure that we have established a partnership from the beginning. I have also seen this abused to the point where parents would walk into my classroom unannounced and during my planning periods. And worst of all, have observed, judged other children (learning disabilities) and have talked to other parents about these innocent children-not their own. I understand it’s perceived that the parents “pay” the teachers/coaches salaries…but where is the respect and christ centered love in that mentality? Teachers sacrifice a MUCH lowered salary working in a Catholic school. I would really rethink this and always respect and pray for your teachers.

  • Rakhi @ Pitter Patter Diaries

    I agree with Martha. I understand the need to draw boundaries, but for a coach or anyone to have a “closed door policy” makes me bristle. I would rather have an open door policy with coaches, teachers, and administrators trained in how to address problematic behavior by parents. I am not likely to allow my child to be in an activity where I am automatically told I am not welcome. That said, I also believe there is a healthy distance that we, as parents, have to learn to maintain. Having worked at a university, it was astounding to see the degree to which parents would intervene for their children. It made for frustrating administrating, and developmentally stunted their student’s growth into adulthood.

  • Samantha Pellegrino

    I think closed door would be fine if the coach is protected. We don’t attend school with our children. Its closed door. The coach should have another adult, perhaps assistant coach for his protection and then shut the door and begin teaching/coaching…he’s the coach, let him coach. That’s why the kids are signed up. Having said that, when my kids were that age, I likely would have bristled and been all concerned too, but now looking back, I see that, they just didn’t need me there every second of every activity. What they needed and still need, is to know that they can handle things, they are critical thinkers, and they’ve got this thing called living.

  • Megan

    This is a tough question and I think, the answers depend very much on the people involved in the situation.

    Certainly, as a parent, I would feel resentful of not being allowed to watch my child play if I so desired. That being said, if I were a coach, I would prefer to be allowed to do my job and coach my players without any distractions (that is what coaches are paid to do, right?). If I had parents who disrupted my practices, then I’m sure my solution would be the same as this coach’s. As the child (particularly age 10 and up), I wouldn’t really want my parent present at every practice (particularly if said parent was trying to be my second coach). I would appreciate the support and would want them to attend my games, but wouldn’t care if my parent was present at practice or not. In fact, I think I would feel more free to be myself and focus on practicing if I did not have to worry about being watched or embarrassed in front of my peers by my parent. As a younger child, I would want my parent to be nearby, where I could call on them if I needed. I like the phrase “everything in moderation.” As in all things, I think there is a balance that needs to be achieved between being around too much and being around too little. That balance may be different for everyone. I think being respectful of others (including my kids) and using the Golden Rule as a guiding principle are good places to start. :-)

    As some of the others have mentioned here, I think having a second adult present (maybe an assistant coach) would be a good idea. However, I’m not sure how necessary it is. I mean, how many teachers in classrooms have an assistant present at all times when teaching middle and high school students? Certainly, as a parent I want to make sure my child is safe, but as I am not omnipotent, I know that I will not always be in a position where I can do that and I will have to rely on others to help.