01/21/2015 12:30 EST | Updated 03/23/2015 05:59 EDT

In Defense of Helicopter Parenting

Everyone can build their case for and against "safety first" if they want to. The feelings this couple has are personal to them. However, the minute they let their children out on the street it is no longer just them involved in the scenario -- it is now about the children and the world at large.

Paul Wallich

Four months ago, after traveling home from supper with friends only to witness a near-fatality involving two children, I wrote an article about why I am glad to be a helicopter parent. In the article, I wrote shamelessly about embracing the label of helicopter parent as it concerned the issue at hand -- safety of children on roadways where traffic can be found.

Fast forward to this week in which two children ten and under were picked up by police officers walking home from a park in Maryland. Their parents defend the children's freedom to travel without a parent's protective watch, calling it free-range parenting.

As a result of this latest story on varying parenting extremes, I have given some thought to my own strong feelings about parenting with a protective stance towards safety on the road, as well as I have given thought to why others feel differently about the issue. And because of this, I thought I might weigh in on the issue again, giving a bit of a defense for parents, like myself, who are prone to be protective -- and thus deemed to be helicopter parents -- in certain situations.

In my own case, I am a helicopter parent in this regard (that is, when it comes to road safety) because of my personal and family history. In my extended family, three aunts were in serious, life-altering car accidents, killing one and leaving the other two with paralysis. Add to this, three years ago, my own children were involved in a car accident due to teenage drivers not paying close enough attention to the roads. And add further to this, on our road alone, there have been three tragic car accidents since I have lived here, one of which involved two walkers being hit and killed by a careless driver. And if this were not enough, at the end of our driveway is a small culvert; I can call up five accidents to mind that have occurred in that spot since my son was born 14 years ago. And that is just a quick estimate.

That area at the end of our driveway and across our road of which I speak is a place where my children might potentially play and spend recreational time in the summer -- and certainly an area that we as a family have crossed and then walked together many, many times over the years. So in this respect, I am just saying, no one could ever say that an accident wouldn't occur during one of those times we were there.

I choose to err on the side of caution in NOT letting the youngest children go off our property unattended.

With regards to car accidents, it is true that they happen everywhere, and if we lived our life in fear of them occurring, we'd never go anywhere. However, for the precise reason that car accidents do happen, and some of these accidents occur in certain highly-susceptible areas (like the end of our road where the Yield sign is ignored), then parents need to act defensively. This is an issue where parents must make a risk-assessment and ask the question "can I take a risk by letting my child have freedom to travel roadways alone or is the risk too high based on the probability that something might go wrong?" Careful, deliberate parenting is called for in this situation.

The decision made here to be protective is not about distrust in your child. It is everything about having very little trust in the driving public.

Secondly, I am a helicopter parent in regards to safety issues. I am NOT a helicopter parent in regards to everything our children are involved in as kids. I know I should be more vigilant about checking their iPods and social media sites, but I am not (or should I say, I haven't had the need to be vigilant in this area. YET.) I also should be better at re-applying sunscreen in the summer. I haven't always been on top of my game in that respect either, so I would not be considered a helicopter parent that area. And I give my children a fair bit of lenience with regards to freedom in our home. It is understood that the children can make choices about how they spend their free time, and I leave things like homework largely up to them to figure out (unless it is something requiring my attention).

This is not to say I never check iPods, never apply sunscreen and never get involved in homework. I do. I just wouldn't take a strong stand labeling myself a helicopter parent in these issues. Which is to say: every parent finds themselves at one time or another on a continuum. Free-range might be at one end of the spectrum and helicopter parenting at the other in a given situation. Or perhaps disciplinarian at one end and lenient at the other in a different situation. There are no end to the ways in which parents label themselves, no end to the ways in which we can be divided.

So helicopter parent today might be free-range tomorrow depending on the issue.

With regards to the two parents in Maryland, I really do not feel strongly one way or the other about their parenting feelings on letting children roam free and unattended. I am sure there are a number of reasons for why they feel less protective about safety than I do -- many reasons of which would take time and effort to discover.

Everyone can build their case for and against "safety first" if they want to. The feelings this couple has are personal to them. However, the minute they let their children out on the street it is no longer just them involved in the scenario -- it is now about the children and the world at large. And in my experience, at least when children are driving in a car with me, I know the exquisite value of the passengers, which is more than I can say for some drivers who give not a thought to anyone except themselves.

So to let children walk unattended or not? That is the question. To this I say, if we are willing to take that risk, we gamble a lot. But we know as parents intuitively when it is a risk we can wager on. This is another part of parenting.

As for me, at this point in the game, it's just not a lottery I am willing to play.


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