5 Teachers Explain the Difference Between Engaged Parents and a Helicopter Parents
The line between caring and obnoxious isn't actually that thin. People cross it anyway.
Have you ever felt like you’ve crossed the line from being a helpful parent to a helicopter destroying and steamrolling everything in your path? Five teachers across the United States spoke to Fatherly about their experience with appropriately and over-engaged parents. They wanted to rant, and now you know where you fall. Hopefully, it’s not in the “texting-videos-of-kid’s-birthday-parties-to-teachers” category.
Sarah, 60 years old, Massachusetts
An engaged parent attends appropriated forums like Back to School Nights, Welcome Evenings, et cetera. They also answer the beginning of school teacher surveys, respond to my emails, notes, and phone calls, and contact me with any concerns about their kids, like family issues, or any social, emotional, physical and academic problems. An engaged parent not only informs me if their child is overwhelmed but also if they’re not being sufficiently challenged. They also recognize the partnership of student-parent-teacher and how important it is. Even when their child “fails,” they encourage and support their kid, and they celebrate their steps toward independence.
An engaged parent nurtures independence by working with me to achieve a gradual release of responsibility and striving towards that zone of proximal development. A helicopter parent stifles independence and social, emotional, and intellectual growth by failing to relinquish control over their child’s life. It’s all about balance, balance, balance.
Helicopter parents tend to send me daily, treatise-length emails and notes, and give me unnecessary phone calls to “check in” during class time. I’ve received unnecessary texts. Someone sent me a video of a 5th grader’s first birthday party. They don’t allow their kids to do their homework or projects and go a step beyond monitoring and don’t hold their kids accountable for their behavior or their academic performance.
Nicole, 60, New Jersey
Many parents try to fix things before they go wrong or as soon as they go wrong: changing a teacher because they’re “tough” or calling another parent about a friend fight rather than letting time and the young friends have the chance to solve their issue. More than helicopter parents, we now have bulldozer parents who attempt to smooth the road for their child rather than letting their child experience and learn from failure.
An unhelpful parent goes to the Administrator or Guidance before speaking to their child or teacher. They speak for their child rather than supporting their child as they communicate, they make assumptions, yell, and choose their child’s activities for them. If a parent says “my child always” or “my child will never” they are putting their child in a box rather than allowing them to be a growing, changing human.
The worst I ever saw was the parent of a Kindergarten student who answered for the child every time I asked a question then worried that the child was shy and didn’t speak.
Engaged parents are aware of their child’s classes, friends, location, and grades versus only knowing that their child tells them. Engaged parents spend time with their child versus ordering them to do this and that, but never listening. Engaged parents are aware of long-range plans, but are flexible enough to allow their child to change over time and through experiences. They return papers promptly, read the paperwork, check the teacher website, ask their child about school, attend Back to School Night, and email or calls with questions or concerns.
Alexander, 29, New York
I’m a Special Education teacher. A good example of parents being helpful is when a child’s parents really know what the child struggled with and actually take the time to help them with their homework. They read to them and they are actually able to inform me of certain books that the child liked. After talking to those sorts of parents, I have a better sense of the kid.
I worked in a private school before, as a coach. Parents there would completely micromanage my job and tell me how I should teach a class or how I should structure something. They’d tell me what the child needs. I have also had that experience at public schools.
We had one overprotective parent who didn’t trust the teachers or her child’s ability to become independent and successful without paraprofessional support. A paraprofessional is usually someone who provides one-to-one support with students who have disabilities. It’s supposed to support the student in the classroom, whether it be organizational skills, or working in a small group with them, and the goals in special education are that eventually, they can be in a group setting. This particular parent made it really difficult for the student to be in the present. She never really let him fully reach his educational goals because she would baby him too much. She thought she was helping him, but she wasn’t.
Angelina, 66, California
I had a parent several years ago who, even in 11th grade, stayed on top of her daughter 24/7. This parent insisted that the student report to her everything she had for homework and insisted she do it before she could socialize. This student was on the brink of a breakdown all through high school. In this case, it was always about the mother’s anxiety, not the student’s. It was very damaging.
One very extreme case of a helicopter parent arose a few years ago. There was a single mom of a very intelligent, young man. This mom was on campus 24/7, seeing to his every need to the point where she was a disruptive force. This lasted all through high school and she moved near him when he went off to college.
Engaged parents love their children and advocate for and encourage their children’s growth and independence. They give them “roots and wings” if you will. They support their children’s growth and success with pride and joy. They applaud their journey to “find their voice” and “trust their instincts.” The others are the opposite. While they too love their kids, they tend to project themselves onto their kids constantly. They are invested in micromanaging to a controlling degree.
Jenny, 24, Wisconsin
We have very, very little parent engagement, but a supportive parent is one that you can call and they support you in managing their child’s behavior.
I once called a parent and she cursed me out, saying I sounded too much like a “fucking valley girl,” and that I needed to sound “more fucking professional” when I talked on the phone. I have had no experience with helicopter parents. Disengaged parents are more common. They are ones that you cannot reach. Their phones are disconnected.