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Helicopter parenting? You're probably better off grounded

Signs of helicopter parenting include caving to every

Signs of helicopter parenting include caving to every offspring demand, "going insane" with worries about germs and hygiene, and staying endlessly in touch. Credit: iStock

Friends in the senior class, be glad you're not a parent these days.

The big debate now involves "helicopter" moms and dads -- those who hover over the kids like a traffic chopper minding the LIE.

Haim Ginott, the child rearing expert of the '60s and '70s, invented the term, but whatever worried the kindly psychologist back in the do-your-own-thing days of Flower Power, free love and LSD, has only gone downhill in more sober times. A couple of years ago, "helicopter parent" earned a spot in Merriam-Webster.

Oh, sure, everyone is better behaved than when it seemed like a grand idea to run through the mud at Woodstock in your underwear, but maybe maturity has lurched too far. Suddenly, the overbearing parents identified by Ginott have been trumped by their fervent 21st century counterparts.

Experts at listed copter parent warning signs: caving to every offspring demand, overdoing nightly homework help, "going insane" with worries about germs and hygiene, staying endlessly in touch, giving your kid only the "best of the best," overselling the most modest accomplishments. And that was just for starters.

Adding to the angst are people like Amy Chua, author of the best-seller, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother." Chua, a Yale law professor, believes children must be monitored as closely as a souffle, lest they shrivel into sad heaps of mediocrity.

Stand over the small fry, Chua demands. Keep up the pressure. Straight A's, or else. Music lessons, mandatory. Sleepovers? Waste of time. Play dates? TV? Computer games? Strictly for softies, slackers and second-raters. "The only activities your children should be permitted to do are those in which they eventually win a medal," Chua declares. "And that medal must be gold."

Extreme? Nuts, even? Maybe. But you can appreciate the impulse.

Parents always want their children to succeed. And it's a tough world out there. Competition is stiff, the job market tight, and, in a glitz-bomb environment, personal achievement sometimes seems defined more by the Kardashians than kids who win the local science fair.

For all kinds of reasons, the grand American idea of one generation besting the last appears in serious question: specialization, global commerce, cheap overseas labor -- and assorted obscure macroeconomic issues that even macroeconomists don't always seem to understand.

The old days, boy, you can hardly remember them at this point -- a time when everything seemed ascendant and all things possible.

My father was able to support a family as a truck driver for a bread company. Our apartment in Brooklyn was, well, compact, let's say, but suited our needs. At some point, Mom went to work as a secretary on Wall Street -- seems to me she made $35 a week in the 1950s -- and that little extra edge allowed us the occasional dinner at Joe's on Fulton Street and, some years, a brief vacation in the Poconos.

My diligent, working-class parents watched over me as much as any modern helicopter parent, I guess, though no one thought much of it. People in the neighborhood did their share, too. Everyone was a co-pilot.

"Careful, Freddie," Mrs. Lundberg from around the corner would call out. "Don't chase the ball into the street. Here comes a trolley!"

In a way, there was a lot less pressure in that previous geologic epoch. Expectations were Earthbound. Nobody was inventing Google or issuing IPOs. Success mostly meant staying safe and sound. With hard work, parents might be able to send a kid to college, or maybe not.

I got to go; first in the family.

A semester's tuition at the big state school I attended was about the cost of a modern smartphone -- no kidding -- and when I graduated there were jobs all over the place. I wasn't worried that I'd end up back in my old room mailing resumes and rearranging my collection of rhythm and blues records to kill time.

Now, you hear all kinds of stories like that. No wonder parents are worried.

You want to tell them, though, that hovering too close, stalking too much like a tiger, may have drawbacks. There are limits to what a parent can do, anyway -- that's what my wife, Wink, and I found raising four. Most important may be just to take a breath, maintain a gentle presence, let kids do their own homework and, once in a while, say "no."

Also, try to maintain perspective. In life, no one gets straight-A's.

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