4Moms~1Dream often participates in a weekly twitter chat called Parent – Teacher Chat. The vast majority of the topic discussions are centered around family engagement and education. It is a wonderful opportunity to parents and educators from all over North America to connect, discuss and learn from each other. If you are interested in this topic we would encourage you to join in the conversation each Wednesday evening at 6:00 (Pacific Time) by following the hashtag #ptchat.
We recently participated in a weekly discussion on the “Over-Engaged Parent”. A brief online description of the topic …“This week, we'll discuss the strategies to work with those who over-control their children or those who, because of any number of perceptions, make unreasonable or unrealistic demands of their child and or their child's education”…was referring to the Helicopter parents. From the very first question which asked – “What does it mean to be too engaged in a child’s education? Is it possible? It very quickly became obvious that a number of participants believed that being a helicopter parent is the same thing as being an over-engaged parent.”
For those of you not familiar with the term ‘Helicopter Parent’, it is a term for a parent who pays extremely close attention to their child's or children's experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions. The term was originally coined by Foster Cline and Jim Fay. Helicopter parents are so named because, like helicopters, they hover overhead.[Wikipedia]. Stories of such parents can be found everywhere – from sitting with their children in the classroom all day, to calling cross country and waking up their post secondary child so he/she will not be late for class, to negotiating salaries for their child’s new job. Helicopter parents are overly involved in ALL aspects of their child’s life from the moment they get up in the morning and until they go to bed at night – 24/7 - 365 days a year. This is not the same thing as being an engaged, or as the topic suggested, an over-engaged parent in the classroom or school.
An engaged parent is one that takes an active role in their child’s education in order to support their success. They support their child in many, many ways – everything from serving on committees to helping with homework. Engaged parents, through their involvement, often support success for many other students in the school. Can a parent such as this be TOO engaged? We don’t believe so. What moves a parent from being engaged to over-engaged? Asking questions? Being at the school every day? Always wanting to volunteer for something? We don’t see that as being over-engaged but rather enthusiastic and supportive.
Both engaged parents and helicopter parents can be a challenge for educators to deal with but we believe it is important that we all understand that there is a difference between the two and we caution labeling helicopter parents as being over-engaged. Helicopter parents are not going away, so the education system needs to find positive ways to work with these parents. But labeling them as over-engaged will do more harm to parent engagement than not. So how does the education system deal with helicopter parents? The same way they deal with engaged parents: they work together to build a relationship based on trust and respect. It might take more effort to build that relationship with helicopter parents than engaged parents but it is necessary. It is important to remember that the majority of parents want the best for their children and are doing the best they can to give it to them. There will always be people at either end of the spectrum….there will be parents that are unable to find a balance and there will be teachers that struggle as well. But in general, parents are engaged for the right reasons and we need to recognize and support this.
We all know that the success and well-being of children is greatly improved when parents are engaged in their education regardless of what that looks like. So rather than spending time and effort categorizing parents as engaged, over-engaged, or helicopter parents, how about spending that time and effort building positive relationships based on trust and respect of each other? Our children will thank us.
If you are interested in reading more about the Parent – Teacher Twitter Chat, you can check out some of that archives of previous chats at http://efacetoday.blogspot.ca/