Do parents swoop in when they should stay on the sidelines?

Do pushy parents ruin what should be child-focused events such as Easter egg hunts? (AJC file)

Do pushy parents ruin what should be child-focused events such as Easter egg hunts? (AJC file)

The AJC has an interesting story about an Easter egg hunt canceled due to out-of-control parents who jumped the gun to ensure their kids got the eggs.  In the piece, the canceled hunt is used as a metaphor for the overly involved helicopter parents who want their children to win at everything and who don’t understand boundaries.

(Personal note: It only took one public Easter egg hunt for me to never go to one again. The kids and parents were so aggressive that I feared a toddler trampling. I found it easier to buy plastic eggs and strew them about my lawn.)

I have been thinking about appropriate parent involvement this week after reading some of the long tirades from Alpharetta parents about the deposed student body president at Alpharetta High.  Parents are entitled to post that his lawsuit was baseless and complain that it besmirched the high school’s good name. But the rancor and the details about this young man’s purported failings as a student, school president and scholar went way too far.

I took the offending comments down as I don’t think adults should anonymously attack a teenager who has put his own name behind his allegations.

I wonder about parents who are so involved in their children’s lives that they go online and post long critiques of a classmate, down to his grades. Reminds me of a friend whose daughter won a prestigious college scholarship, beating out 1,000 applicants, including several classmates from her own high school. My friend learned later that the mother of one of those classmates sent a letter to the scholarship committee contending that her child was the more deserving and listing all the deficiencies of the winner, including the fact that she was late with class projects.

I grapple myself with how involved to get in my kids’ school lives, from the simple things — bringing a forgotten lunchbox to school — to the more complex issues — reading over an essay that they wrote and offering advice. I only have two still young enough for me to hold any sway, and neither are interested in having me read over their work or check their homework. My son, in particular, reminds me all the time that the essay is supposed to be his work and that I should not even change a comma.

Here is the excerpt from the Easter hunt story:

That hunt was over in seconds, to the consternation of egg-less tots and their own parents. Too many parents had jumped a rope set up to allow only children into Bancroft Park in a historic area of Colorado Springs.

Parenting observers cite the cancellation as a prime example of so-called “helicopter parents” — those who hover over their children and are involved in every aspect of their children’s lives — sports, school, and increasingly work — to ensure that they don’t fail, even at an Easter egg hunt.  “They couldn’t resist getting over the rope to help their kids,” said Ron Alsop, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and author of “The Trophy Kids Grow Up,” which examines the “millennial children” generation.

“That’s the perfect metaphor for millennial children. They (parents) can’t stay out of their children’s lives. They don’t give their children enough chances to learn from hard knocks, mistakes.”

Alsop and others say the parenting phenomenon began in earnest when Baby Boomers who decorated their cars with “Baby on Board” signs in the 1980s began having children. It has prompted at least two New York companies to establish “take your parent to work day” for new recruits as parents remain involved even after their children become adults.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

36 comments Add your comment


March 27th, 2012
1:16 pm

parents are the worst… they ruin little league , they dont let their kids go outside and play, they micromanage their kids, they never let their kids have free time, they run their kids all over towsn for piano , baseball , soccer, gymnastics instead of letting their kids play outside in the neigborhood with other kids, they make them have playdates instead of just letting their kids ride their bikes over to their friends house ( without a helmet ) and let them play in the afternoon,

Atlanta Best

March 27th, 2012
1:19 pm

Atlanta issues are unique to Atlanta, and I think it’s sad that they are trying to paint the rest of the nation as sad as they are. The majority of individuals in this city are left overs from the rest of the nation. They are some of the most poorly educated individuals I have met and worked with in my career.
Focus on your city and the lies and deceit that you have perpetuated on the rest of us. I have worked all over this nation and none is more ethically flawed than this city. The children of Atlanta Public Schools are by far the dumbest children I have worked with. Rude, hostile, and careless about their actions

pot calling kettle black

March 27th, 2012
1:21 pm

Just so you know, Reuben’s dad posted nasty comments about other students here:

“I took the offending comments down as I don’t think adults should anonymously attack a teenager who has put his own name behind his allegations.”

I agree. However, let’s be honest that parents on both sides were “attacking” kids. Calling students “little brats” and claiming that they will be eaten alive by their attorney is ludicrous:

One excerpt from NL’s tirade.

“These little brats will be eaten alive by Reuben’s attorney when they get cross examined (yes, their identities are known and they are involved in keeping Reuben off the council for selfish reasons). So you can rest easy. Reuben is all that and a bag of chips. He being called lazy is laughable.”

Dr. John Trotter

March 27th, 2012
1:21 pm

In response to the headline: “Yes.” Sometimes children should be allowed to fail and allowed to suffer the consequences of their bad decisions. There is a tendency of parents to want to always run up to the school to “rescue” their children. I have told my children on a few occasions that I am not going to run up to the school to “rescue” them. They know what the teachers expect as far as academics and comportment are concerned, and I expect them to live up to those expectations, and if they don’t, they will have to suffer the consequences. Real love has to be tough love…for the child’s sake…even if it hurts us to watch them suffer the consequences of their bad decisions.

Maureen Downey

March 27th, 2012
1:23 pm

@Pot, I can’t control other sites, only this site. It may be that he is another example of an overly involved parent.

what's best for kids???

March 27th, 2012
1:56 pm

Yes, parents swoop in way too much, and our children are sufferring for it.
It kills me to let my little ones “do” and “fail”, but they learn independence and self-sufficiency.

johnny too good

March 27th, 2012
2:00 pm

Yes this happens a little too often. I agree that parents should be their child’s biggest advocate and supporter, but they should also not be their crutch or enabler…
some parents dont even allow the kids to make or learn from mistakes, we cannot and should not protect them from everything
this country is becoming softer than wet tissue paper and it gets worse with every generation


March 27th, 2012
2:14 pm

From the perspective of 26 years of parenting, this issue is overall the most difficult one I’ve had to grapple with. Not that I was to be found trampling toddlers, but the urge to “fix” things, to advocate, to smooth the path, to avoid hurt is very strong, and the areas a parent wants to “fix” become increasingly complex as the child matures.

There is nothing wrong with this instinct, and it keeps a child alive in those vulnerable baby years. As with most parental judgement calls, however, it is very hard to stay out in front of a child’s maturity level. I certainly found myself playing catch-up as I loosened boundaries and changed oversight as my children’s development progressed and I found myself needing to reassess their abilities.

As you expand your children’s boundaries, though, a parent needs to consciously restrict their own in order to avoid usurping your child’s responsibilities. Since naturally a parent can intervene in the adult world on a more equal footing than a child, can demand respect, can negotiate difficulties, can add expertise to reach higher standards and thereby hand their child solutions on a plate, it is more expedient to take over and spare your child pain and frustration. There are no good guides for where to stop until you do find yourself trying to justify stealing Easter eggs from toddlers and realizing you have gone seriously astray.

I have made many of these mistakes, primarily on the back of my eldest child to whom I have apologized (his sisters have benefited from my learning curve with him). Watching your precious child fail at something you could easily turn into a success is very, very hard — the only thing I have found that helps is to remember that such a “success” is really yours, not the child’s, and intervening parents are only putting off the lesson that must be learned, usually with more severe consequences.

Happy Kine and The Mirth Makers

March 27th, 2012
2:56 pm

Heretofore, any parent jumping the line or barrier rope will be taken out back and adminstered a beating by the Easter Bunny.


March 27th, 2012
3:13 pm

Who could’ve imagine that an Easter egg hunt would become competition between adults trying to grab more eggs for their little ones. These are the same parents that demand everyone get a throphy, the same parents who belittle or attack coaches and teachers, the same parents who won’t let their off-spring wipe their own snotty nose or pull up their own bootstraps. In otherwords we are creating a culture of immature dependent adults who can’t or won’t think for themselves. Haven’t we had enough of the helicopter parent? Most rational people are fed-up… cancel a time-honored tradition is just plain sad and ridiculous.

Local Girl

March 27th, 2012
3:23 pm

As a high school counselor, I see this all too often. I have to wonder how some of our students will survive when they leave our school and head off to college (or rather, I wonder how the parents will survive when they realize that their child’s professor is legally restricted from talking to them about their performance in the college class). I try to learn from the poor examples and I hope that I will be able to resist the urge to get over-involved in my own child’s life. He is only a toddler, but at times I already have to remind myself to let him do things for himself, even if it makes things a little more difficult (or messy) for me.

@ Tony – you lose all credibility when you equate over-scheduling children with allowing them to engage in unsafe behaviors. Having children wear bike helmets is common sense and an indication of good parenting (not to mention, being a law-abiding citizen, as helmets are required for riders under the age of 16).

high school teacher

March 27th, 2012
3:36 pm

I am becoming increasingly tired of hover parents, and they get worse every year. Unfortunately, in my experience as a high school teacher, I have found that the parents who are the worst are educators themselves.

Hillbilly D

March 27th, 2012
3:57 pm

Actually I don’t think this is anything new. I’ve heard similar Easter egg hunt stories in years past, in different places. In a way, it’s like people showing their fanny at Little League games. Too many parents are trying to live through their kids. Maybe the adults should accomplish something for themselves and let the kids be kids, instead of trying to live off their kids’ achievments..

Beverly Fraud

March 27th, 2012
4:04 pm

Does a bear swoop in the woods?

As John Rosemond might say, parents are deficient is Vitamin N (Vitamin NO!) and consistently overdose their kids on Vitamin E (Vitamin ENABLER)

Ironically a healthy dose of Vitamin NO can provide a healthy balance of the RIGHT Vitamin E-Vitamin EMPOWER

Ole Guy

March 27th, 2012
4:18 pm

Every time we see/read of some gd parent(s) going overboard on this stuff…be it attacking football coaches, intervening between kid-on-kid disputes, or acting as traffic cop at the Easter Egg Hunt…we can see where/why today’s youth are so gd screwed up. Just as with my observations that kids should be held to much higher standards, both in terms of academic performance, and basic decorum, the very same standards should apply to the sperm doners of these kids. These sperm doner people (I will neither respect nor recognize them as parents) are only the beginings of one long line of generational decline; they were the products of the very begining of educational destruction…over-focus on extraneous issues of artificial self esteem and similar issues of absolutely no direct bearing on human growth…and their kids will/are simply the continuation of this nonesense. ONLY, repeat, ONLY when the powers that be start doing the right; the tough things will we POSSIBILY start seeing some meaningful changes. Kids will graduate from hs and college actually prepared to assume meaningful, responsible duties on the totum pole of civilization.

It has, therefore, become painfully aparent that the younger adults, the 30/40-somethings who find themselves responsible for their kids, are, in no way prepared to perform their responsibilities; their kids are probably ruined forever. Do we have to become a police state in order to assure civilized behavior? Do we have to become a Nation of savages, bent on self-destruction? I certainly hope not, and I certainly hope you gd parents (you know who you are) get your business together.

Maureen, if you find my form of expression too unpleasant, please feel free to remove my comments. They are, however, meant to serve as “punch-in-the-gut” comments toward the harsh realities of abject irresponsibilities, NOT soothing words from the Bible, and certainly NOT words which only serve to gloss over topic of pending National doom.

East Cobb Parent

March 27th, 2012
4:39 pm

So I guess it’s okay that my son and his buddies are off “running the neighborhood” as I call it. They are doing normal boy stuff and will come home dirty and their pockets full of treasures. No organized activity, other than summer camp, is ever this much fun.

Teacher, Too

March 27th, 2012
4:39 pm

@ Atlanta Best-
This happened in Colorado Springs, not Atlanta, so apparently this is not a phenomenon unique to Atlanta.


March 27th, 2012
6:02 pm

Just for your information, it is a state law in GA that requires people under the age of 16 to wear a helmet while riding a bike. FUN FACT.


March 27th, 2012
7:41 pm

@ Ole Guy. Over and over, you complain about today’s youth as compared to your generation. This is what Hesiod wrote of the Five Ages of Man circa 700 BC. Some things never change……

“For now truly is a race of iron, and men never rest from labour and sorrow by day, and from perishing by night; and the gods shall lay sore trouble upon them. … The father will not agree with his children, nor the children with their father, nor guest with his host, nor comrade with comrade; nor will brother be dear to brother as aforetime. Men will dishonour their parents as they grow quickly old, and will carp at them,
chiding them with bitter words, hard-hearted they, not knowing the fear of the gods. They will not repay their aged parents the cost their nurture, for might shall be their right… There will be no favour for the man
who keeps his oath or for the just or for the good; but rather men will praise the evil-doer and his violent dealing. Strength will be right and reverence will cease to be; and the wicked will hurt the worthy man, speaking false words against him, and will swear an oath upon them. Envy, foul-mouthed, delighting in evil, with scowling face, will go along with wretched men one and all. “


March 27th, 2012
8:39 pm

Hillbilly D is right that this is nothing new. In the early 1990s I took my youngest nephew, his brother and a cousin to an Easter egg hunt sponsored by my employer. (I wasn’t teaching then.) The youngest was about five at the time, and I’ll never forget him coming to me during the hunt and telling me that he had fallen and spilled the eggs from his basket. He added that someone had picked up his eggs and taken them. He hadn’t seen the person and couldn’t identify her, but when a 2-year-old won the prize for the most eggs–I think it was thirty-two–I knew exactly who had done it. Even though I was really ticked off that she had done this to my little nephew, I just let it go. I doubt she would have done the same thing.

Dr. Monica Henson

March 27th, 2012
8:53 pm

My husband and I observed this same phenomenon Sunday evening, in a different form…our son’s high school basketball awards dinner lasted FOREVER, because every single player on every single team (9th, JV, varsity) for both boys & girls was recognized in great detail, including statistics and anecdotes about plays & games during the past season, along with certificates & medals for every single player. In my opinion, this really diminished the value of the true standouts, such as the Most Valuable Player award winners. It’s one thing to do this for recreation sports, but high school? Everyone cannot be the best player. Everyone is not the smartest student. Good grief.

When I was in high school, back in the 1970s (when the earth was cooling, according to my kids), I distinctly remember as a freshman and sophomore basketball player being determined to work as hard as I could to win one of the three awards that were handed out at our end-of-year athletic dinner. I was so proud as a junior finally to win “Most Improved Player” and be called up and recognized in front of my peers. My senior year, after the three award winners were recognized, my graduating teammates and I were called up to receive our gifts from the coach–he presented each of us with a framed collage of photographs that had been run in the local newspaper during the season, along with our career statistics in his handwriting under the collage.

It was such a privilege, and it gave us all something to work for. Simply making the team was considered a high honor. Nowadays it seems that everyone has to be equally honored, and that’s a shame for the kids who have really achieved something that should set them apart from the crowd.

William Casey

March 27th, 2012
9:15 pm

“Helicopter” parents tend to reap the whirlwind when their children remain “children” into their twenties and thirties. Hovering over one’s child sends a message to the child that “we don’t have confidence in you.” A better plan is to teach one’s child basic principles, step back and see what happens. It is possible to show interest in and support for one’s child without “hovering.” The rewards are great. The most important concept for a parent to grasp is that “your child is NOT YOU.”

Easter Egg hunt does not equal helicopter

March 28th, 2012
4:52 am

The parents behavior at an Easter egg hunt does not indicate how a parent parents.
This is a silly and false connection.
I went to an Easter egg hunt at my chuch when my kids were toddlers. I did hover over my children because I was concerned he would get trampled.
The organizers in the event were kind-hearted and had the children’s best interest at heart but they didn’t know how to plan for crowd control.
Kids get excited and run! They run over everthing including little children.
What needs to happen is phased and timed releases of kids, not a bunch all at once running over one another.
This article has nothing to do with any indication of whether parents are helicopter or not. It has everything to do with poor planning.

To Pot Calling Kettle Black....

March 28th, 2012
4:54 am

Hey Pot, I know you really want to talk about the Reuben Lack story but this is the wrong topic. There is a topic for Reuben Lack and his story. You can find it on the right side of the Get Schooled blog. If the topic disappears and you want to talk about it some more, email Maureen. I’m sure she’ll consider it.

seen it all

March 28th, 2012
6:30 am

I think the issue of helicopter parents is symptomatic of the selfish, narcisstic, competitive nature of life today. For many people, life is all about them. What can I get for me? What’s in it for me? How can I show off that I am better than everybody else? So little kiddie events like an Easter egg hunt, which the children don’t care all that much about anyway, is reduced to a free for all for a bunch of SMALL grown folks who want to show that they are better than everybody else.

Let’s be honest. Were they giving away $10,000 to the winners of the Easter egg hunt? Or was the competition all just clean fun? In today’s SELFISH society, there is no more “clean fun”. Everything is about what can be gained from the activity. How am I enriched in some way? Image? Recognition? Social status? Job advancement? Money? Grades? Destroying my “competitor”?

It is sad that life in America has degenerated like this for so many people.

Former prof

March 28th, 2012
9:06 am

Local Girl- Helicopter parents don’t stop when the kids get to college. I recently spent a couple of years teaching at Emory. I had several instances of parents calling me to ask how their children were doing and even asking me to change grades. I had one parent who was a big donor threaten to withdraw his funding unless I passed his son (The kid hardly ever came to class and didn’t show up for any of the tests). Thank god for FERPA (the federal law protecting student’s privacy).


March 28th, 2012
11:32 am

Two examples: I had a class that was breaking a pinata. These were 3rd graders. The mother of one of the kids, a parapro, was looking out her classroom window, decided “Precious” wasn’t getting enough candy, OPENED THE WINDOW AND CLIMBED OUT AND RAN OVER TO WHERE THE PINATA WAS AND HELPED HER CHILD SCOOP UP CANDY! I kid you not!

Another example from a colleague’s class: A mama came stomping in after school, to complein that her “Little Snowflake” was embarassed and upset that his name was on the board and he had to stay in and clean up his desk. Mama cleaned the desk out, and demanded to know WHAT TIME OF DAY WOULD THE MESSY DESK BE JUDGED, and WHAT WERE THE CRITERIA FOR A DESK TO BE JUDGED MESSY! Then, every day the rest of the year, she came in after school and cleaned up his desk.


See the line? She stepped WAAYY over it!


March 28th, 2012
11:34 am

“complain” sorry

Ole Guy

March 28th, 2012
1:08 pm

Prof, I’m greately heartened to see that someone, for whatever reason, follows my observations. Have you ever been in an auto accident? Everything seems to go into slow motion while the near-uncontrollable events transpire just inches outside the window…this is exactly what seems to be happening today, albiet in what some may deem as merely isolated events.

Sure, my gen…as all gens…was just as screwed up as the imagination could possibly fester-up. However, earlier gens…mine, and, quite possibly, yours…had one thing in our corner: definite, and generally quite undesirable CONSEQUENCES.

I cannot believe I have been obliged, several times in past observations, to further discuss, with you, the finite detail of my “antiquated” thoughts toward current-day youth. One would presume, by the nature of your chosen nom de plume, that you just might possess a modicum of insight into the issues surrounding the youth culture version of the 21st Century, and the attitudinal spillovers into the adult realm.

What I see today: helo parents, watered-down education, nonsensical crime over the gdamndest issues such as “dissing”, an overwhelming desire to covet shoes, food, and electronics, all at any-and-all costs up to and including murder, etc, etc, etc. Prof, my friend, these are,to say the very least, serious issues which all interrelate; which all start with the basic component of how to manage…yes, manage…the behavior of youth.

While my generation, steeped in the self discipline borne of the fear…yes, the raw fear…of consequence…often-times extremely unpleasant consequence…finds itself forced to assume a sidelines posture, (presumably) your gen appears to have ignored the tried and proven old ways of demanding only the very best (efforts) of our youth.

While the education community can only wring their hands, complain about the issues du jour, and celebrate the shards of mediocrity, entire generations head, at mach speed, toward the slippery slopes of social insanity. We complain about this and that…high fuel costs, lousy stinkin education, economic invasion from abroad, and a broad host of socioeconomic ills…BUT WE DON’T DO A FREQUIN THING ABOUT IT…except complain.

Helicopter vs Not Involved

March 28th, 2012
1:08 pm

I’m a little confused here and rightly so.
The same teacher-bloggers claim that parents are not involved enough in their kids’ lives are the same ones claiming that parents are helicopter parents, which means they are too involved.
It has to be one or the other; it can’t be both at the same time.

Ole Guy

March 28th, 2012
1:14 pm

I do, however, hold great faith in the future of this great Country when young folks, like Mr Lack, speak up and shout “Now wait just a gd minute”! My gen did the very same thing. Whether they were right or not is another story for historical debate…but they took a stand; a stand on the Viet Nam War, a stand on social injustices, a stand on the myriad of issues which their 21st century counterparts choose to simply (figuratively) suck their thumbs and complain.

Ole Guy

March 28th, 2012
1:16 pm

Helo, this is not a simplistic black n’ white issue. There comes a time when ya gotta LEAD, FOLLOW, OR GET THE HELL OUTA THE WAY.


March 28th, 2012
2:18 pm

Ole Guy. I’m sure your parents’ generation said the same thing about yours, that you’re saying about the generation today. Point is that YOU were younger then, so you remember the past as being better than the present.

Hesiod’s point: it aint never gonna change.


March 28th, 2012
6:31 pm

Ironically, I have been accused of being too hands off by the truly helicopter parents and too much of a helicopter by the truly hands off parents. But my gut instinct tells me I am doing it just right.

I get involved when a real issue (like academic or behavior trouble at school) comes up and hands off when a stupid issue (like my best friend’s girl friend cheated on him, so I am mad at her) comes up.

I also have left my kids to deal with the consequences of poor choices on their parts and stepped in when the consequences didn’t fit the circumstances.


March 28th, 2012
11:43 pm

Last weekend, as my 6 year old was preparing to take the field for her soccer game, I overheard a mom/daughter conversation that made me laugh. The daughter (about 7 years old) had just finished her game and told a friend that they lost the game. Which was true, they had their butts handed to them on that day. But her mom quickly piped up adamantly denying that she/her team had lost. I was shocked and have no idea what she was trying to prove by saying it, but the girl was not stupid… she knew. So silly.

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