Just read this today: researchers in Japan, at Gunma University, took a look at twentysomethings, scanning their brains and having them answer questions about how they were parented. Turns out, those newly minted adults who grew up under the helicoptering arms of overprotective parents (they responded “yes” to statements such as: “did not want me to grow up”, “tried to control everything I did,” and “tended to baby me”) appear to have less gray matter in key brain areas than others. They posit that these kids’ experience with overprotective parents caused an excessive release of cortisol, a stress hormone.
Is it just me, or does the image of a helicoptering parent stressing out their kids so much that it’s bad for their growing brains kinda freak you out?
Of course, research studies are usually flawed in some way or other; detractors of this particular bit of research complain that the scientists didn’t take such things as socioeconomic differences into account. Others note (correctly and hopefully) that brains are remarkably nimble and plastic. So even if you hover so thoroughly that your child’s brain ends up being teeny-tiny in key areas (the ones that give them the tools to stand on their own feet and go on job interviews and separate their whites from their colors when doing laundry), they can probably make up for it later.
Ain’t that a relief!
Still, I the image remains. Just think about an actual helicopter: Unlike an airplane zipping smoothly through the upper atmosphere, helicopters can literally hang in the air, not far from your head, relatively, beating those great big blades and making a lot of noise. (I happen to live in an area of Long Island between New York City and the Hamptons, and in the summer my pleasant weekend barbecues are often disrupted by the constant drone of helicopters ferrying the chattering classes from Manhattan to the East End and back, so I’m not a fan.)
Helicopters whip up the air around them. If you’re near, you can’t ignore them. It stresses me out. Imagine parent-as-helicopter: running interference on playdates and (over)helping with homework, carrying and coddling from diapers to college, arms (and attitude) whirling like copter blades. No wonder their kids are stressed.
Since I love to grab hold of a metaphor and hang on for as long as I can, let’s take to the air once again: I don’t want to whir over my children all the time. If I crave the peace of my backyard on a summer day, uninterrupted by copters, surely they need at least some quiet over their heads. You know, so their brains can grow.