Are hyper-parents doing too much?
Since the parental role is increasingly seen as an educational strategy whose goal is to control our children’s path through life and ensure their ongoing happiness, hyper-parenting is ambushing more and more homes. What if wanting to bring up the perfect
In his book, Et si nous laissions nos enfants respirer, French educational psychologist Bruno Humbeeck describes these helicopter, drone and curling parents who are hovering above our confused society. What is a hyper-parent? — B.H: It’s a parent who has brought a happy child into the world and who is determined that the child will remain happy for the rest of his or her life. Someone who overdoes parenting for the sake of perfection. It is very dangerous for a parent to want to be a perfect parent, especially when the criteria for a successful education are as ambitious as they are today. Obviously, it’s very complicated and, furthermore, should be avoided. When it is done without creating any suffering or pressure, hyper-parenting is neither a defect, nor a disease, nor even a mistake. But when it creates suffering, one must react against it. When talking about hyper-parents, one thinks of the helicopter parent (who controls everything that may risk happening to the child – see box), the drone parent (who wants to meet all the child’s needs – see box ), or the curling parent (who tries to modulate the child’s path through life – see box). By wanting their children to be constantly happy, do hyper-parents prevent them from exploring other essential feelings? — As human beings, we should experience moments of not feeling good. Hyper-parents find it hard to assume these moments and more complex emotions such as fear, anger and sadness, which they will try and exclude from their child’s education, whereas it is common knowledge that if one wants to nurture a child’s emotional intelligence fully, the child must explore a complete range of emotions. The animated film Inside Out (2015) is a brilliant illustration of this. It explains how all emotions are needed for a child to function. Not only joy! That is why a caring education, when misunderstood, is taken to mean a constant pursuit of happiness. In your book, you say that hyper-parenting begins even before one becomes a parent… — Absolutely. The helicopter parent syndrome emerges after the first ultrasound scan. You can see everything, observe everything, thus control everything. Drone parents tell themselves that everything they do during the pregnancy may have either harmful or beneficial consequences on the baby and thus adopt a strict diet and strategies which they consider positive. There was
a time when everyone talked about the Mozart effect. What a joke! Future mothers put earphones on their belly believing that listening to Mozart in the womb would have a beneficial effect of the child’s cognitive development. There’s even an app that broadcasts music to a baby in the purest of manners: via the vagina…! How did this all come about? — The answer is twofold: the fact that parenting is, in the majority of cases, something that has been chosen and mastered. It has become the result of a deliberate choice. Having a child has, moreover, become an imperious desire. Do you want a child? You shall have one. We are no longer talking about desire that may eventually evolve into something unexpected. Hence parenting is negotiated between the two partners. It is a reasoned choice. The second element concerns hyperindividualism. Nowadays it is no longer enough just to raise children; each of them must do well. If you have four children, you have to ensure that each of them succeeds as much and for as long as possible. Hyper-parenting relies on several societal values that define the lines of force or, depending on your point of view, the fault lines: ultra-individualism, the race for success and the fear of loss of status probably being the main driving forces. Do the demands of our society reflect the quality of our parenting?. — Yes, and you’ll probably react against this. Thirty or so years ago, it would have bothered you if your child showed signs of a bad upbringing in society, i.e. if he or she were impolite or disrespectful. Nowadays, one not only has to show that one’s child respects certain values but also that he or she is clearly thriving. If your child smiles during lunch with your friends, you’ll feel pleased that you are really doing the job expected of you: i.e. accompanying a happy child on his or her path to adulthood, a child who regularly shows his or her contentment. Yet if your child is grumpy, you’ll quickly find an excuse: e.g. “he’s cutting his teeth”. Later on, when he is learning arithmetic or how to write, you may talk of disorders such as “dyscalculia” or “dysorthography” (all words beginning with “dys”!) to excuse any normal difficulties a child may encounter when learning basic skills.
The parent hovers around the child often somewhat “neurotically ”, constantly taking an excessive interest in his or her activities. “What are you doing?” “What are you reading?”, “What game are you playing?”, “Where are you going?”, “Who are you going with ?” This “control freak” of a parent is driven by anxiety. The child and parent must remain visible at all times.The child is not allowed to go more than 300 metres away from his or her parents. Beyond that distance both parent and child feel insecure.
Someone who wants to meet all the child’s needs so that he or she will never miss out on anything.The objective is to put everything in place so that the child will always be the best.The drone parent always asks the same question: “What can I do so that my child gets the best out of life?”He or she looks for the best school, the best game (educational rather than recreational), the best animation film ( Kirikou rather than
Bob the Sponge), etc. Every emotion that is not joyful (fear, sadness, anger, disgust) is thus logically excluded.
Nowadays, one not only has to show that one’s child respects certain values but also that he or she is clearly thriving.
The parent who tries to modulate the child’s path through life and goes OTTwhen it comes to doing homework or when standing on the sidelines of the football pitch. If the boy plays a little football, the parent will immediately see him as the next Ronaldo. Curling parents live only for their offspring’s future. They behave a little like pétanque players who start blowing on their bowls hoping to influence their path to the target ball.And what is their target? Undeniable success in their child’s social, professional and private life. Has the model parent dictated by social networks or educational books contributed to the development of hyper-parenting? — Things don’t happen just by chance… For example, there’s no hyper-parenting in Benin. Children are raised by the whole village. They are supervised by a community and parents do not have sole responsibility for their child. When there’s a problem, the village deals with it, not the parents. They may be the “trunk” of the family but they do not assume responsibility on their own. Once again, conferring unlimited power on education, as it is conceived in the West, means being convinced that parenting guided by a constant concern for excellence is capable of determining positive future prospects for each child by neutralizing once and for all everything that could obstruct their path. How can wanting the best for one’s children and hoping they will continue to be happy turn out to be harmful for everybody if taken too far? — The tragedy is that by always wanting to provide the best for your children, you end up wanting them to be the best. Parents want a sort of return for their investment. Which puts children under intense pressure and makes them feel as if they are disappointing their parents. Not to mention the very unsettling paradox inherent in the helicopter parent (“Be independent but stay close to me!”). Not having anticipated failure, when encountering the first difficulties or when faced with the first blips in the educational system, the hyperparent tends to be overwhelmed by anxiety. When one believes one has everything one needs to succeed, the possibility of failing, even if it is virtual, becomes even more stressful. A large part of hyper-parents’ time is spent calming their anxiety or channelling their fears.