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

Milk Magazine (English) - - SOCIETY - in­ter­view con­ducted by amandine grosse : il­lus­tra­tions léa marchet

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.

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