Wakeup call for helicopter parents: Mom's much-needed "rant" goes viral

A blogger says overprotective parenting damages kids -- and a story on college kids bears her out

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Published November 14, 2013 7:52PM (EST)

  (<a href='http://www.istockphoto.com/user_view.php?id=866669'>spwidoff</a> via <a href='http://www.istockphoto.com/'>iStock</a>)
(spwidoff via iStock)

It was a "bit of a rant" that the blogger herself admitted meandered "all over the place." But when North Dakota mother of two Stephanie Metz declared to the world that her children were "not the center of my world," it struck one hell of a chord.

In a late October post, Metz wrote of how her 4-year-old son Hendrix had wanted to bring a beloved action figure toy for his class show and tell. But, she said, because the figure comes with a gun-like "little yellow object," the boy ultimately second-guessed himself, fretting, "You know what, I better not take this. My teacher will probably think it's a gun, and then I'll get in trouble." And she went on to complain, "My boys are typical little boys. They love to play guns. They love to play good guy versus bad guy. They love to wrestle and be rowdy ... How long will it be before their typical boy-ish behavior gets them suspended from school? … The mentality of our society in 2013 is nauseating to me, friends ... Modern parenting is creating a generation that's not going to be able to function in society." And with that, kapow, Stephanie Metz went from eight followers  to this week's viral star. Her post has now had over a million views.

True to her promise, Metz's rant is pretty all over the place. She authoritatively states that "There was a time when kids got called names and got picked on, and they brushed it off and worked through it…. Now, if Sally calls Susie a bitch… Susie's whole world crumbles around her, she contemplates suicide, and this society encourages her to feel like her world truly has ended, and she should feel entitled to a worldwide pity party. And Sally - phew! She should be jailed!" I don't know who the mythic Susie and Sally are, but I do know that I spend way, waaaay too much of my own time writing about  kids who are consistently, maliciously targeted for abuse and who wind up dead because of it. Kids who weren't asking for a pity party or what Metz calls "coddling"; but who just wanted to be left alone. MSN has called Metz's post "telling bullied kids to 'toughen up'" and in that regard, yes, Metz surely could have done with a few more drafts before hitting the publish button. And her writing has attracted some seriously bananas responses from commenters who believe "DAYCARES not only brainwash children with the gov't garbage like gun control coming down the pipe but the child is NOT getting the love and attachment to the mother like they need" and say "This society has reared a bunch of pansy children that are going to be in for a rude awakening in the real world. It began with the removal of corporate punishment in schools and the absence of the Bible."

But outraged as she was that her kid felt intimidated about his choice of toy for show and tell, Metz also admits that her boys can still roughhouse and play with weapons as much as they want at home – and that they "understand that the world doesn't begin and end with them." That means what happens in your house doesn't necessarily float at school. And where Metz is closest to the mark – and where her words come far closer to common sense, is in her observation that "We need to not be afraid to parent our kids and not be afraid to let them fall." In her rant about "the world my boys will grow up in," she articulates that she as a parent is a big part of that world. And in a culture of conflict-avoiding education and what is commonly referred to as helicopter parenting, she's right that "Parents who make their children the center of their universe are not doing anyone any favors."

Should she need any answers to her rhetorical questions about a fictional college student named Debbie, and "How Debbie will cope… if she's always been made to feel that no one should ever make her feel sad, or criticize anything she does?" Metz might enjoy a recent Boston Globe piece on  "snowplow parents" -- moms and dads who brazenly continue to "smooth the road" for their kids even when they're in college and beyond. In it, writer Bella English recounts tales of parents who've accompanied their young adult offspring on job interviews, who call them "seven or eight times a day" and even a family who issued Amber alerts when their daughter didn't check in with them for 24 hours. As the dean of students at Simmons College, citing "parental concerns about noise, gluten-free diets, and food allergies," tells the Globe, "there has been a real shift in the extent to which parents are involved and invested in the lives of their students."

The results for these fragile, so-called teacup kids are pretty much what you – and certainly Stephanie Metz – would expect. A Journal of Child and Family Studies report earlier this year found that "over-controlling parents undermine the competence and confidence of college students." And, in a conclusion very similar to Metz's, one of the study's authors tells the Globe, "Children are not developing the skills they need to become fully functioning adults. Parents have the delusion that what they’re doing is helping, but it’s okay to let your kid fail in safe circumstances."

As Charles Blow wrote in the Times last week, "My children are not truly mine. They don’t belong to me; they’ve simply been entrusted to me. They are a gift life gave to me, but one that I must one day give back to life. They must grow up and go away and that is as it should be." Raising children to be strong and independent doesn't mean giving them the expectation they should put up with bullying and abuse. But it does mean knowing that if you jump in front of your kids to shield them from every one of life's hardships, your kids will never discover what they themselves are capable of. And all the evidence supports the challenging reality that one of the hardest and most important things in the world for parents isn't knowing when to step in, it's trusting when to let go.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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