I think that many Americans have known for a long time that indulgent, Helicopter-style parenting leads to entitled children. Of course, when it’s spelled out that way, the truth seems implicit and obvious, but it’s a truth that’s been lost on a generation of middle class parents who only wanted their children to avoid all of the discomforts that they experienced, and to have all of the advantages that they never had. While that sentiment is certainly one that anyone can empathize with, it seems like we’ve finally reached a point where public angst over the consequences of entitlement has boiled over into the mainstream. Whether in the form of Amy Chua’s strident promotion of the other extreme, or my own endorsement of a more balanced approach, a growing chorus of voices is arguing that children need not and should not be sheltered from adversity.
The latest proponent of this view is Lori Gottlieb of The Atlantic, who argues in “How to Land Your Kids in Therapy” that over-attentive, coddling parents are, despite their best intentions, destroying their kids’ chances at a normal life by being too concerned with their short-term emotional well-being and never letting them experience failure. By the time these children become adults, they’ve become so attuned to the implied message that they’re entitled to a perfect life that they have trouble dealing with normal, everyday levels of adversity. Because their Helicopter parents always praised them for the slightest accomplishments, and allowed them to quit their sports or musical instruments as soon as they lost interest, they never developed the drive and perseverance necessary to succeed in the real world.
These points are very similar to the ones I made in Our Entitled Children: An American Tiger Mom’s Story, and I’m glad that more and more parents are coming around to the idea that the more you shelter your children, the worse off both of you will be when they grow up. But while lots of attention plus low expectations is indeed a toxic mixture, I disagree with Ms. Gottlieb that the problem is too much parenting and emotional support in general. That’s sliding dangerously close to Tiger Mom territory. Rather than backing off and becoming less “attuned” to their children’s needs, I think that parents just need to refocus their energies on more productive avenues. You can and should support their hobbies and interests, but also make it clear that once they start something, they have to finish it. Praise their effort and give them abundant love and support, but also set and enforce high academic standards. Let them have the things that they really want if you can afford them, as long as you teach them how to save and earn money so they can buy it themselves in the future. In short, it’s ok to be attentive to your children’s needs as long as you balance it out with high expectations. And yes, let them experience failure once in a while, and they'll see that it's not the end of the world.
That’s how an American Tiger Mom does it.