Friday, November 21, 2008

When helicopter parents become politicians

Ask around any Canadian university and you'll quickly find out what a helicopter parent is. If you ask a faculty member, they'll probably let you know that a helicopter parent is a recent nuisance that has descended on campus - normally an affluent baby boomer parent who is incapable of letting their adult child make decisions on their own, and certainly not allow them to face the consequences. They are likened to helicopters because they constantly hover over their children, swooping in with dreadful regularity. At their worst, they contact professors directly to ask how their children are faring in university (at which point they are firmly and politely informed that the university treats its students as adults, and if they want to know how their child is faring, they should ask them directly). At best, they harass their university-aged children to find out when they are going to bed. I am greatly alarmed at this overprotective approach that the current generation of parents is all too often taking towards their children - who are now young adults. It is infantalizing, and I strongly suspect that when it occurs, it delays the maturing process.

It gets even worse when these parents try to make their hyper-concern a matter of government policy. We see this at the federal level with a government which would like to criminalize teen sexuality - or at least deny any sexual agency on the part of teenagers. And now we are seeing it in Ontario, with Premier Dalton McGuinty's latest ill-thought out policy which would create a special class of drivers up to the age of 21 who are required to have zero blood-alcohol when behind the wheel, and are not allowed to have more than one additional teenager in the car with them. As more than one person has observed, this policy will likely hurt efforts to have young people act as designated drivers, and certainly undermine carpooling efforts. It would also set a new, much higher threshold for adulthood than is currently in effect in Canada for voting, consensual sex, and the consumption of alcohol.

This isn't the first time that McGuinty - author of Ontario's bullying law - has attempted to use his power as premier to act in loco parentis to young adults. Last time it was an effort to deny driver's licences to students who dropped out of high school at age 16 - a decision which the law allows them to make.

At a certain point, teenagers and young adults need to be able to make their own decisions, and to face those consequences. That's how they grow up. The longer they are protected, sheltered or prevented from making those decisions, they longer they will act like oversized children. If we want our young adults to act responsibly, our politicians and parents need to entrust some responsibility to them, and allow them to face the consequences of their decisions. Sheltering them for longer and longer periods is simply going to increase the age at which they are forced - or perhaps it's more accurate to say "allowed" - to grow up. I shudder to think that if McGuinty's ill-thought out law had been in effect when I was younger, I would have been a 21-year old with my university degree in hand, but prevented by law from having two teenagers as passengers in my car. Heck, I couldn't have driven my two sisters to the mall!

It's time to ground the helicopters - for the good and maturity of the next generation.

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At 12:19 pm, Blogger Kevin said...

This is wonderful. I see very similar tendencies in parents of my daughter's peers. She's in grade 11 and so isn't counted as an adult yet but has been assuming more and more responsibility. Certainly her grades are her responsibility.

The urge to protect adults from the consequences of their choices goes much further than helicopter parents. I think a good argument could be made that we live in a helicopter society. The infantilization continues well into adulthood.

As a rule, people seem unwilling to assume any risk and are much more willing to accept increased regulation and prescription to avoid any risk.

Kids rarely walk to school because of imagined ( or certainly inflated ) fears for their safety. Middle school children are stuffed in booster seats and ex-nhl players are forced to wear helmets when they coach their kids.


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