Swiftwater Journey

faith, culture, and growing up in a rapidly changing world

In Defense of Helicopter Parenting December 31, 2009

Dr. Sarah Ravin is a trained scientist-practitioner in clinical psychology specializing in the treatment of adolescents and their families with various eating disorders. Her recent blog responding to last month’s Time Magazine article warning of the downside of over-involved, enmeshed, controlling parents gives a short defense as to when helicopter parents actually help their teenagers get well.

In Defense of Helicopter Parenting « eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and psychotherapy.

Dr. Ravin does acknowledge the potential and real harm done by helicopter parents, citing the work of Eric Erickson, who taught that “the primary developmental task of middle adulthood (ages 30-50) is seeking satisfaction through productivity in career, family, and civic interests.” This desire clashes with the needs of their children, who according to Dr. Ravin, are right in the middle of their primary adolescent developmental task: identity formation.

“Children need to play, explore, relax, and interact with their surroundings in creative, imaginative ways. Adolescents need to loaf, “hang out,” date, experience “teen angst,” spend quality time with family and friends, develop their social skills, make their own choices (within reason), make mistakes, and learn from them.”

In her practice, and I believe this will be verified by other therapists with an adolescent focus, Dr. Ravin sees middle adolescents and emerging adults woefully lacking in the kind of development that is required to step into adult roles and responsibilities (“solid self-identity, resilience, confidence, good problem-solving skills, and the ability to tolerate discomfort and failure”). Is it possible that helicopter parents stunt necessary growth? I think the answer is yes. In the research of those of us involved with ParenTeen, we’ve found that over-controlling parenting styles are another form of the all-pervasive systemic abandonment of adolescents stunting their maturity. According to Dr. Ravin:

“Their lives have been geared entirely towards achievement in academics, arts, and athletics, often not for the love of science or music or soccer, but because their parents pushed them and/or because they believed it would improve their chances of gaining admission to a prestigious college. Quite often, they don’t know how to structure their time, study properly, deal with disappointment, or make decisions independently. Sadly, many of them do not know who they are or what they enjoy.”

The pendulum can swing to parenting extremes: uninvolved, disinterested, lenient, absent, and self-absorbed, or controlling, hovering, over-protective, and enmeshed. Both styles fail to provide the kind of positive nurture, boundarying, and coming alongside, that adolescent’s need and want. Many parents simply leave their kids alone way too much. But others hurt through their driving presence.

“Helicopter parenting has the potential to be quite harmful to children by increasing their stress and anxiety and preventing them from developing self-confidence, resourcefulness, problem-solving skills, distress tolerance skills, emotion regulation skills, and creativity. Children and adolescents are over-scheduled, over-worked, and pushed to succeed, often at the expense of their emotional health. There is not enough unstructured time for kids to play, explore, or create. There is little room for adolescent identity formation in between AP classes, Princeton Review SAT prep courses, college applications, three varsity sports, band practice, clubs, and mandatory community service hours.”

Dr. Ravin gives the caveat that as she works with adolescent’s seeking control and recovery of an eating disorder, the helicopter parents do step up to the plate in a positive and proactive way. She would rather have the involvement and support of a super-involved parent rather than one who from a distance wants her to “fix” their child.

More important than our parenting style at a given point is how we as parents and a community are present for our kids. They need loving, present, positive, boundary-making, flexible, parents who understand the length and complexity of the adolescent journey.


School spirit is still alive, it’s just changing December 24, 2009

Filed under: Adolescence,Technology — billmacphee @ 9:36 am
Tags: , ,

School spirit is alive at Shorewood High School in the state of Washington. Their spirit is impressive and the result is really fun. Kudos to their film teacher who helped most of the school join together and collaborate in a creative way.


the garden hose December 12, 2009

Filed under: Marriage — billmacphee @ 7:39 pm
Tags: ,

I’m reading Donald Miller’s, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, and one of his stories reminded me of how I got married. My experience had something to do with a garden hose and my dad. Donald talks about the difference between real life and his daydreaming made up life as a writer:

“… last year I was sitting in a cafe in Boston when a man came in with his wife and their two children. One of the children was a boy who looked to be three, and the other was an infant dressed in pink. I went back to reading, but after a time the infant began to cry in a shrill I would normally find annoying. But it didn’t affect me the saem way this time. I watched the mother lift the baby into her lap and comfort her until the child’s sobbing turned to gasping. As the mother brought the child to her shoulder and rocked her until gasping turned back to breathing. It hit me then that while I had spent my twenties daydreaming and avoiding the reality of crying children, this man I didn’t know had met a woman and started a real family with real children who were not literary inventions, but actual characters who cried in coffee shops. This sort of life once sounded boring to me. It was too real, too unromantic, I suppose. But there in Boston it occured to me that his story was actually happening. He was doing real things with real people while I’d been typing words into a computer.” [Miller, p 75-76].

I was recovering from a serious mountaineering accident at the home of my parents. Still single, 26 years old, and wondering what my life would be like in the future [professionally, relationally, emotionally]  I vividly remember a moment when my dad finished watering some front yard plants and was winding the hose up neatly below its source at the spigot. In that moment I desperately wanted a productive tomorrow which would lead to the kind of life that might include something as mundane as winding the hose in a home I owned in partnership with a wife who gave birth to and nurtured our children.

In that single experience I was not only filled with hope and motivation but realized that if I was to become the kind of man a woman would want to marry I needed to begin rearranging my life [before marriage] in such a way that space was given to simple things like mowing the lawn, spending a night at home intentionally, and saving more money in my bank account. Lasting relationships, including marriage, don’t happen by chance, but are the result of two people willing to become the kind of person who can meet the needs of one they love.

Soon after recovery and life change, Cynthia and I fell in love, and worked toward getting married. It wasn’t automatic or even fate, but part of the process of moving from playing at life to actually living it.