In defense of helicopter parents

It’s all the rage these days to vilify helicopter parents. They annoy colleges and high schools and elementary schools and coaches and principals and teachers and college admission officers. They handicap their children by hovering and preventing them from having freedom or responsibility or new experiences or failure. They make all the other parents irrationally defensive as we try explaining why we aren’t bad parents if we let our kids walk to the library  alone or have a fight with a friend without our intervening with suggested solutions or send in a college essay on a topic of their own choosing. We’ve all heard the outrageous helicopter parent stories. I read an article last week about how American parents are all overprotective. None of us let our children ride their bikes or go to the store or use a knife or pour their own drinks, while parents everywhere else do, and so our children are growing up to be infantile, helpless followers with low self-esteem. Or so this article claims. I let my children do those things, and I’m American, so the article can’t be completely right, but I get the point.

I agree that it’s unhealthy for parents to be overprotective or too intrusive into their children’s lives and that helicopter parents ARE overprotective and too intrusive. If ever a helicopter parent there was, my  mother-in-law is one because…Her youngest child is now 29, and as far as I know, my husband is the only one of the four who has actually bought his own car, and then, only because I told him to tell her to leave us alone. She calls to remind us to write thank-you notes. She sent me an article about frostbite when she thought my oldest son was underdressed for the cold, and she has lectured me on various health issues in complete disregard of the fact that I’m a DOCTOR!  She cannot be in my house without taking over the parenting of both my kids and my husband and me, and she cannot remember to knock before entering my house. For heaven’s sake, when my husband thought he might have a problem with grinding his teeth, she spoke to her dentist about it and then called us with potential appointment times for him the see her dentist. The important thing is that she means well. She isn’t trying to control. She isn’t trying to intrude. She just wants to help, and what makes her happy is working on behalf of her children. She has hovered over all four of them, and they have all turned out to be happy, healthy, productive people with healthy, supportive relationships, good jobs that they enjoy and find fulfilling, and nurtured and loved children. All her children have grown into the kind of adults that parents hope their children will be. She didn’t ruin them, contrary to all the dire predictions in the helicopter-parent hate literature. Is she too intrusive? Yes, except when they tell her to mind her own business. Does she do things for them that any normal adult should do for themselves? Yes, except when they tell her not to. She means well. She loves her children. She has to be reminded to give them space, but she does it when she’s reminded. There are worse things in a parent than caring too much. There are worse things than doing too much for your children, protecting them too much from pain and illness and cruel people. There are worse things than taking too much interest in their lives and their friends and their education. It’s all the rage to vilify helicopter parents. How about accepting their good intentions while trying to convince them to ease the iron grip on their children’s lives and vilifying the parents who just don’t care?

What’s the point of rankings if they don’t rank anything?

There’s apparently a trend among some high schools to have multiple valedictorians. Their explanation in part revolves around having many excellent students with perfect GPAs and straight A’s through all four years of school. My high school certainly had several of us who had straight A’s all the way through. We didn’t have multiple valedictorians, though, because we ranked on a 100 point scale, rather than a 4 point scale. Averaging all our grades out of 100 obviously gives more sensitivity for differences in performance, since the person who got a 99 in the class gets a better score in their GPA than the one who got a 91, but this difference is lost on a 4 point scale. So the claim that they have a 20 way tie for number 1 in the class is disingenuous. Assuming the classes are graded on a 100 point scale, they have a very easy solution to the there-are-too-many-good-students conundrum.

I understand the urge to recognize the efforts and excellence of all the students, and certainly of all the top students. I understand the desire to reduce some of the competitiveness that comes from rankings, to reward everyone who works hard enough (or is just smart enough) to get A’s in every class for four years. If that’s the goal, they can just get rid of the rankings altogether, or they can do what my medical school did–we weren’t ranked except by as top 25%, bottom 25%, and middle 50% of the class, which allowed the people who did really well to shine  without having any real competition where one student’s good performance undermines another’s. If they want to recognize everyone’s effort, then they should, but then they shouldn’t have any valedictorian. In that case, everyone deserves recognition, including that poor left-out sap who got one B in P.E. who isn’t one of the 20 valedictorians. If you’re going to recognize certain students based on performance, you have to set a standard somewhere, and making that standard one that includes 20 students is just as much short-changing the efforts of the rest as making as standard that only includes one student. But it’s ridiculous to claim that 2o people are #1 in the class. Either the ranking means nothing, in which case why bother with it? Or the ranking means something, a recognition of the person whose grades were best over 4 years, without any guarantee of future success or wealth, just a prize for excellence by that particular measure. If that’s what it means, then let it mean that, and recognize the ONE person who is #1 in the class. And, in the process, teach everyone else in the class that what matters much more than recognition for your effort is your effort, and that success doesn’t mean awards and being patted on the back. I don’t think “grade inflation” is the issue. I don’t think recognizing everyone’s effort is bad if that’s what the school wants to do. I don’t think having class rankings is bad either. But the schools should pick one way or the other–either there are rankings, or everyone gets recognized for their own unique contributions, efforts, and talents. They can’t have it both ways without making it completely meaningless.


We’re all No. 1! Is 21 valedictorians too many? – Vitals.

‘Fat talk’ is common but is it harmful?



Chained (Photo credit: Christi Nielsen)

The article I included below claims that ‘fat talk’ is very common and very harmful among women. I can accept that it’s as common as they claim, but I think its very commonness calls its harmfulness into question. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb in thinking that most, if not all, people through most, if not all, of history have had chinks in their self-esteem. Women have always tried to be attractive by whatever standards they held, and it follows that they had things about themselves that they’d change if they could. Do we think that all those generations of women (and men, poor things, who get to have poor self-esteem without any sympathy) were terribly harmed by having imperfect self-esteem? We all have some things we’d change about ourselves, physical or not, or we should. We shouldn’t hate ourselves for our shortcomings, nor should we hold ourselves to an unreasonable standard, but does that mean that we harm ourselves in acknowledging those shortcomings to ourselves or our friends, even if we exaggerate? Yes, it may hurt my self esteem to admit that I’m not as thin as I used to be, but it’s a true assessment of my size and health, not a false one warped by magazines and movies. I am, in fact, not as thin as I used to be. And I would, in fact, like to be that thin again. And if I fall short of that goal, I won’t hate myself for it. The ‘fat talk’ may damage our self esteem, but does it follow that it’s harmful to ourselves? Is unreasonably high self esteem that comes from not even seeing my flaws better than somewhat lower self esteem that’s in line with reality? Isn’t acknowledging our faults part of accepting ourselves? Expecting me to think that I’m perfect just the way I am is just as unrealistic as expecting me to be a size 0 when I’ve had four children and am pregnant again. And while it might feel great if I actually thought of myself that way, it would also make me insufferably smug and rob me of any opportunity to improve. I don’t deny the harm that can come from a bad body image because we hold an unattainable ideal, but that harm threatens everyone who doesn’t meet the ideal, whether they’re too fat or too thin, and it is in the thought, in the feelings it induces, in the unattainable nature of the goal, not in the bantering talk with friends about being ‘fat’ that is a symptom, not a problem. So what’s so bad about fat talk?

My butt is so huge! ‘Fat talk’ is common and harmful –

Living to work

English: An artist's depiction of the rat race...

English: An artist’s depiction of the rat race in reference to the work and life balance. See Made with following images: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I think it’s sad that we Americans accept it as a part of life that vacation is basically optional. Many of us who do have vacation don’t use it, either because we get so far behind on work that it’s not worth taking a vacation or because we aren’t secure enough in our jobs to feel like we can or because our employers, while technically offering vacation, make it so hard to use and are so disapproving of us when we do that we don’t. That’s what happened to me when I was in medicine. I was technically allowed vacation, but it was clearly discouraged and then held against us. We have communally given up on work-life balance, even if it is a catch phrase. The less lucky among us don’t even have the option of paid vacation, and we aren’t bothered by that, and sadly enough, those people are largely the same ones that certain better off Americans accuse of freeloading because they need food stamps or medicaid. Despite all our protestations and our stated desire to the contrary, we live to work. Or so it seems to me.


No paid vacation? You must be an American – Life Inc..


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