Yesterday, I watched an interesting interaction at a local playground. Two girls, probably 7 or 8 years old, got angry at each other and started fighting about who got to climb the "rock wall" first. The mother of one of the girls immediately ran over and negotiated a settlement. She did a very nice job of pointing out some potential solutions to the problem and why some ideas were better than others. The girls listened carefully, and agreed to try one of the ideas. The conflict was resolved. Success, right? Maybe not.
My alumni magazine just ran an article about "helicopter parents." This term was developed to describe over-involved parents who "swoop" in to take care of everything for their children. I first heard the term as a professor, from college staff members who were frustrated with parents who planned their children's schedules, phoned administration about roommate disputes, and called their children frequently (even hourly!) to chat and keep tabs on them. I personally received calls from several "helicopter parents" who complained about their children's grades in my courses or, in one case, the negative feedback that I gave to a student on a term paper. This problem is so widespread that some colleges and universities have even hired full-time staff (or entire departments!) to deal with helicopter parents.
The girls I saw on the playground are part of the tail end of the "Millennial Generation" (people born between 1982 and 2002). Millennial children tend to come from older parents (in other words, people who had children at later ages). These parents tend to take their parenting roles very seriously and are often very active in their children's development and education. They also tend to schedule a wealth of carefully selected social, cultural, and extracurricular events for their children (often starting in preschool years) in order to adequately prepare them for future successes in school, jobs, relationships, and so on.
As a parent of a Millennial child myself, I can assume that this parenting style originates from a true desire to help today's children excel in what seems like a relatively dangerous, media saturated, highly competitive world. These parents are concerned about child development and have read enough (or heard enough media reports) to know that involved parenting is important. However, over-involved parents can inadvertently damage children's self-confidence, ability to solve problems and manage their time, handle conflict, and engage in successful interpersonal relationships.
So, back to the opening scenario. I can't say whether this mom is or isn't a "helicopter parent" after watching her intervene in one specific situation on one day. However, I found myself wondering whether allowing the two girls to solve the problem on their own (unless they were physically harming each other) would be a better choice in the long run.