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The hazards of helicopter parenting

Some children entering Kindergarten aren’t meeting benchmarks in social and behavioural development. Research is finding parents who hover over their children, jumping in to solve conflicts for their kids, instead of letting them explore, fall and fail is hurting their brain development. The amount of time spent indoors in front of a screen also isn’t helping outcomes. - Dan FERGUSON/Langley Times
Some children entering Kindergarten aren’t meeting benchmarks in social and behavioural development. Research is finding parents who hover over their children, jumping in to solve conflicts for their kids, instead of letting them explore, fall and fail is hurting their brain development. The amount of time spent indoors in front of a screen also isn’t helping outcomes.
— image credit: Dan FERGUSON/Langley Times

This is a second in a series looking at the challenges of parenting in a ever-changing, busy world

Remember being a kid and making forts with friends and knowing to go home when the street lights came on?

You may have fond memories of exploring the outdoors, but children of today don’t. Gone are the days of unsupervised outdoor play and that may actually behindering brain development.

Helicopter and bubblewrap parenting could be hurting children’s best outcomes, according to research into early learning.

A recently-released study measuring children’s vulnerability rates show that 33 per cent of kids in Langley aren’t meeting benchmark social and behavioural developments when they start Kindergarten.

Members of Langley’s Early Childhood Development Committee (ECD) are saying some of those concerning results can be attributed to bubble wrapped children — defined as children whose parents protect them from conflict and disappointment, never letting them solve problems themselves.

“What Kindergarten teachers are seeing is children who fall apart, who can’t handle frustration or disappointment,” said Karen Abrahamson, who sits on Langley’s ECD Committee as well as University of B.C. Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP), which has policy papers and research available online about changes in society and their effects on children outcomes.

Helicopter parenting also leads to problems with children lacking self-confidence or independence because their parents hover over their every move, saving them from any possible falls and jumping in before letting them problem solve on their own.

Schools are now dealing with an increased number of complex diagnoses, said Abrahamson. Anxiety levels among young children is concerning, said the ECD committee that includes members from Langley Child Development Centre and Aldergrove Neighbourhood Services.

The biggest indication of helicopter parenting is children are no longer able to go outside by themselves and explore, said Abrahamson.

The ECD are pushing for awareness of “Bring back play.”

“Playing outside, having contact with nature is a wonderful thing,” she said.

“Studies are finding that children who never experience risk play (unsupervised outdoor play) is actually resulting in dysfunction in brain development.”

Helicopter parenting is fear-based parenting.

Media plays a role, making parents feel that the world is a much more dangerous place than it was 20 years ago, with more predators out there.

In fact, stranger danger has remained static.

“Yet, we have many parents who won’t even let their kids play in the front yard.”

“Remember when we were kids we used to go explore the forest, make forts, go play at the river, climb a tree?” said Abrahmson.

The benefits of unsupervised play are crucial for brain development, says recently released research.

A chart made up by Australian early learning researchers shows unsupervised play leads to resiliency, confidence, independence, social skills and ability to problem solve. Without it, says this research, it can lead to anxiety, depression, obesity and concentration problems.

Even the type of equipment in playgrounds has been modified to meet the new world’s safety expectations.

“When do you ever see a merry-go-round anymore?” asks Abrahmson.

Couple all of this with the amount of time children are spending in front of a screen, inside the house, not moving, and children’s futures are in trouble, said the committee.

“Nobody is blaming families. It’s a case of society moving in this direction,” she said.

With single-family homes unaffordable, new families are living in townhouses, suites and rowhomes, with postage stamp-size yards. So if children want to play outside, their parents have to take them to the park.

With a busy schedule and both parents working, time to do this is limited, she points out.

“We can’t stress it enough — let’s bring back play,” said the Langley committee.

The result is too many kids are arriving to Kindergarten emotionally not ready, says findings from the Early Development Indicators (EDI) index.

The 2013 EDI data was released recently, finding that the amount of vulnerable children in some parts of Langley (48 per cent in Aldergrove) was considerably higher than the B.C. average.

The data was provided to the Langley school board.

The information about Langley children is gathered by Kindergarten teachers who volunteer to answer around 100 questions about their students’ cognitive, social, physical well being and behaviour.

Conducted every few years in school districts across Canada, the results give some idea of how children are doing and where their vulnerabilities are.

The results help to decide where to increase support and services.

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