About 7 years ago, I wrote a post asking, “How Do Parent Labels Help?”.  I was concerned about the value of this in helping parent-teacher interactions and in supporting children.  I was also concerned about generalizations made about parents and the labels assigned.  I later wrote a post to emphasize “seeking to understand” parents in the education context.

I don’t think the labelling has lessened much since I last wrote on the topic.  Others have written in concern about it, but it seems to continue being something that is used to help understand parenting behaviour.

Sometimes parental behaviour is also examined or explained in terms of generational influences.  I still also read references to past times when parents didn’t question educators and demonstrated more respect for their children’s teachers.  I think we have to accept that much has changed — in our world, in parenting and in teaching and education.  And also, if some things don’t change, some behaviours will not.

Recently I read a Parents article, A Year-by-Year Guide to the Different Generations and Their Personalities.  I still have concerns about generalizations in such articles, but it provided a useful timeline and good contrasts to examine the evolution of parenting.  It was the first time I read the reference to “parennials” (Millennials who are now parents) . The writer claims that Gen X parents (born between 1965 and 1979) were the first to use “helicopter” parenting styles.  I am not sure there is a full or common understanding what a helicopter parent is — same goes for “snowplow” or “lawnmower” parenting (etc.!).  The article links to a previous article that provided some definitions and examples of helicopter parenting.  I am glad it also offered some possible reasons, or “common triggers”, to help understand what might be behind the parenting behaviours and choices.  They include:  Fear of dire consequences, feelings of anxiety, overcompensation, and peer pressure for other parents.

Others look to study and explain parenting behaviours in other ways.  An article called, “What’s so wrong with helicopter parenting?”, highlights research and a book written by two university economists.  They categorized parents according to three types (authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive).

Developmental psychologists use parenting categories to figure out which styles favor better academic and personal outcomes. Doepke and Zilibotti use these types to try and understand why parents make the choices they do, and why those choices look so different between countries and generations.”

Their research and data analysis could only prove association and not causation.  Some further statements from the article include:

Their message is clear: Contrary to popular stereotypes, those who succumb to the lure of helicopter parenting aren’t hysterical or illogical.”

“Parenting has become very unequal,” said Doepke. “It’s one of the big social problems we have because we have high inequality now, and if kids don’t get the same starting conditions, it’s just going to get worse and worse in the future.”

Wisely, their prescription is not to fix the helicopter parents, but the institutions that are perpetuating inequality.”

In other research, helicopter parenting may also result in “hothouse children” — a term/label I came across reading, Helicopter parents and ‘hothouse children’ — exploring the high stakes of family dynamics.

There is also dismissal of “HP”.  Alfie Kohn offers and backs up this stance: “Helicopter Parenting” Hysteria: The Epidemic That Actually Isn’t.

I often hear the opinion that we parent how we were parented.  I suppose to a degree, but I think there are many influencing factors in play.  It can seem very complex and difficult to understand.  If certain parenting styles (responses?) and family inequalities continue, how can school contexts respond, partner, and support appropriately?  If there is the view that some parents are too involved and others are not involved appropriately, how does one proceed in family engagement?

I re-visited a blog post written by Nancy Angevine-Sands, a parent engagement facilitator (@withequalstep), entitled Sharing the Pedestal. She addresses the impacts of inappropriate judgment of parents.  She reminds of the realities of parenting and how educators may inadvertently alienate parents if they don’t share both their own struggles and “the pedestal”:

Would authentic partnerships develop that allowed schools to understand the vulnerabilities of families, and families to accept the imperfections of schools?”

Another great reminder from Nancy:

Rhetoric extolling the virtues of schools shouldn’t seek to boost the morale of the teachers at the expense of families.”

I agree with Nancy.  I think it is important to reflect how that affects relationships with families, for whatever reason such extolling occurs.

I thought this recent article with parent engagement advice from school administrators offered some solid, respectful approaches for today’s families:  What We’ve Learned: Administrators share advice for engaging families.

If readers know of other examples or strategies that focus on seeking to understand parents and getting past labels or assumptions, please share.