Helicopter parenting puts kids at a disadvantage

By Ada Slivinski, 24 Hours Vancouver

Getty Images

Getty Images

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I spent a lot of time with my kids at playgrounds on Vancouver’s North Shore. I saw a lot of parents hovering around their children, sometimes even climbing on the play structure with their toddlers. No doubt these parents feel they are doing the best thing by being the buffer between their children and the world, but a new report shows the opposite may actually be true.

This month, the West Vancouver Community Foundation’s Vital Signs report indicated that 33 per cent of kindergarten students in the affluent British Properties neighbourhood are classified as “vulnerable” on a scale of “school readiness,” specifically when it comes to school’s social aspects. This is above the provincial average of 32 per cent.

One of the prevalent theories as to why we’re seeing this troubling trend in a wealthy neighbourhood is that these children have not had the chance to experience “unstructured” play.

Sandra Lynn-Shortall, district principal of learning for the West Vancouver School District was quoted saying activities like playing in the woods are stressful for these children. “Running, jumping, hopping on one foot, balancing … those are things that are new experiences for many children.”

These kind of activities should be what toddlerhood is all about, yet some of the provinces most affluent kids are being denied the opportunity to play this way.

Though West Vancouver students continually score higher than the provincial average on reading, writing and mathematical tests, they are socially and developmentally at a disadvantage.

UBC researcher Dr. Mariana Brussoni has long been studying the benefits of free-range outdoor play for children. “Monitoring children’s activities may be a more appropriate approach than active supervision, particularly for older children,” she said after coming out with a report showing that risky outdoor play positively impacts children’s health.

With most West Van parents hovering around their children on the playground, the helicopter approach becomes the norm. I’ve been sitting on the sidelines watching my own daughters play with preschoolers whose parents mediate all their interactions for them and been shot confused looks for not being by my kids’ side at all times.

These parents are meddling to the point where the young ones don’t even know how to play on their own. It’s not a stretch to imagine these little people having a difficult time once they enter kindergarten. Though hovering parents may have the best intentions, they are doing their children a disservice. If we want to turn this trend around, we need to start letting kids be kids.