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Pitfalls of Helicopter Parenting

August 26th, 2013

Why Kids Need Freedom and Outdoor Adventures to Grow

By: Sara Bell 

My husband, Tim, and I operate two businesses, running white-water kayaking and zip line canopy tours. Our son, Finn, is eight and is naturally a pretty cautious kid, which is kind of surprising coming from the two of us who are pretty big risk-takers. He is kind, sweet and really athletic, but he won't take a physical risk unless he knows he is going to nail it. But as parents, we really like the idea of  giving kids the freedom to push their comfort zones and take more risks. 

I am not talking about inappropriate risks, but the kind you and I probably took when we were growing up. Our parents would let us run around the neighbourhood, ride our bikes, and go swimming in the neighbours' swimming pool or the lake. I don't want to put my kids in harm's way, but I never want to limit their life experience because of my fears or concerns about appearing like a bad parent.

Often when parents get together, it seems like the ones who are considered the best parents are those who have their kids' lives the most scheduled – the same routine when it comes to naps, dinner and bedtime. As a result, I think some parents make decisions about what they let their kids do based on what other parents think. Yes, kids need sleep and regular meals and feeling like their lives are settled. Some routine is important and makes humans healthy and happy, but I think we as a society overdo it.

We work really hard to make decisions about what our kids can do based on our own knowledge of the activities and of our kids and their personalities. I don't want my son to break a bone, but if that is the consequence of him having a really cool life experience, it is worth it.

Many parents try to control every aspect of their kids' experiences and protect them from anything bad. This is so common we even have a name for parents who hover over their kids and jump in to rescue them at the first sign of trouble: helicopter parents. But helicopter parenting is not in the best interest of kids. Kids who are always in a controlled environment may not learn to think on their feet or react in a creative way.

If we keep kids' lives in this little box – if we pack their lunch for them every morning and they are always clean and have to go to bed at 7:30 every night – they may miss out on other things. It may limit their life experiences and inhibit their development of problem-solving skills. If they are never allowed to make a mistake, where's the learning. 

I am the oldest sibling in my family and have sisters five and nine years younger than me. My youngest sister just graduated from college, and my middle sister is working a few years into her first real job. My mom has seen us all in tough life situations over the last several years, as we were just trying to figure out what the next step is and making difficult decisions. Our mom has always been the mom who would come and save you in bad situations, but lately she is working hard to let us as adults feel the consequences. All of us have come out of these situations stronger, smarter, more confident people, knowing we can handle more rather than looking to mom and dad to fix things. 

That is what I want to see with my kids. If they are riding their bikes and kids have made a bike ramp in the neighbourhood, I let them try it. Maybe they will hit the jump with more speed or less speed or even crash and get a little banged up. I want them to have these life experiences so they learn to be resourceful, resilient and eventually, independent. 

Adventure Sports Entrepreneur Sara Bell and her husband Tim are co-owners of The Gorge, billed as the fastest, steepest zip line canopy tour in the United States, and Green River Adventures, which specializes in white-water outfitting and instruction. They hold degrees in Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education and live near Saluda, N.C., with their two awesome kids, Finn and Hurley. For more information,




Tags: Moms, Parenting

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