Be on the Human Spectrum

No Rescue vs. Helicopter Parenting & Teaching

A recent piece by Catherine Newman on The New York Times Parenting Blog explores the balance between being a ‘helicopter’ parent and a ‘no-rescue’ parent. The article got my fiance and I talking about our own ideas of how we will be as parents in the future and how we manage students as teachers. There are definite points of discussion and reflection for both parents and teachers in this piece, not the least of which revolves around the large social question of how independent is too independent.

Both parents and teachers are highly concerned with the quality of person they are fostering and influencing. The kind and quality of young person is a serious consideration for both parents and teachers because of their interactions in three spheres; the family, the community, and the broader society and world. Parents and teachers vacillate over how their child or student will function within all three spheres, and we do our best to encourage qualities like independence and generosity. The parenting trends known as ‘helicopter’ and ‘no-rescue’ represent extreme ends of a spectrum that most parents of Western societies fall within. More specifically, ‘helicopter’ parents are very supportive and involved in the best terms; coddling and meddlesome in the worst. On the other hand, ‘no-rescue’ parents can engender independence and self-reliance in their child, yet can be too hands-off bordering on unstructured. Newman explores the implications of these dichotomous parenting styles using everyday, real-life examples.

The crux of her parenting position can be found in the final and best line of the piece, “So. Not helicopter. Not no-rescue. But interdependence. Maybe we can just call it parenting. Or, you know, being human.” I so love the plain-spoken, folksy truth of this statement.

We can see the problem with extreme independence, or libertarianism, in America today. Struggling economically, not achieving a finite definition of success, do you rely a bit on the state for help with health care or preschool? Are you part of the ‘Boomerang’ generation still living in their parents basement? Or, are you a kid who needs the teacher to write a note for your parents reminding them that you need lunch money? Well, you must not be bootstrapping enough, resourceful enough or responsible enough for American society. You must have ‘helicopter’ parents. Poor thing.

Conversely, do you feel burdened by your geriatric parents in their old age? Did you refuse to live at home for any part of your college education and are now saddled with student loan debt? Do you have a hard time asking friends to help you with the tiniest of favors? Are you the kid who gets obstinate and cannot accept help when faced with a learning challenge? Well, you poor thing, you must’ve had ‘no-rescue’ parents.

Of course, there is no direct correlation, and that is the point. If we provide a student with all the learning supports she needs to overcome a challenge this does not automatically make her overly dependent. If we let our child get a cold because he has forgotten his coat, that may not make him a model of personal responsibility either. And if society offers a reasonable bit of assistance to those who need help with steep health care costs, that does not make all those receiving assistance ‘takers’. Newman is appealing to our old-fashioned sensibilities about helping thy neighbor and supporting your family. Depending on the unique circumstances and the unique nature of a child, parents and teachers should make judgement calls which split the difference between ‘helicopter’ and ‘no-rescue’.  As Newman writes, in the end, it’s not about being an ideology or a philosophy, and instead, just being an interdependent human being.