You’ve no doubt experienced or read about the horrors of “helicopter parenting,” with overprotective mommies and daddies hovering over little Junior’s every move to save him from every conceivable peril. But prepare yourself for the newest evolution of this unfortunate trend.
I’m calling it “black helicopter parenting.” Take one part overprotective coddling cocoon-mom, one part suburban liberal worry-wart, one part nosy neighbor, and combine it with the unseen omnipresent eye of our do-it-yourself smartphone surveillance state, and presto: black helicopter parenting. Why just worry about your own kids’ every move when you can anonymously “look out” for others?
It sounds paranoid. But they really are watching you! Well, watching me, at least.
On to the Story
Here’s what happened. I was driving two of my darling moppets to school at Something Something School of the Suburbs. As so often is the case, eight-year-old “Pumpkin” was assailing seven-year-old “Princess.” (Names have been changed to protect the guilty.) Princess was shrieking, as usual. Despite daddy’s pleas for about ten minutes, neither would cool it.
So, given the break of a long red light, I shouted “STOP IT!” and reached back to deliver what should have been a sound smack to the hands of young assailing Pumpkin. It didn’t quite make it, as he’s a quick one. But they settled down and started yammering about something else.
I drove them on to the drop-off line, bid them adieu, and was on my way to work—only to have my wife call me two hours later, saying, “So, did you smack Pumpkin on the way into school today?” “Uhhhh… yeah?” I replied, wondering how on earth she knew (not that this had been the first time either of us had delivered a little backseat justice).
Then she tells me, “Evidently another parent saw you do it from the car behind you, and took a picture of your license plate with her smartphone. Then she followed you to the school and went in to complain about it, saying she’d seen you hitting your kid!” Needless to say, I was shocked and more than a little appalled. Who does that?
The wife went on to say, “So the teacher she told had to tell the school officials. Who then had to interview our son.” Of course, when they said, “Did your dad hit you in the car this morning?” he replied, “He didn’t hit me… I ducked!”
This school official is a reasonable person who knows us, and she says she totally understood what happened, but she let us know she was required by law to file a report with Child Protective Services (for a poorly delivered car-swat!).
Fortunately, she could report it was nothing to be concerned about and didn’t have to give them my name or anything. But still! And she told my wife to pass on to me this: “You might just need to be more careful with how you discipline the kids in public.” (In public! I was in my wimpy little car!)
This Could Easily Escalate
I don’t think anything else will come of this, although last night, there was a county police car driving by my house (which almost never happens), evidently looking for an address he couldn’t find. “Did this busybody report me to the police?” I had to wonder.
I know under state law it’s okay to deliver a little physical discipline to your kids. At least as of today. But who knows. Maybe she’d exaggerate, as she obviously imagined something much worse than the reality of the situation. Even though this case is completely ridiculous, we’ve all seen and heard more than enough cases of the police or Child Protective Services overstepping their bounds.
What if the people at our school hadn’t known us, and weren’t so commonsense about it? What if they too jumped to conclusions and started putting words in my kids’ mouths? It’s not so farfetched.
As I’ve shared the story, every other parent I’ve told it to has been incensed, ready to deliver a backseat swatting of his own to this unknown complainer. So perhaps it’s just as well we don’t actually know who it is.
She knows who I am, though. Or, at least, she knows my car. I’m sure she’s out there now, talking to her fellow helicopter parents, possibly encouraging them to try a little black helicoptering of their own. I imagine her congratulating herself for her bravery, pointing fingers and whispering to the other parents (“There’s the one who abuses his kids!”). So I’m left to wonder, “Which one of these is the culprit? Who’s been watching me?”
Parent Like Me Or I’ll Tell Big Brother
So, Black Helicopter Mom, if somehow you end up reading this, stop and think about the possible consequences of your behavior. You hover around, safe in your anonymity, but you could conceivably do real damage to a family, and you’ve already done real damage to the sense of community at our school.
Is this the future? Will we see more people spying on each other, using their smartphones for a little high-tech tattle-tale-ing? Calling the authorities to handle things they won’t bring up to people to their faces? Expanding their helicoptering and over-parenting past their coddled offspring out to everyone else’s? I think we can count on it.
So look out. You may not have anything to fear from the black helicopters of the United Nations or whoever else. But the black helicopter parents could be after you next!