The Aurora Shooting: Maybe It’s OK to be a Helicopter Parent

Fri, July 20, 2012


The shooting tragedy in Aurora, Colorado has parents like me thinking a lot about sending our kids to the movies. What we might have done yesterday probably won’t be what we will do tomorrow.

I let our 12-year-old daughter go to the movies “alone” with a friend for the first time a couple of months ago. To say I was a nervous helicopter parent would be an understatement.

I went to the theater with them, bought the tickets, escorted them to the appropriate screen and left. Now, I didn’t leave the building — the theater is in a small shopping mall. My daughter had her cell phone and I had mine. She and her friend knew the rules — stay in that theater unless they had to go to the bathroom, I was nearby if they needed me and I’d be there to pick them up after the show and their popcorn and Junior Mint-fest.

I knew they were bound to be safe. Logically, I understood that the odds were overwhelmingly in my favor that they would sit through their summer show and pop out at the appointed time, chatting and giggling and wondering how to split up the leftover snacks. I understand I have to let my daughter have experiences like that — learning bit by bit to exercise her judgment and show us her responsibility, but I still wasn’t entirely at ease with this arrangement.  Other middle-school friends have longer leashes — some already ride the city bus by themselves. I still won’t let our daughter walk the one mile from our house to her best friend’s house alone, even during the day and even if she’s carrying her phone.

I’m just not sure she’s ready. I know the odds are that nothing bad will happen if I give her more space. I acknowledge that I did a lot more when I was her age (back in the dinosaur days, as she likes to say) than she’s allowed to do now. And I grasp that the likelihood of something bad happening in those instances is small. But for me, that doesn’t matter. I know it makes her embarrassed because her best friend is allowed to take the family dog for a walk to their small, neighborhood market alone. Yet I can’t help worrying if my tween is along — what if they forget to look for traffic?  What if they look, but someone is barreling through the 25-mile-an-hour neighborhoods at 45 mph and blow through a stop sign while they’re in the crosswalk?

I didn’t think I was a helicopter parent until my daughter became a middle-schooler, but now I see that maybe my hovering will be increasing, rather than decreasing,  in the wake the recent mass shooting outside of Denver.

As I suggested in my six tips to new Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, we think if we survive the parenting crises of young childhood with our kids, we’re past the worst part. But no one is going to have to explain to their newborns what happened at the opening midnight show of the latest Batman movie in that Denver suburb. While PunditGirl hasn’t heard the news yet, she will soon. Getting our collective heads around this latest horror and how something like that can happen in the world is hard enough for us as adults, let alone for our children who are just starting to pay attention to the news and who are anxious about making their way in a world where random evil happens.

As Lisa Belkin wrote at the Huffington Post:

[T]he roots of our foreboding lie in the days that make this one feel eerily familiar. We have watched this loop before, in Colorado, and Virginia, and Arizona, and Toronto. And while, on the one hand, we hear that the odds of a crazed gunman’s bullet finding its mark in our children is infinitesimal, as is the likelihood of abduction while walking to school for the first time, or sexual molestation by a stranger we trust to be alone with them, on the other hand we know the names of the children to whom that has happened.

We also know that while we are being reassured that the world is basically safe, and we are overreacting to the dangers, somehow a series of lunatics keep finding a way to get guns and aim them at our kids.

So somehow my husband and I, like so many other parents around America, will be explaining to our kids who are old enough to understand — and who need to start developing a sense of wariness when it comes to their surroundings — about the people who just wanted to see a movie and were killed by someone with an evil, random plan. I know our 12-year-old is going to ask for assurance that something like that can never happen to her and would never happen where we live.

And I know there will be nightmares and much more anxiety to come for her when neither I nor her dad can make her that promise.

Image via Joanne Bamberger. All rights reserved.

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14 Responses to “The Aurora Shooting: Maybe It’s OK to be a Helicopter Parent”

  1. Alyssa S Says:

    Even if every child in that theater had their parent sitting next to them, it wouldn’t have prevented what happened. Being constantly present doesn’t stop bad things from happeneing to kids. My hubs is excrutiatingly paranoid about bad things happening to our children and I have to constantly remind him that we never have 100% control over everything. None. Of. Us. We could lock ourselves in the house forever and a tornado could drop down onw day and still wipe us out. Life happens. We do our best to be reasonably cautious and it’s all we can do. If we lives our lives in constant fear, we do ourselves and our kids an injustice.

  2. Debbie Owensby Moore Says:

    I agree with Alyssa. But as a parent we need to be responsible for deciding when our children are ready for more autonomy. I didn’t feel my daughter was ready to attend the movies alone until this year, at age 14. And even now, I wouldn’t let her go at midnight. The reality is, the later the time, the more violence and crime occur. And I am glad she has no desire to hang out at the mall on weekends. Although I don’t believe helicopter parenting is the answer, I also have a hard time with parents that are laissez-faire.

    I remain hopeful that gun control will enter into this conversation.

  3. PunditMom Says:

    Alyssa, I think it’s not about living our lives in constant fear today, but I do think there is a need for parenting to be different than it was in the day when we were kids and it at least seemed like it was safer for kids to be on their own at certain activities — riding bikes or walking to friends’ houses, for example.

    Debbie, it’s true that the time we let our kids do certain things is a factor in which children are old enough to do certain things. And I believe there is more “hands off” parenting as some parents want to be more like friends to their children than guardians and caregivers.

    As for gun control, hopefully in my lifetime.

  4. Jessica @FoundtheMarbles Says:

    This post raises terrific question. Can we protect our children and give them the space they need to grow? I wrote about helicopter parenting recently as well and now that post seems even more poignant.

  5. Sara at Saving For Someday Says:

    Joanne, after my daughter was sexually assaulted at age 4.5 by the teenage son of a friend whose house we were having lunch at I had to come to grips with the fact that even if I was “right there” I couldn’t protect my daughter. Now almost 5 years later, I have enough courage to send my daughter to day camp. I’m not sure what I’ll be able to do by time she’s 12.

    I am a helicopter parent and I couldn’t save my child. Helicopter parenting isn’t going to protect our children from the evils of the world.

    Different environments produce different results. I have friends in NYC whose children at 7 were able to navigate the subway on their own. I have friends who live in rural areas whose children think nothing of asking whomever drives down the dirt road to drop them off at home. I also have parents who are so overprotective that they don’t let their kids ride a bike or go ice skating because they may fall.

    Evil surrounds us and sometimes we can recognize it, but most of the time we can’t. All we can do is teach our kids how to stay calm and try to think clearly in a time of crisis. As our kids get older and more mature they get new tools. Problem solving skills are an evolving and developing kit.

    The only reason I, unlike many others, know my 4.5 year old had been assaulted was because she knew what has happening was wrong and that she needed to tell me despite the threats. Did I ever tell her “If you’re sexually assaulted, do A, B & C.”? Of course not.

    Kids listen to what we say. They may not let on to us that they are, but if we trust them they’ll trust themselves. Especially when something doesn’t seem right.

    (sorry for such a long reply)

    ~ Sara

  6. Rachel, backngroovemom Says:

    I have 2 boys and I often hear — that means less worry.
    No way.

    I agree with jessica …how do we raise kids with enough space?
    I don’t know because I tend to suffocate the fun at times.

    We dropped our son at the library to read/do a project.
    ….and my husband waited downstairs.

    Fortunately, my kids are at camp and so I have a few weeks to think about sharing this tragedy. It will come up as they are wtg to see batman.

  7. Alyssa S. Says:

    I completely agree that I am not raising my kids in the same world that I grew up in. Of course, I lived in military housing where there was a bit more security constantly present, but growing up, after homework was done, we were allowed to roam the neighborhood (within a certain distance) while my Mom stayed inside. We used to talk 2-3 miles to school without my Mom or Dad being with us. I’ll admit, we don’t let our kids play out in the backyard unless one of us is out there with them or at least in the kitchen where we can see them. We live a mile away from my daughter’s school and we would never dream of letting her walk alone. Of course she’s only 6 but I can’t see letting her do it even at 8 or 10. Still, we are learning to let them be independent too. Within limits!

  8. Alyssa S. Says:

    Um, I meant “walk to school” :)

  9. PunditMom Says:

    I know we can’t protect our kids from all bad things. As parents, we all have to figure out where to draw the line between imposing rules/granting independence/keeping a watchful eye.

    @Sara, I’m so sorry to learn of the story of your daughter. But I am glad to know your daughter had enough strength and trust in you to let you know what had happened. I know our daughter was much more open about things when she was younger, and I wonder if now, at 12, she would be willing to share something with us that was as traumatizing/

  10. S. Raff Says:

    Great, thoughtful article and really special comments. @Sara, thank you for being so honest about what happend to your little girl. Its so important to teach other parents how to talk to our children & unfortunately not to trust any stranger. I’m so sorry about what you guys went through. People shouldn’t think that its easier with boys – unfortunately, boys are victims as well and we have to remember to have the same talks with them & protect them just as vigilantly.

  11. anon Says:

    I think its fine what you are doing. What isn’t acceptable is people taking infants, babies, small kids to a midnight showing of a violent film. I still haven’t figured this one out yet. When I went to see Batman on Friday at 230 in the afternoon – an infant and a toddler were with their mom – NOT OK – the infant screamed at different times in the movie and the movie is far to violent for a little one to see.

    There should be more good parents like you — mine were that way because we lived in Florida during all the kidnappings in the 80s.

  12. HeliMom Says:

    Thank you all for the honest comments. I’m proud to say that I do my best every day to make the wisest choices for my daughter. I realize I can’t keep bad random situations from happening, however I can ensure that she is well prepared for whatever may come. I get comfort in “over protecting” her and thinking of every possible solution she may need. I don’t agree with exposing her to unnecessary risks.

  13. Corey Feldman Says:

    When rapes and murders happen in Potomac, MD where is safe. I grew up on the same street as a child molester. We ran around and our parents has no idea where we were. I can remember being shown guns and drugs belonging to parents are an early age. Josh was one of the last kids in his preschool class to not be allowed on drop off play dates. He starts kindergarten in the fall and will likely still be the only kid who can’t go on drop off play dates. You want to drop your kid off at our house, I’m cool with that, if your offended that I don’t trust you with my kid, oh well. I can live with that.

  14. PT-LawMom Says:

    The mother of the shooter in this case was, by several news accounts, a helicopter parent. As Sara notes, there is just no way to control everything. I personally think that helicopter parenting has more downside than up and agree that arming kids with knowledge, tools, resources (e.g., good touch/bad touch, an adult they can talk to even if they don’t want to talk to their parent about something or the number of our priest).

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