Please Stop Raising Children
The basic topic here is helicopter parenting, the tendency of some parents to attempt to remove all obstacles, all forms of pain and failure of any kind, from the lives of their children, thus condemning their children to being almost totally incapable of living their own lives.
It is my totally anecdotal and unprofessional opinion that such sickening behaviour has become much more prevalent over my lifetime (I was born in 1975). Having said that, I remember being quite shocked to see a scene in 7 Up, which was filmed in 1963 or so, where the children were sent to an "adventure park" to play. As far as I could tell, an "adventure park" was an industrial sand pit with a bunch of boards with nails sticking out and some rusty hand tools. So apparently this trend predates my birth, because you couldn't have gotten away with that (though this may also be regional, as I'm in North America and the Up series is in the UK).
I'm really bothered by this trend, and what it's doing to people's lives in the long term. I've had to put a lot of effort into trying to help younger friends who are paralyzed by any degree of responsibility over anything, including, like, having to get dinner done on time. It's completely crippling.
The title of this page is a reference to a saying that RA (one of my girlfriends) has: "You're not raising children, you're raising future adults", which I think is the pithiest summary of the problem I've ever heard.
A Brief Theory As To Recent Prevalence
As a side comment, I think the reason this is becoming more and more common is that people in the relevant social classes (middle class and wealthier) are having children later and fewer of them, by and large. Certainly it seems like anecdotally that the worst helicopter parents have one child (or at least far fewer children than they wanted to have), or that each child is far apart from the others.
My theory is that this behaviour comes from abject terror of losing something both precious and irreplaceable. You can criticize me all you like for acting like any child is replaceable in any way (and of course they aren't), but it is simply true that if you're 20 and your only kid gets hit by a bus, this leaves you in a very different position than if the same thing happens and you're 50.
I came to this conclusion when I realized just how terrified I am for the safety of my unborn child (-ren; turns out there are two, but I didn't know that at the time) for precisely this reason: if we screw this up, we're too old to try again.
The Teenage Years: A Time For Mistakes
I am particularly horrified by the way teenagers are treated in our culture around this issue. There seems to be this belief that because teenagers tend to have crappy risk management, they therefore should be hugely protected from all possible risk.
The other option is pretty simple: if you want them to get better at managing risks, let them take risks and lose. They will quickly learn "Wow, when I do stupid things, it hurts".
What weirds me out is this idea that if a person never hurts or loses, they will somehow magically learn how to avoid risk and make sensible decisions to get the results they want.
I just find myself really wondering if these people remember anything about their life before 25. Do they seriously think they just magically woke up one day with the "responsible adult" button switched?
It's just mind-blowing.
I'm also pretty deeply offended by the effort people put into stopping their teenagers from having any kind of romance or intimate/sexual contact at all ever. Anyone who had any kind of teenage romance knows that there is nothing like it; that you will never again feel that sort of raw force of passion and emotion and desire.
What kind of evil do you have to be to wish your child to never experience that?
Sure, such relationships end in horrible pain basically every time, but that's part of life too: there is beauty and joy, pain and sorrow.
To keep a human from experiencing joy to its fullest just because some pain might result really seems evil to me, especially since we're talking about emotional pain in this context. How can you do that to someone?
Guidance Through Friendship
By this time, some readers are screaming about how I've ignored all the very real dangers that face children, and how dare I suggest that they let their teenagers do dangerous things like drive around drunk or have unprotected sex?, and RANT RANT RANT.
Now, hold on just a second.
I wrote this because I want to help. Because I want to help people achieve their fullest potential in life. Not die at 17; that doesn't help.
If you think that I've honestly suggested that letting a teenager (or anyone else!) get in a car with a bottle of whiskey is OK, you've got a real scope insensitivity issue, because apparently when I said "you should let your child make some mistakes so they can learn how to deal with risk and loss", you heard "all possible mistakes are good", which is hardly the same thing at all.
I think that the best way to teach a child about fire is to explain, once, that that red thing over there is going to hurt if they touch it, and then back off and let them touch it (which most will sooner or later). But the implicit "I'm neither crazy nor stupid nor evil" idea there is that we're talking about a candle or a campfire or something. Would I let a small child stick a hand into the outer bits of a campfire? Certainly. Would I let them stick their hand into a blowtorch? NO. Don't be stupid! Would I let them walk into a campfire in such a way that they might fall in? Of course not.
Your job as a parent, especially of a teenager, is to help explain to your child the difference between mistakes they will learn from, and mistakes that they won't learn from because they'll be dead. It's a rather important distinction.
This means your child, beyond a certain age anyway, has to trust you. Because if they don't trust you, and you say "OK, don't get in a car with a bottle of whiskey, because you will very likely die, and that's bad", they'll just ignore you.
It's very very important that you be able to convey to your children that no no, this issue here is really important, and they shouldn't test it.
This means you need to have given them reason to trust you. By, say, not routinely lying to them. Telling them that everything fun is horribly awful and will cause them horrible trauma, for example, will cause them to stop trusting you, because they'll try things out and discover that you lied to them.
In other words, you need to not cry wolf all the time, as I see so many parents doing.
This is particularly palpable with "drug" "education". Here's a tip: if you tell kids that marijuana is hugely, deeply awful and will destroy them forever, they will almost immediately discover, by talking to friends if nothing else, that this is basically a lie. This means that when you tell them that, say, heroin is hugely, deeply awful and will destroy them forever, they won't believe you about that either.
Yep, I'm saying that the reason so many kids try out hard drugs is that people consistently lied to them about things like alcohol and cigarettes and marijuana. Easily verifiable lies, so they just assumed all the rest was lies too. In fearful attempt to protect, such behaviour causes what it fears most.
As a side comment, and partly so that people don't get the impression that I'm all like "DRUGS ARE AWESOME!" or something, here's how I scared my nephews about hard drugs when the topic came up. First of all, stop saying "drugs" like all drugs (including the ones in your medicine cabinet) are of the same category, and start talking about particular chemicals (don't know enough? that's part of the test). My basic technique is to explain that if you try meth or coke or heroin, in particular but there are others, the odds are that you will immediately and irrevocably die. Not physically; you'll still be walking around and talking to people. But the person that I value in you will be gone forever, replaced by someone who shares all your memories but has only one motivation: to get more meth or coke or heroin. I do not want you to be a heroin zombie, and I don't think you do either, so don't try it, because the odds of that happening are way too high to be ignored.
I've found that if I explain that in sufficient detail of what I mean by "heroin zombie" and how totally dead they will truly be as a person, this scares them sufficiently for my purposes.
Moving on, back to talking to kids about risks in general.
You need to start being honest about risks, and how deep they go, so that when you say "heroin is very likely to destroy your life", they'll believe you because they'll remember that when you said "well, alcohol leads to pretty stupid behaviour, but as long as you're careful with how much you have and who you have it around, and don't drive on it of course it's not really too dangerous", you were telling the truth and they were easily able to verify that.
In other words, talk to them like a friend about the less-awful risks, albeit a much much wiser friend than most they have, and when it comes to the actually awful risks, they'll have reason to listen.
This means they'll confine their mistakes to ones they can actually survive, and you'll have achieved your goal of helping them be safe, because you'll have allowed them to learn and grow and become an adult in their own right, which is what you signed on for when you had them, like it or not.
And won't you be much prouder of the child that makes their own path with skill and determination, than of the child that's calling you at 40 asking for advice on what color to paint the house because they've never made a decision without you in their life?
Of course you would.