Subscribe to this Blog
Today's Blogs
    The Checkup:

Hyperparenting and Private Schools

By Rebeldad Brian Reid

So, apparently, it’s not just exasperated Brits who have concluded that American parents have a big problem with overparenting. According to a monster 5,000-word review in the New Yorker, there are now a slew of books out there dedicated to exposing the seedy underbelly of moms and dads who are “hyperparenting.”

According to the books, which include “A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting” and “Under Pressure: The New Movement Inspiring Us to Slow Down, Trust Our Instincts, and Enjoy Our Kids,” parents today are getting suckered from the birthing room all the way to graduation day by “Baby Mozart” and tutoring companies and college-entrance consultants.

And while I don’t have any doubt that there are companies out there that will take a five-figure check to write little Bobby’s Harvard entrance essay for Harvard, it still boggles my mind that this is presented as some sort of widespread trend. I have lived my life as a parent in two places: an inside-the-Beltway suburb with an overachieving Ivy League grad on every block and a university town filled with kids raised by academics. These are places where we should see the worst excesses of hyperparenting. But I have never seen anything bordering on the madness described in the New Yorker piece.

This might be because our family has been locked into a public school mindset, hanging out with public school students and public school parents who have made a conscious decision not to throw thousands of dollars at an education that might – might – be marginally better.

We made that decision based partly on finances and partly on a belief in the idea that community schools are destined to fail if the community doesn’t support them. But the more I read about this lunatic fringe, the more I’m beginning to think that there is a corollary benefit to being in the public bubble: I’m insulated (somewhat) from the idea that success is a commodity that can be purchased.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I spent my teenage years at a private high school that provided absurdly good facilities and a record of decent college placement and, in return, charged an equally absurd tuition. It was not an unhappy time for me, but I left convinced that spending four years away from reality leaves you a little warped in your outlook.

So lay into me: Is private schooling associated with hyperparenting, or are overachieving public school parents just as likely to go off the deep end?

Brian Reid writes about parenting and work-family balance. You can read his blog at rebeldad.com.

By Brian Reid |  November 20, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Teens
Previous: The Homework Disconnect | Next: Free Play

Comments


You should visit an upper NW DC public school. I've never seen such helicopter parents in my life. Part of this anxiety, however, seems to be driven by the nagging suspicion that their kids aren't getting the kind of education they should be. Parents start to worry when they see papers come home with no comments, and major holes in the curriculum.

I know that I am less involved in my child's homework since she went to private school, because I can see that the teacher is actually marking up the paper and doing the kind of work that I used to do when she was in public school. The curriculum is rigorous and comprehensive. It's easier for me to step back.

Posted by: trace1 | November 20, 2008 7:39 AM | Report abuse

Private school or public school, it is the parent not the type of school that is the cause. Your column came away as quite a bashing of private schools which seems entirely inappropriate. Think about how much worse your public school experience would be if there were not private schools. Public schools are already teaching in trailers so imagine adding thousands of more children in every community. The public schools already get our tax dollars and there is still not enough money to go around. 3And this comes from a perspective of someone who went to public school K-8 and private school for high school and whose kids are in preschool but w9ill be going to public school!

Posted by: happydad3 | November 20, 2008 7:52 AM | Report abuse

Crazy parents are everywhere, regardless of the school. In fact I'd even say all parents are crazy about some aspect of parenting, just some are more obvious about it.

Posted by: mlc2 | November 20, 2008 7:53 AM | Report abuse

As helicopters go, some Howard County (MD) public school parents can make a Chinook look small.

It's much more a function of the parents than the school system. As noted above, we've seen lots of "crazy" public school parents. At DS's private school (all boys, Catholic, in Baltimore) there haven't been too many, but then it's not the "top" private school so those parents avoid that school. Most of the "crazy" parents at DS' school are hoping their kids get an athletic scholarship to get out of inner-city Baltimore.

OTOH, my brother's youngest daughter has always attended an "elite" private school in NC that was specifically founded so that the kids of doctors/lawyers/professors/etc. didn't have to commingle with the riff-raff. She has a tough time dealing with people who don't fit that social circle.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | November 20, 2008 8:11 AM | Report abuse

As the Father of five children, I don't have time to hyper parent, nor would I if I did have the time. I come from quite the opposite experience, of parents being too uninvolved, so I try to find the happy medium. My observation is that beginning in the 1980s parents were given a certain expectation of perfetion in their children and the parenting experience. Everything had to be perfect from the birthing room, to the layette, to the crib, to the daycare to the first school, etc, etc, etc. They soon realized that the world was not in tune with the expectation that THEIR precious snowflake was entitled to all that is good, right, just, and beneficial. Thus, they learned they had to work quite hard to maintain the bubble of perfection around the uber being that was/is their child. Most parents tire of this and learn to let life happen. . .with reasonable amounts of oversight and intervention. I guess some parents just have too much time on their hands and can dedicate the considerable time it takes to prevent their child from experiencing any form of unpleasentness. But to the point of the blog, this type of parent exists in both the private and public school setting. I tend to find it's more a product of the level of affluence and education in the parents rather than the school. That said I suppose private school parents tend to be more educated and affluent ergo there might be a higher percentage of helicopters at private schools.

Posted by: Dliodoir | November 20, 2008 8:28 AM | Report abuse

I agree with mlc2. However, the really bad helicopter parents need to save for therapy. The end result of all their hovering is that their children tend to think a wonderful life is something that's owed to them, a right not a privilege, not something they need to carve out for themselves. They may sail through primary and secondary school with flying colors, but I see a lot of these kids failing once they graduate high school.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | November 20, 2008 8:39 AM | Report abuse

Private school must have done something for the author inasmuch as he has managed to find a wife who supports him while he stays home with the kids. Not a bad deal.

Posted by: confusedeasily | November 20, 2008 9:02 AM | Report abuse

I feel I’m in an interesting position to comment because my family lives in a middle-class neighborhood where the majority of kids attend public school, but because my husband works at an elite private school in the area that offers some tuition assistance, our kids attend private schools. Having a lot of contact with both private and public school families, I would have to say that, overall, I see a lot more helicopter parents in the private schools. That said, parents of kids I know who attend public school are oftentimes excessively hovering in nature, yet in a more concentrated area: sports. Perhaps they see this as a way for their kids to get ahead somehow? From my experience, the hyper-vigilance of private-school parents tends to cover a wider spectrum that includes the arts and academics.

Posted by: eheubeck | November 20, 2008 9:10 AM | Report abuse

"...to find a wife who supports him while he stays home with the kids..."

And how is that different from what women have done in the US for the past few decades?

This is merely the result of women's lib and equality.

Posted by: nonamehere | November 20, 2008 9:13 AM | Report abuse

I hate to say it... but nobody in our household has time to hover. I work two jobs and my husband works and goes to school. Even though we only have them on the weekends, we still have to get other things accomplished which means they need to amuse themselves at times.

We are guilty of letting our kids go to the playground and play by themselves while he studies on the bench (and I am at work). I even shocked some friends of ours by letting the kids go over to the mall playground without us. We were like 50ft away at the food court and there were 3 kids. What was going to happen?

At worse... we supervise the child's homework and make sure it gets done properly. That could be subjective though. I heard a report back that my stepson's project on American symbols didn't go well. He couldn't explain the symbols. I have this funny feeling that we were supposed to explain the symbols to him and we didn't. I had assumed that was done in the classroom - bad me.

My parents were not helicopter parents and I don't intend to be either. I don't have the time nor the energy. I find it hard to believe that my husband will turn into one either.

Posted by: Billie_R | November 20, 2008 9:15 AM | Report abuse

I live in a rural community. The public school in our town has become one of the worst in the state. We send our kids to private school and find that a lot of the kids attending have similar stories. The parents are trying to get the kids a solid education. I agree with the posters - it is less about the type of school and more about the parenting style one subscribes to - to use the school type as the guidepost is short-sided and quite silly. I would love to save the money and send my kids to a decent public school - unfortunately, unless we move, that won't be possible.

Posted by: cara1 | November 20, 2008 9:28 AM | Report abuse

I attended all public schools in Fairfax County. My children attend Catholic schools.

And I could never imagine making the elitist, exclusionary statement made by the author of this piece:

"our family has been locked into a public school mindset, hanging out with public school students and public school parents"

As a child I had friends who attended public, religious and private schools, as do my children now. You seem to be exhibiting the behavior you condemn - looking down upon others who do not make your particular choice.

Every school is not the best for every child. Stop insulting others who don't make your choice.

Posted by: Amelia5 | November 20, 2008 9:35 AM | Report abuse

cara1, rather than move, what about trying to do something to fix the public school-- perhaps run for school board or city council? Making the school good enough for yours will be a tremendous benefit to the entire community-- plus it will save you a lot of money!

Posted by: captiolhillmom | November 20, 2008 9:39 AM | Report abuse

Certain kinds of school environments exacerbate hyperparenting. My 2 children attended Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a competitive magnet school full of high achievers, who are encouraged by the school administration to be independent self-starters. But a number of parents were VERY involved in the college selection and application process, and in pushing their kids into academic competitions (and would complain to teachers about grades). I learned to stay away from certain parents, whose constant discussion of their students' achievements and college process, tended to feed my own anxieties.

Posted by: jct21 | November 20, 2008 9:39 AM | Report abuse

Helicopter parents are not an issue. They are a blip on the radar compared to, say, neglectful parents. Why don't you write a column on that? How about hunger in schools? I am in several schools -- elementary, middle and high schools -- on a regular basis. There are a lot of kids out there who need someone to talk to, to make sure they have the twelve dollars for the field trip, a sack lunch, explain how to find x. They need a ride home after school because they have to make up a test or get tutored. They need someone to make sure they brush their teeth, eat a balanced diet, floss. They need to figure out how to communicate without hitting, screaming. What to shrug off, what to make a big deal about. There are a lot of parents who don't have the emotional maturity or resources to finish the job of raising their kids. My observation is that many parents think that their kids are little adults once they hit middle school. Some may look and talk like it, but they still don't have the tools or judgement they need. I really, really wish their were more helicopter parents, because there are so many kids who could use one.

Posted by: realgrrl | November 20, 2008 9:42 AM | Report abuse

I meant, "I really wish THERE were more helicopter parents.".

Posted by: realgrrl | November 20, 2008 9:43 AM | Report abuse

I moved to a small university town from Northern Virginia. I saw a lot of helicopter parenting in Northern VA in the public schools-- one of my friends decided to hire a tutor for her son over the summer since he was "reading only at grade level."

My children attend a small, progressive private school that is more focused on the whole child and hardly assigns any homework in the lower grades. There are very few helicopter parents.

I think an earlier poster is right-- it's more about economics of the family than the private/public school situation. Dividing into public/private is way too simplistic an approach.

Posted by: mlscha | November 20, 2008 9:49 AM | Report abuse

I suspect a lot of the helicoptering comes from how economically insecure even successful people are. I know a lot of successful folks with nice lifestyles -- and not one had a trust fund or a big inheritance. They got that way by becoming doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, etc. Their lifestyle depends on their own hard work, intelligence, and luck, and they know it. And they also know that the same applies to their kids, and that nothing they can do will ensure that their kids will be similarly successful. They worked hard to get where they are, and their biggest fear is that their kids will end up back where the parents started.

So what do they do? They provide every advantage while they can, so that when the kids fly off by themselves, they have the best shot at a good life. Mostly, that's normal. But there's a subset that lets that understandable concern spill over into demanding the "best" for the kiddos in all avenues of life -- travel teams, "right" friends, "right" neighborhood, etc. Having the "right" private school is one aspect of that; really, if your ultimate goal is to get your kid "ahead" of everyone else, and if you think private school provides an advantage, then it's a no-brainer if you have the resources.

So, yeah, I do think that overall, you're going to see a little more helicoptering in private schools, because more of the aviation-inclined are going to think private school offers an advantage over public than the other way around. (Except, of course, in NYC, where even getting into the "right" public school is a cage-match free-for-all). The risk, of course, is that cossetting and protecting the kiddos is the best way to destroy the very work ethic they will need to succeed.

I also suspect you're going to see more of that in private school simply because of the amount of money involved. In our area, we're talking $20-25K/yr. I suspect, if you're paying the cost of a new car every year for your kid's education, you're going to feel entitled to get your money's worth -- and be more likely to speak up and intervene when things aren't going as you want.

Posted by: laura33 | November 20, 2008 9:56 AM | Report abuse

fr ArmyBrat1:

>...OTOH, my brother's youngest daughter has always attended an "elite" private school in NC that was specifically founded so that the kids of doctors/lawyers/professors/etc. didn't have to commingle with the riff-raff. She has a tough time dealing with people who don't fit that social circle.

Your niece sounds like she would have benefited from mixing with "riff-raff" when she was a kid.Not everyone is born WASP, and with a silver spoon in their mouth.

Posted by: Alex511 | November 20, 2008 10:13 AM | Report abuse

The thing that makes me crazy about private school is that so many parents think they are better without ever looking at their public school. It's like some type of social class thing. I understand that if your child really needs private school to fit his needs, that's one thing, but so many parents cannot give a single reason for having their kids attend private school.

Posted by: kelly.v.brinkley@bankofamerica.com | November 20, 2008 10:51 AM | Report abuse

ArmyBrat1

You sound a little jealous of your niece's opportunities. So she goes to an elite private school and that automatically makes her snotty?

Posted by: cocacola1974 | November 20, 2008 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Not everyone is born WASP, and with a silver spoon in their mouth.


Do you mean white anglo saxon protestant? Last time I checked there were a lot of rich people who didn't fit the WASP, as you say, mold.

Nice going armybrat, now people are going to be throwing mud at your niece.

Posted by: cocacola1974 | November 20, 2008 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Though I would never be able to qualify myself as a helicopter parent, I think rotor wing parenting is a good thing. There are a lot of kids out there that need extra help, especially with the super challanging school curiculems nowadays, in Fairfax County anyway. I would say that most of the kids need the support of their parents to succeed academically in the school environment, and those students who aren't lucky enough to get the help they need become the riff-raff.

So what do you want to see more of, riff-raff or kids that spend more time with their parents as they gain the skills, tools and knowledge to make it in this economically chalanging world?

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | November 20, 2008 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Alex511: we're not "WASPs", nor are all "WASPs" born with silver spoons. And my niece certainly isn't "snotty"; she simply at the tender age of 13 sometimes doesn't understand that not everybody goes on week-long cruises, or shops at the best stores or gets the new iPod when it comes out. Because in her school, everybody has way more money than she does, so it's not conceivable that anybody's below that level. It causes the occasional faux pas, if you know what I mean.

I think that Laura's post was pretty accurate. A lot of helicopter parents are those who have made it on their own, and don't want their kids to go back to where they think they came from.

Other helicopter parents are those who have struggled all their lives, and are determined that their kids are going to make it out and have a better life - whether the kid understands/wants it or not.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | November 20, 2008 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Hyper parenting, or helicopter parenting - whatever you want to call it - I think it must be really easy to go overboard.

With older son who has autism, DH and I have to *really* work at stepping back and letting him struggle. He needs to learn and figure things out for himself, because eventually he won't have parents around any more to do for him.

He gave us a sweet moment of self-awareness and independence just yesterday. One of his self-stim behaviors (even on an ultrasound before he was born!) is thumb-sucking. Not a socially acceptable behavior in high school! DH noticed that his thumbnail had black ink on it when he picked him up after school. After a few questions it came out, our boy has decided to stop sucking his thumb, and to remind himself, he's colored his thumbnail. Nobody suggested this strategy, he came up with it on his own.

Writing that, it sounds so stupid and lame - even to me. But it's a huge step for the kid. We tried and tried everything we could think of, and everything suggested by his Dr. and by the "experts" at school and in the district's spec. ed. department, and all we accomplished was a lot of frustrations, and a little bit of discretion about who could see him when the thumb went into his mouth. By 8th grade everyone had pretty much accepted that this was a comfort / self-stim behavior that he was going to keep.

Now in 11th grade, I'm seeing a very strong parallel between his decision to stop, and his choosing *how* to stop, and the way I finally stopped biting my nails at age 12. So, it took him a few years longer to get there - that's fine, because he got there and he's doing this for himself.

Anyway, that was a long digression from the topic, but helicopter/hyper-parents rob their children of their independence and self-direction. Those kids probably will have a much harder time as adults when they bury the parents and have to finally learn what they should have learned decades before reaching middle age.

And the parents are robbing themselves too - there's nothing I've found more gratifying as a parent than seeing my sons becoming themselves, fully-functioning, independent human beings. They are so much more interesting and I'm so much prouder of them, because they're *more* than mini-copies of me or DH.

Posted by: SueMc | November 20, 2008 12:48 PM | Report abuse

This might be because our family has been locked into a public school mindset, hanging out with public school students and public school parents who have made a conscious decision not to throw thousands of dollars at an education that might – might – be marginally better.

Brian, I disagree with your blanket statement. Education in SOME public schools might be marginally better; other public schools (read papers much?) are so bad that parents would do anything to get their kids out of there. I like the comments from HappyDad3 and I agree with him 100% that if not for private schools our public schools would be beyond overcrowded. Finally, I think that sometimes we become helicopter parents if we feel that our kids are not being educated. If we feld 100% confident that our education system is prepare our children to compete in the global economy, maybe we would sit back. When I read an article about Singapore math instruction and I see what mindless drivel my son is bringing home, I feel that I am forced to supplement his math education.

Posted by: mdparent | November 20, 2008 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Corrected typos from above post: If we felt 100% confident that our education system is preparing our children to compete in the global economy....

Posted by: mdparent | November 20, 2008 12:58 PM | Report abuse

I agree that it's the parents not the school.

But what's wrong with providing assertive parenting for your child, particularly with regard to their education?

I grew up in a college town and saw plenty of Profs children crash and burn in response to drugs in the 70s.

Kids need guidance and no parent needs to feel bad about doing what they think they need to.

Posted by: RedBird27 | November 20, 2008 1:13 PM | Report abuse

I think there's some confusion on posters' part about what a helicopter parent is.

I think it goes beyond being an involved parent-- it's doing the work for the child (even homework), advocating and arguing for the child even beyond the age that they should be doing so for themselves. It's encouraging a sense of entitlement that actually makes the child weaker in the long run.

What's your definition? I'm not sure mine is necessarily correct.

Posted by: mlscha | November 20, 2008 1:39 PM | Report abuse

I agree that it is really not as simple as public vs. private.

But even if there is not as much crazy parenting going on as in the piece, I think there are issues around hyperparenting that are real. I work with profs who see it; I also think Michael Kimmel's Guyland makes great points about it.

Posted by: JennKG | November 20, 2008 1:48 PM | Report abuse

A friend of mine called his daughter's teacher, informed the teacher that his daughter was struggling with the class and asked how the daughter could improve. The teacher (after picking his jaw up off the ground) said, "Sir, your daughter is a freshman in college. If she is having trouble with my class, she needs to come talk to me herself." My friend was furious. He pays the tuition and has every "right" to talk to the professor. To me, this is the height of a helicopter parent. But to him, he is just trying to "help."

My kids are little, and it is a constant struggle to balance their need to be independent with my need to protect them and advocate for them. My first grader had a minor problem at school. I told her to go to the teacher and talk to the teacher about it. The issue was almost completely resolved, and my daughter was thrilled to see that she could solve her own problems.

Posted by: MomTo2Kids | November 20, 2008 1:55 PM | Report abuse

"What's your definition?"

Any parent who insist that their 8 year old wears a helmut while riding a bicycle. By that age, they are aware of the law and should have the maturity to make the correct decision without their mommy or daddy having to ask.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | November 20, 2008 2:05 PM | Report abuse

My parents are both very successful individuals who could have easily been helicopter parents. They weren't. I wrote my college essays in my room, they gave me the checks to include with the applications, and I sent them out.
I went to an extremely good school (top 10). It was interesting: on my hall, there were at least 4 people who had attended the very pricey DC-area private schools. I attended a majority-minority public school, where I got to hang out with individuals some might see as "the riff-raff," but who were (and are) amazing friends to me. I couldn't help but wonder if the parents of the people on my hall had, in paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for their kids to go to a private school, actually harmed them -- they had no idea what real life was like and no idea how to do things for themselves. That being said, many of my friends who attended pricey private schools are great people. I suppose it all depends on the family in question and what that family's needs are.

Posted by: L223 | November 20, 2008 2:19 PM | Report abuse

I felt pressured by our public school to be more involved in my child's homework than I felt was appropriate so switching to private school (Montessori) is largely about giving my daughter back some responsibility for her own education. Plus it is sooo refreshing to talk with a teacher who is really trying to get to know her and point her in the right direction rather than someone who doesn't believe there's room to deal with any child's individual needs (if they don't have an IEP).
I don't like bailing on the public school system and in terms of what's best for my daughter, I waited too long to make the switch. I feel like NCLB is partly to blame. I often think it's a Trojan Horse designed to get any parent who has the option of bailing on public schools to do so -- then there's presumably that much stronger a base to push through vouchers.

Posted by: annenh | November 20, 2008 2:34 PM | Report abuse

I definitely agree that its not really about the schools- or even the money. Hyperparenting happens when parents start seeing their entire worth wrapped up in their kids' accomplishments. The worst case of hyperparenting I ever saw was from parents of kids who went to MoCo public schools. I attended private school my whole life because my parents were too busy to hyperparent. Private schools are invested in making sure that their student succeed, so they make sure each child is doing their best.

Posted by: justmy2cents | November 20, 2008 2:47 PM | Report abuse

yeah, I was in amazement when a PARENT of a freshman in my college calculus class (I was teaching as a grad student) called up the HEAD of the math department to complain about her kid's grade.

It was totally amazing. She was angry cause her kid might lose his scholarship. But what was she teaching him? That he was ENTITLED to pass the course? Hmmm...sounds like....well, you be the judge.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | November 20, 2008 2:53 PM | Report abuse

My husband and I are products of public schools and I used to teach in public schools. Then I spent one day in an elite private school for girls and was changed forever.

Was it because of the rich students or their powerful parents? Not at all--that is not a draw for me. It was the atmosphere in the classroom. First of all, there were fewer than 20 students in the class, which was a shock since I had 30-32 students in each of my classes. Also, the students knew they were there to learn and got right down to business--and they stayed that way the entire period.

Compare that with my classroom experience wherein there could be one or more students who acted out or disrupted the class on occasion and took away from what I was trying to accomplish. Serious discipline issues are rare in many if not most private school classes, but they are a regular component of most public school classes (exception--the high-level classes where a student has to qualify to be there). Trying to meet the academic needs of 30-32 students in a class is a challenge also, particularly if the range of abilities spans many grade levels, as it was in my situation.

A few years down the road when we had our own children, we found them to be bright, cooperative children who wanted to learn. That's when we made the decision to send them to private schools. It wasn't so that they would hobnob with the elite and avoid the riff-raff. It was so that they would be in small classes with teachers who spent their time getting to know their students and actually teaching them instead of dealing with discipline problems and over-crowded classrooms.

It paid off in that both boys had a rigorous and comprehensive education that has held them in good stead as adults. And they know how to deal with all sorts of people because, unlike cosseted children that you might expect to attend private schools, ours had plenty of friends and experiences outside of school that exposed them to "the real world" out there.

I guess it's all in how you as parents raise them and what it is that you want and can get from the schools in your area. Our boys could have gotten a decent education in the local public schools. However, we did not want them to, as a friend of ours said about the public schools here, "pass through the system." They were more than just a face in the school crowd--and that's what we wanted and got.

Posted by: lsturt | November 20, 2008 3:09 PM | Report abuse

lsturt, it sounds like you made a great decision for your kids and I'm so glad you are sharing your opinion that a smaller class size makes a tremendous difference. If your local public school were to make the changes necessary to have the same small class size you see in the private school you are pleased with, would you consider going back to the public school? Or is there something beyond the small class size that appeals to you?

Posted by: captiolhillmom | November 20, 2008 3:29 PM | Report abuse

lsturt, good points re: small class sizes, and also discipline issues, with (some) private schools.

Our son is in his private school because it's so small. His GT Chemistry class had 8 students; his other classes were similarly sized. He needed that to thrive. His sisters, on the other hand, have always thrived in the public schools even though the class sizes range up to about 35 students per class. We picked the "best" option for each child.

The other issue is something that the public schools can't provide. There are minimal discipline problems at DS' private school because students who cause such problems are expelled. The schools no longer have to deal with those students. Even if you're a Senior in your last semester; do that and you're out of here.

Public schools simply can't do that; they HAVE to take all of the students. Yes, students who cause exceptional problems - truly violent students, for example - can be removed, but it's rare. As for the class clown who repeatedly disrupts the room, well, you're going to have to deal with him.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | November 20, 2008 3:36 PM | Report abuse

I was raised in the area and was fortunate enough to go to a private all girls school in Bethesda not so long ago (graduated 10 years ago). My parents went to public school, but made the decision that it was best for me to go private. I wouldn't say that I would send my children there unless it was the right fit (and of course if we have the money). I would not necessarily consider my parents nor any of my friends' parents "helicopter parents". Most of our parents were supportive of their daughters, but never overbearing. I'm sure there were parents that hovered over their daughters at my school, but I think in this area especially you will see mixed results in parents at public and private schools. This area attracts highly competetive people, and regardless of where they send their kids to school, high numbers of helicopters are naturally going to be hovering somewhere nearby.

Posted by: MKelly1624 | November 20, 2008 4:36 PM | Report abuse

I don't necessarily think that private schools cause parents to be helicoptor types, although I can see how helicoptor parents might have a greater tendency to gravitate to private schools. I think Foamgnome once explained that correlation and causation are not the same thing.

In any case, I went to only private schools as a kid. Catholic parochial school through 8th grade and an Episcopalean school for girls in high school. My parents were not helicoptor types at all. Homework was my job, the never helped or even checked it (but then again they knew I was doing it because I was always doing homework -- especially in high school). I think the caliber of my parochial school experience through 8th grade is probably comparable to what a decent public school can offer. I compare what my son is doing in 3rd grade to the type of work I did in third grade (to the best of my memory) and I think that he is getting a education that is either comparable or better then I got.

High school was a different thing for me. I loved my high school and I think it gave me an education that far exceeds what the even good county public high schools can provide (excluding the magnet programs, which are a different category). The class sizes were small. The teachers got to know us well. There was time for discussion, analysis, and debate. I remember during an English class on the Romantic period that we had a tea with each student representing a different important period figure or event (I was the black plague). The experience was rich and wonderful, and I can only hope that I can offer my children a high school experience that has that kind of depth and richness. Yes, some of my classmates had helicoptor parents. But I did not, and my high school experience was great preparation for college and life. So if you can afford a good school for your kids, and if your kids are the type who would appreciate it, I highly recommend the private school route.

If you can't afford private school, and I only say this half in jest, I recommend being a very involved parent to make sure that your child receives a good public education. I think it can be easy for kids to fall between the cracks in public high schools, just because of their sheer size. But I think an involved parent can help compensate for that.

Posted by: emily8 | November 20, 2008 5:56 PM | Report abuse

I saw hyperparenting when I worked as an intern in a University Judicial Affairs Office. Parents of children who had been cited for underage drinking, etc, would often call and demand that we rescind the imposed consequences (1 strike on a 3 strike policy, substance abuse screening)and we would always ask - why don't you want your child to take responsibility for themselves? The pattern that we saw was that parents who called with demands were often highly educated themselves. To me, it seemed like parents felt that college administrators were their peers rather than any kind of authority figure, and felt entitled to argue with them.

I went to private schools all my life, both local parochial schools and elite top tier programs. I was there by the grace of god, and I worked my tail off. As for advocating for me at school, forget it. Neither of my parents felt competent to second guess what a school admistrator had decided, and so I was admonished to work harder rather than complain. I think helicoptering has more to do with a parent's sense of entitlement, whether due to class, education level, wealth, etc, than to private v. public school. To *not* helicopter means that you trust your child and trust the system, as some other commenters have stated.

Posted by: wyldspydyr | November 20, 2008 6:30 PM | Report abuse

I went to public school, the high school I went to used to be a top 10 high school, not it is a top 20. In the nation. PUBLIC OR PRIVATE.

In any event, we all knew we were going to college (something like 98% of graduates from the high school go to college). So it was incredibly competitive. My parents couldn't have been less involved. Few parents were involved. The idea that we were going to college pushed us all to be competitive. The atmosphere wasn't for everyone, and there was an alternative high school for that (where probably 98% of the kids went to college, and many of them went to ivy league).

The reality is that they don't take kids who shouldn't be in the classroom OUT of the classroom. It's ridiculous, really. If you're disruptive, and you know there are no consequences, then why not keep being disruptive? Those kids should be taken out of school and put somewhere where they can learn to NOT be disruptive...but the schools don't believe in that. Yes private schools can just kick kids out - but we need to be able to do that in public schools too.


Posted by: atlmom1234 | November 20, 2008 8:43 PM | Report abuse

captiolhillmom and ArmyBrat1, my kids are now adults, but had the local public schools been able to provide the small class size and rigorous academic experience that the private schools offered, I would certainly have chosen the public schools. I'm not a glutton for financial punishment, even with generous financial aid. :)

Also, high expectation for appropriate behavior is critical to a school's success. You cannot expect to have a successful school when there are students constantly disrupting the classes with inappropriate behavior (and I'm not talking about the occasional class clown antics, either; I'm talking serious behavior issues). In our sons' high school, two boys were expelled at the end of the first semester of their senior year, so you are correct about the private schools not having to keep students who flout the rules or do dangerous things and think that they will always get away with it. Having rich and powerful parents does not always guarantee a free pass.

atlmom1234, I agree with you completely--public schools should have the ability to expel students who are not able to function within the system and send them to a place where they can learn--academically as well as behaviorally. We don't seem to have that ability because the education is free to all and none are turned away. School systems don't all have the alternative programs that would be necessary to meet their needs.

In the end, parents have to make the decision of where to send the kids based on what is best for their own kids. If there is no option other than the public school and that school is less than wonderful, the parents must be involved with the children's education--not being helicopter parents by any means, but by being aware of what is going on, being supportive of the school insofar as possible, and supplementing where there are gaps. Our future is too important to leave it all up to someone else.

Posted by: lsturt | November 21, 2008 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Most parents of teenagers have to work to find the right balance between being a "helicopter" parent and an invisible one. The choices are made daily ("Should I call my child's teacher, or wait? Should I intervene or let it ride? How much support is the right amount for her/him?") and parents won't always get it right...but if they are in there attempting to best support their child, they don't deserve to be criticized. I think books like the flurry of books on hyperparenting are often caricatures, and it's more likely that we'll see many parents making an occasional choice that is off-base than parents who live on this extreme regularly.

Posted by: sueblaney | November 25, 2008 6:19 AM | Report abuse

My kid is in private school in our town in North Carolina and he will be there as long as we live here. This decision wasn't made lightly because it is a sizable expense (and I'm a single mom so no huge amount of money flowing through our household). When I toured the school I saw the level of academic work that the kids were doing in the classrooms, the very small classroom sizes, the exposure to the arts and technology but what intrigued me most was the fact that there are no lockers because the school has a very strict honor code. I immediately knew that this was an environment where I wanted my child to be. I don't have to be a helicopter parent because I feel assured that he is getting what he needs from the school: the tools to be a well-rounded & educated individual. I supplement his education at home by helping with homework and talking about what he's doing at school etc...

The public school currilum is woefully lacking and caters to the tests that the children are forced to take. There is very little emphasis on the arts or technology. Add to that the overcrowded classrooms and you have a recipe for disaster. If my kid attended the local public school I know that I wouldn't have the same peace of mind so I would have to be a helicopter parent. The ironic part of all this is that we live in one of the best neighborhoods in town so our local public school isn't the worst, by far.

Posted by: daphy9551 | November 25, 2008 11:10 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 

© 2010 The Washington Post Company