You’ve all heard stories about kids getting homesick when they go away to summer camp. Well, these days that’s sort of flipped. Instead, parents are getting “kidsick.”
During the summer when I was a kid, we’d have breakfast, leave the house, and then maybe go back again only once that day. We usually bounced around from house to house and rode bikes for hours across acres and acres of farm fields near where I lived. Nobody even knew where we were, and I never knew of anybody who didn’t come home again.
But that was then, and this is now.
Now there’s not a day that kids don’t show up dead. There’s not a day that kids aren’t stolen, molested, or victims of gang violence. There’s just not a day. Neighborhoods are rarely tight anymore, and if they are, it’s out of fear. And if your kids go to the park and you’re not somewhere nearby, you’re probably being irresponsible.
However, there’s a difference between sitting on the side of the playground relaxing, reading, listening to music, or talking to somebody and standing under the jungle gym making sure your precious little bundle of joy doesn’t get dirty or upset by something somebody else says or does. That’s micromanaging. Your precious little bundle of joy has to learn to live in the real world.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t supervise your kids. Macromanaging is really necessary, especially these days with all the sex, drugs, and violence. What I’m talking about is being a helicopter parent and hovering over your kids. For example, when parents send their kids to summer camp, the people who head the camp are now expected to take pictures every day, post them on the camp’s Facebook, and send emails to the parents. If the parents see their kid not smiling, they call the head of the camp to see what’s wrong. That’s micromanaging.
I recently took a call on my show that just stayed in my head. On the surface, it didn’t seem like a memorable call, but it turned out to be. I found it alarming because of how typical the caller’s situation was.
The call was from a mother who had a son in his mid-20s, and he had just gotten fired from working in a pizza parlor (I don’t know what you do to get fired from that kind of job, but he did). The caller’s mother – the grandma of the ne’re-do-well – was dying and said her grandson could have her car, which only had about 5,000 miles on it. She said he could just have it! And just when I was telling the woman she should tell Grandma to please give the car to somebody who would be more responsible, I found out this ne’re-do-well (who doesn’t have a job because somehow serving or flipping pizza is more than he can handle) doesn’t like the car because it’s not cool enough. He thinks it looks like “an old person’s car.”
But his mother didn’t say that to Grandma. Instead, she catered to her son further by selling the car so he could use the money to buy a cooler one.
I remember vividly choking down rage and saying that I was finding it difficult to help her out. In my day, if a car had doors and wheels and went forward, you were happy. I looked up the car online, and saw it’s a nice car. But instead of saying, “Hey, you really have to find somebody else to give this car to. My son’s kind of a loser and doesn’t appreciate it. He’s just not a grownup yet, so let’s find somebody else in the family, who, by virtue of their character and effort, actually deserves and would appreciate it,” Mommy sold the car so he could be cool.
That’s the kind of parenting that ruins children. The parent who gets involved in every emotional ache, pain, and little problem of their kid’s life only hurts their kid and doesn’t help them grow up. That’s why huge percentages of young adults are moving back home instead of making their way somehow. That’s why two-thirds of American children are fat or obese. Mothers sit three feet away from their kids screaming, “Don’t do that! You’re going to hurt yourself!,” instead of letting them hang upside down and run around.
I remember when my kid was little my rule was if it didn’t kill him or somebody else, I would let him do it. I figured that’s the way kids grow into adults and men. I’m not suggesting you allow your kids to run off to the park alone. That’s kind of stupid these days. America has changed dramatically, and it will probably never go back to the way it was. But as far as avoiding being a kidsick, helicopter parent while your child is away at camp, I have a couple ways to cope.
First, don’t be connected to your kid’s camp via the Internet. If they have a Facebook, don’t go on it until your kid comes home. And lastly, do what parents used to do when kids went to camp: spend the time caretaking your marriage and worry less about the kids. You know that saying, “When the cat’s away, the mice will play.”? Well, just twist it around: while the mice are away, the cats will play.
Just remember this: Being responsible and being worried all the time are two very different things.