Photo Illustration: Jonathan Barkat
She phones daily, e-mails constantly, ghostwrites term papers, drives hundreds of miles to do her kids' laundry, negotiates with their prospective employers, and occasionally kneecaps their competition. She's one of the new "helicopter" parents, always hovering, on alert. Is she helping her children or crippling them?
Three summers ago, Christine Buckles, 38, was thrilled when a young family moved into the brick-fronted ranch house next door to hers on Waterford Crystal Drive in Dardenne Prairie, Missouri. But shortly after, Christine was unsettled when the mother, Lori, began to bad-mouth her daughter's best friend, Megan, blaming her for problems between the girls. Both tweens were slightly overweight, and when they started dieting, Lori broadcast the news, saying her daughter would lose more weight than Megan, even though it was obvious to Christine that Megan was slimming down faster. Christine didn't blame Megan at all when, during the summer of 2006, she stopped wanting to spend much time with Lori's daughter.
Christine's new neighbor Lori—Lori Drew—was the Missouri woman who allegedly would go on to create a fictitious 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans on myspace.com to cyber-torment Megan. As readers of mommy blogs know, for about a month "Josh" said he really, really liked Megan. Then, with little warning, on October 16, 2006, he reportedly wrote, "Everybody...knows how you are. You are a bad person and everybody hates you. Have a shitty rest of your life. The world would be a better place without you."
Within hours, Megan hanged herself, and she died the next day.
So far, no charges have been filed against Lori Drew. She and her husband and two children continue to live next door to the Buckles, four houses away from Megan's father (he and his wife are in the process of getting a divorce after nearly 20 years of marriage).
Parental overinvolvement is nothing new: Queen Victoria's mother slept in the same room as her daughter until Victoria, at age 18, moved out in one of her first acts as England's sovereign. The mothers of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and General Douglas MacArthur moved to live near them when they went to college. (MacArthur's mother took a hotel room close enough to her son's dorm room so she could see if the lamp was lit, which made her feel certain he was doing his homework.) But such behavior was unusual in an era when most Americans worked six days a week, virtually no one had paid vacations to use for extended parent weekends, and speedy communication was limited mostly to telegrams.
Today parents can go online and track their children's grades, attendance, and missed assignments in real time with software like PowerSchool, which is used in more than 10,000 schools in 49 states and serves the parents of nearly 4.7 million children. In addition, a survey of 4,800 parents across the country conducted by College Parents of America, an advocacy group of more than 100,000 parents of college students, found that 30 percent talk or e-mail with their university-age children every day. Former school principal Jim Fay and psychiatrist Foster Cline, MD, who in 1977 cofounded the Love and Logic Institute, a parent education center based in Golden, Colorado, coined the term "helicopter parents" to describe mothers and fathers who "hover over their children." Since then an entire military-based vocabulary has evolved to describe specific styles of hyperparenting. "Black Hawks" attack teachers, coaches, and even bosses who upset their children. "Stealth fighters" are constantly surveying their children.
We Hear You!