Mother holding child's hand
Photo: © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation
Around the country, clever Parent Teacher Associations have started auctioning off a new item: the drop-off space directly in front of the school—the sweet spot where kids walk the fewest steps between car and classroom. It's a spot that, anywhere else, would be called "handicapped parking."

In other words: Parents are vying for the chance to treat their kids like invalids. Sound a little crazy? Welcome to helicopter parenting.

Helicopter parents believe their job is to watch, encourage and smooth the way for their kids every day in every way. It's a phenomenally popular parenting method, but it doesn't seem to be working very well. Hovered-over kids get the message that they are brilliant, wonderful, beloved—but also vulnerable, incompetent and in constant danger. And the message parents get is worse! There is a ton of pressure on helicopter parents to produce the perfect child...or else.

That pressure starts even before birth. Crack open that first "So You're Pregnant!" book and it'll tell you all about how every single bite you take can help—or hurt—that future Einstein you're carrying. And speaking of Einstein, once the baby pops out, there's a tower of educational toys you're supposed to buy, lest your child fail to switch on every single synapse. Forget the fact that Einstein himself spent hours doing what new-fangled, ultra-stimulating activity as a child?

He made houses out of cards. And not even flash cards.

As our kids develop, we're sold stuff our parents' generation never even heard of. Baby knee pads to "help" them crawl. Baby "wings" that work like marionette strings to "help" kids walk. (Like otherwise they'd never stand upright?) There are special place mats to teach kids their colors between bites of zwieback and DVDs to teach them, I kid you not, all about water. As if the best way to learn isn't by plopping the kid in a bath and letting 'em splash!

And by the way, even that splash is now subject to high-tech monitoring. Perhaps you've seen the Baby Bathwater Temperature Duck? It's a rubber ducky you put in the bath and if the words "too hot" appear on its bottom, the water is...

Well, guess. Never mind this warning on the package: "Adult should always place hand in bathwater to test temperature." So who needs the dumb duck?