I was all set to write a negative piece about helicopter parents. That is, until I walked into an American Educational Research Association ("AERA") session recently, at which Dr. Joyce VanTassel-Baska was the discussant. In case you were wondering, the discussant provides feedback to presenters at educational conferences. Those of you who have read this column know that in many eyes (certainly mine), Dr. VanTassel-Baska is an icon in gifted education.
During the session, Dr. VanTassel-Baska was very complimentary of the work done by one of the researchers on outcomes of children of "helicopter parents," or in this paper, parents who really pushed their daughters to excellence. Yes, there were some serious unintended consequences of pressuring a child to succeed, such as depression and eating disorders, but there were also a lot of positives.
In fact, Dr. VanTassel-Baska commented about the positives of helicopter parenting of gifted students, given today's deep budget cuts in education. Helicopter parents, and I’m using this term in the most positive way now, can push for meaningful change at school. They monitor their child’s progress, review the curriculum, and are knowledgeable about their child’s strengths and weaknesses.
Dr. Van Tassel-Baska attributes student success to strong advocacy by the parents, especially in the case of twice exceptional students (gifted and with learning disabilities). In an article on that topic, she cited eight principles for support of these students, with implications for many gifted students, who, when not challenged, run the risk of becoming underachievers at school. In retrospect, adult children valued their parents' interventions:
Successful twice-exceptional students have commented on their need for accommodations at critical stages of their academic journey. For many, it is being allowed to take extra time on tests and projects. For others, it is being provided flexibility in assignments and procedures to be followed in creative production. Many of these children also require preferential classroom seating that reduces distractions and enhances attention and cuing by the teacher of time constraints or movements to a new activity. See, http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10726.aspx.
In the course of a students' career, I suspect that all parents need to intervene at some point. I certainly did.
Dr. VanTassel-Baska is not the only prominent gifted educator who believes this. I’m currently reading Dr. Jim Delisle’s book, Dumbing down America: the war on our nation’s brightest young mind. In this book, Delisle quotes a parent/educator who encourage advocacy:
“Too often, parents of gifted kids will start a conversation in schools with “I’m not trying to be one of those parents but,…It’s as though they are ashamed to advocate for their kids. Be brave and speak up! How can we truly educate these wonderful minds if the conversation itself makes us quiet” (Delisle, 2014, p. 107).
It’s critical that if you have any concerns you talk to your child’s teacher (s). Many placement decisions are made in May, and the more information the teacher has, the easier it is to tailor placement to your child’s strengths. When I advocate, I always rely on the old adage from Fisher and Ury’s timeless book, Getting to Yes: separate the people from the problem. Be kind to the teacher, but tough on the issues. Brainstorm ideas together to invent options for mutual gain!
Use the title helicopter parent in the most positive way; support your child.