In her book How to Raise an Adult (see a great NYT review here), Julie Lythcott-Haims builds a convincing case that “helicopter” parenting can be severely damaging to kids, despite best intentions. As Lythcott-Haims argues, parent stress, including their own need to fit in with other parents and their desire to see their kids find success in the traditional sense (i.e., the “best” colleges), often trickles down to kids. When considering parent-teacher relationships and the parent-teacher night, it is thus critical that schools develop systems to guard against such “helicopter” effects. To mitigate parents becoming overinvolved with their kids’ school lives, Lythcott-Haims suggests that they need to step back and give kids more space to grow.
With this in mind, it is important that the systems we design to communicate with parents do not reinforce overparenting tendencies in any way. If we look to the end goal for what we want for our children (both teachers and students), many would say that they want children to be happy, healthy and safe. A starting point may be a values exercise that showcases what parents value for their children, what students value for themselves and what teachers value for their students. Performing such an exercise as part of a back-to-school initiative would offer up a common language for all three parties to draw upon as we discuss learning and all of processes and products that accompany it. Likewise, this exercise would also offer an opportunity for students, teachers and parents to see where their values overlap and where they diverge and what this means in terms of learning, school culture and the discussions that surround these topics.