By Isabel Ovalle
“Helicopter parenting” is the name given in recent times to the practice of parents overprotecting their children, something that is visible in Qatar as well. Being too involved in their kids’ lives and taking the “doing what’s best for them” approach too far are just two of the characteristics of these parents.
Only a mother or father can understand what being a parent really is like. Letting their “little treasures” out of sight for a while triggers worry, the first day of preschool brings fear and anxiety, and when the kids move on to university, it’s just unbearable.
Overseeing a child’s transition from infancy to adulthood can be done in many ways by mum and dad. Those who become controlling to the point that they read their children’s text messages or threaten teachers for giving their child a reprimand qualify as helicopter parents. Overparenting can happen among expatriates, partly because they don’t have their extended families close by.
Patricia Rocha, a licensed marriage and family therapist who works in Qatar mostly with expatriate families, said helicopter parenting was another name for overparenting. The term illustrates what the parents do, “hovering over the kids, who always have to be within the parents’ visibility,” she explained.
Expatriates who don’t have extended family connections here “tend to be overly involved with themselves, especially if the mother doesn’t have any outlet. But I wouldn’t say being an expat family puts you more at risk,” she said.
Nonetheless, she added that if the mother doesn’t have other responsibilities to attend to, she could be more inclined to overparenting.
The expert noted that overparenting hinders, rather than aids, optimal development, given that the ultimate message children get from such an approach is that they are weak or cannot make it without their mother or father, and that they are not smart enough to succeed.
Rocha said: “These parents have the idea that their child should never fail or face challenges.” With this excuse, “they wrap their own identity in their kids’ accomplishments and live vicariously through them; this can be very embarrassing for the child.”
Ultimately, the therapist cautions, “this is not the ideal parenting style if you want to develop a competent child.” She encourages parents to let their children face and deal with their problems, try new things, make mistakes and learn from them.
According to experts, children of helicopter parents will have difficulty making decisions, and be overdependent on others.
Some parents in Qatar tend to get too involved in their children’s education as well.
Roxanne Davis, the American founder and administrator of Doha Mums, which groups more than 1,200 mothers from dozens of countries, said that “in countries like mine, much of helicopter parenting seems to be driven by the media, which continually bombards parents with messages reminding them the world is a dangerous place and that the boogie man just might snatch their child away if they are not vigilant every second of the child’s life”.
“Each occurrence of a heinous crime is widely broadcast across all media avenues — newspapers Twitter, Facebook and news websites, — with such virality that the crime seems to be happening right in our own neighbourhood on a daily basis,” she said.
“This overload of skewed information is difficult for parents to parse out, and it is not easy to come to terms with the idea that these horrible crimes are actually occurring amongst a population that spans hundreds of millions of people,” she added.
“Rather than thinking about them in a logical manner, many parents internalise media stories and opt to hover over their child as though his or her life depended on it,” she continued.
In Qatar, she pointed out, “for better or for worse, we don’t hear much about local crimes, so the fear-based need to ‘protect, protect, protect’ is not as pervasive in Doha as it is back home.” Many expats, she noted, allowed their children to run ahead of them in shopping malls, and even to roam about freely in their residential compound.
For Davis, “it’s a relief to not feel the cloud of doom above our heads at all times — and I also feel it is much healthier for children to have a sense of independence and to experience the successes and failures that come along with not being under the watchful eye of parents at all times.”
In the West, it’s common for parents to encourage their children to enrol in multiple activities in order to be well prepared to be admitted to a university of their choice. “Gone are the days when good grades, solid test scores and a decent essay got you into university,” said Davis.
“Usually, the mother drives the child from one activity to another, ticking the boxes as she goes and discharging cash like a human ATM. The child gains the ability to focus for only short periods of time, and often loses the option of becoming good at one thing,” she warned.
The choice of activities available to kids is not too wide in Doha. In addition, driving to various places can be quite tiring, so parents are forced to slow down and relax a bit. “We can look at this as a negative thing or, instead, embrace it and allow our children to actually participate in their personal growth and development,” concluded Davis.