Professor Bax on helicopter parenting
Q: It is commonly known that in Korea, helicopter parents will call university professors to question their children's grade. What is your opinion of such actions?
A: The tertiary education experience should be one where the maturing individual is able to ‘find their own voice,’ and so the more parents intervene in this process, the more difficult they are making their child able to make their own way in this world. How can a young adult ‘stand on one’s two feet’ if their parents are holding both feet with their hands?
Q: What do you think is a problem that the children of helicopter parents face?
A: From a developmental perspective, it is said that the ‘individuation process’ is one where the growing child slowly loosens the bond of dependence they have with their significant care-giver, in the process gaining both independence and autonomy. But the loosening of these primary ties, which provides rootedness, belongingness and security, also requires the ‘maturing’ person to successfully cultivate and maintain relationships with people outside of these primary ties. Failure to achieve both autonomy and relatedness can result in loneliness, fear, insecurity, etc. which can express itself in what are called “mental disorders.” Helicopter parents can disrupt this individuation process, which can have detrimental impacts upon their child. Research into bullying victimization, for example, has shown that children of helicopter parents are more likely to be victims of bullying. Thus, while the parents may believe they are acting in the best interests of their child, they are potentially harming their long-term interests by preventing their child from developing into a healthy and functional human being.
Q: What do you think can be a possible solution for helicopter parenting?
A: What motivates parents to become helicopter parents? Do they not fear that unless they hover over their child, principally in relation to their child’s education, that their child will not be able to successfully compete with her classmates? If there is some truth to this view, then is not the solution to be found in the education system, in particular the rise of the “hagwon society” and the relationship between these private academies and the public education system. In short, unless there is a major overhaul and restructuring of the education system the helicopter parent will continue to be produced. And considering the current employment challenges facing today’s youth, this task has become more urgent as such conditions are ripe for producing helicopter parents in even higher numbers.
Q: What is your advice to a student who has helicopter parents?
A: It is said that parents are the ‘psychic agents of society’ who are tasked with the social obligation of transmitting the requirements of society to the growing child. The problem with the contemporary South Korean society, however, is that these requirements are detrimental not only to the growing child but to the parents themselves. So when the student is trying to deal with their helicopter parents, they are really trying to deal with these excessive and unreasonable requirements of the Korean society itself. One problem with young people in Korea is that they often do not have a clear direction on where they want to go and what they want to be in the future. There are the ‘requirements’ of society, which is to firstly become a student at a good university and then become an obedient employee at a large corporation, both of which are expressed in the parent’s expectations. If the student can find their own path, then even if this life goal diverges from the so-called requirements of society, then the student may be in a better position to reason with their parents. But to offer real advice requires looking at each individual case, as each parent-child relation is different due to differences in personality, expectations and socioeconomic circumstances.
Reporters: Lee Jae-lim, Yang Hae-in, Jang Min-jeong, Son Young-chai