Helicopter parenting


In very broad, and very blunt terms, in the advertising world there are two types of parents.  Protective parents and enabling parents.  The Dettol ad from India above is a perfect example of a communication directed at protective parents.  Look at them.  They form a perfect shield around the kid to prevent him being “infected” by outside influences.   The kid is so closeted by the parents that he has no room to grow.  In case you haven’t already guessed, protective parents just love killing 99% of germs….Dead!

Protective parents see their role in life as defending the sanitised bubble in which their child lives from the ugly and very real dangers lurking in the outside world.  There are germs, diseases, pedophiles on every street corner, pushers giving out free samples of drugs, bullies in school, head lice, foreign immigrants.  Every driver is asleep at the wheel, rivers are deathtraps, there are razor blades in Halloween fruits.  All around them is a world of fear.  They are an advertisers dream.  If you have a spray that kills 99% of anything, they will buy it.

Readybrek cereal is another product that appeals to the protective parent.  The ads show the cereal as giving the child a radiant glow, an aura which acts like a personal Van Allen Belt to shield the child from colds, flu and germs, especially during the cold winter weather.


In the normal course of events the stress of being a protective parent is not sustained far into teenage years.  Besides, normal kids rebel against this over-protective parenting style.  But some parents never let go.  We call these the Helicopter parents.  They hover over their kids like a police helicopter following a key suspect.  I have met a few of them in University.  They are a real problem for their kids.  They want to write their papers, sit their exams, and do the kids job interviews.  The kids just can’t seem to shake them off, and are unable to make a single decision in their lives without interference from the helicopter parents.


At the other end of the scale of parenting are “enabling” parents.  These are the ones who believe that kids can only grow up into adulthood if they are allowed to make their own decisions, and make a few mistakes along the way.  If little Johnny leaps off the roof and breaks his leg the enabling parent sees it as a learning experience, as opposed to bad parenting.  They will invite all his friends over to sign the plaster cast, and mark it down as a normal milestone.  The horrified protective parent makes a note never to leave their child in that house ever again.

Enabling parents are addressed by ads that show kids developing in the absence of adult supervision.  The “Dirt is Good” Persil campaigns are directed at these mothers.  They celebrate dirty clothes as a sign that your kids are challenging themselves properly, getting out in the world, experiencing life and literally getting “down and dirty”.

Just as protective parents have a negative extreme in Helicopter parenting, enabling parents have a negative extreme in absent parenting.  Parenting that is so “enabling” that it is non-existent.  There are no boundaries, there is no supervision, the parents are physically or mentally absent from the lives of the children.  The Persil ad is quite subtle in this regard.  Somebody is washing the clothes, and it isn’t the kids.  There is clearly a parent present in the lives of these happy and enabled children.  The parent is supervising, but not intrusively.  By contrast, ads directed at protective parents almost always show the parent as being present.

Now, here is a poem to strike fear into the hearts of parents, and make them worry about what happens in the cinema and beyond!  O’Hara references the world of advertising a lot in his poetry, and (factoid of the day) is Don Draper’s favourite poet in the TV series “Mad Men”.


Ave Maria; by Frank O’Hara

Mothers of America
let your kids go to the movies!
get them out of the house so they won’t know what you’re up to
it’s true that fresh air is good for the body
but what about the soul
that grows in darkness, embossed by silvery images
and when you grow old as grow old you must
they won’t hate you
they won’t criticize you they won’t know
they’ll be in some glamorous country
they first saw on a Saturday afternoon or playing hookey

they may even be grateful to you
for their first sexual experience
which only cost you a quarter
and didn’t upset the peaceful home
they will know where candy bars come from
and gratuitous bags of popcorn
as gratuitous as leaving the movie before it’s over
with a pleasant stranger whose apartment is in the Heaven on Earth Bldg
near the Williamsburg Bridge
oh mothers you will have made the little tykes
so happy because if nobody does pick them up in the movies
they won’t know the difference
and if somebody does it’ll be sheer gravy
and they’ll have been truly entertained either way
instead of hanging around the yard
or up in their room
hating you
prematurely since you won’t have done anything horribly mean yet
except keeping them from the darker joys
it’s unforgivable the latter
so don’t blame me if you won’t take this advice
and the family breaks up
and your children grow old and blind in front of a TV set
movies you wouldn’t let them see when they were young


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