From Helicopter to Velcro

General Interest

By: James LaRue

I’ve long been fascinated by the book The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe. The idea (and I’m paraphrasing freely) is that generations are defined by two things: a predominant parenting style, and shared reactions to various national or global events.

Latchkey Kid -
image via Washington Post

Parenting styles change. Gen-Xers may recall the phrase “latchkey children.” Their Silent and Boomer generation parents were caught up in their own dramas of self-discovery, or economic pressures. The children were, to some extent, almost abandoned, left to look after themselves. Many Gen-Xers encountered the first of many broken institutions that were to define their childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. Not surprisingly, they also had a higher general rate of trouble: teen pregnancy, drug use, crime, and so on.

Then, roughly corresponding with the movie Three Men and A Baby, Americans starting thinking more about “parenting” — the responsibility to look after and shelter young children. You started to see “Baby on Board!” stickers on cars. This is the parenting style that most Millennials grew up with. Children didn’t play unsupervised, or off in the woods. They had play dates, under the watchful eye of several attentive adults. As the children got older, parents continued to hover over their children’s transitions, checking in with their kids well into college, even through job interviews. (I once got a call from an upset mother who wanted to know why I hadn’t hired her son.) This is the “helicopter” parent, floating overhead, and not quiet about it. And their kids, generally, were less inclined toward risky behavior.

Velcro Parenting. Image from the Economist.
Image via the Economist.

Some now argue that parenting has become even more overprotective, almost suffocating. This is known as “Velcro parenting.” They’re not hovering. They’re attached, tight as a second skin. And again, it’s not just in the early years. These are the parents who cannot accept the idea that a 17-year-old Advanced English student is reading a book in which there is a frank discussion of sex, or of racism. Their babies need to be shielded from such “inappropriate” knowledge, even though in a year or two, they’ll be old enough to enlist, or vote, or marry. This generation has been labeled Generation Z, or, as Strauss and Howe put it, “the Homelanders.”

Velcro parents, I do believe, represent a slice of the 323 challenges ALA recorded in 2016, and are largely responsible for the push for “parental notification” in high school, such as the bill now twice vetoed by the governor in Virginia.

Why do parenting styles change? In part, because if there’s one thing that unites us all, it’s the belief that we were raised wrong. If your parents were too strict, you’re a little looser with your kids. If they were too loose, you’re a little stricter. And so the pendulum swings.



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