Parenting questions are some of the most difficult, and there is not always a legal answer to our problems. If you have legal parenting questions, it is important to get the advice of a lawyer in your area. The following information is not advice, and does not take the place of speaking with a qualified lawyer.
From helicopter parents to snowplow parents to free-range parents, we are all trying to do the best we can to raise our kids. But sometimes taking too active a role can lead to unintended consequences. Helicopter parents are known for hovering over their kids to protect them from everything. We aren’t talking about the cautious parent who wants to keep their one-year-old safe at the park; we are talking about the parent who wants to keep their seventeen-year-old from having hurt feelings that they didn’t make the school basketball team, and will stop at nothing to make sure their child never experiences this disappointment.
Snowplow parents are the ones who want to remove any and all obstacles from their kids’ way to make sure the path to success is an easy one. They may find a way to talk their child’s teacher into handing out an A on a paper. Snowplow parents are known for focusing on future success and, like helicopter parents, take very personally the successes and failures of their kids.
The college admissions scandal and Canadian universities
This brings us to perhaps one of the most public cases of helicopter parenting and/or snowplow parenting we have seen recently: the College Admissions Scandal. This scandal involves many parents who are said to have paid for their kids to be admitted to top US colleges by falsifying SAT results or posing as athletic scholarship recruits (even when the child was not an athlete by any stretch). Many parents have been charged and some have pleaded guilty, while others have pleaded not guilty. We are told that even more will be charged in the coming weeks.
This is one danger of helicopter parenting: pushing the limits too far to a place that gets into illegal conduct. Some may not have realized that by cheating on the SAT they could face years in prison. In Canada, we don’t use a standardized test for university admissions, but there have been cases of academic dishonesty reported; things like changing transcripts to make them more attractive to admissions officers. Universities in Canada do have integrity offices and they do investigate incidents that raise suspicions. If you or your child is found to have committed misconduct, there could be legal repercussions, and your child’s academic record could end up stained for life.
Drawing the line
So where is the line between helping your child and cheating? Certainly, you can pay to have your child tutored, but when you move into paying to buy essays or test results, the line has been crossed. Ultimately, your child’s work should be their own. You can help them to understand the background they need and to study for tests, but when they show up on test day it should be entirely up to them.
Another form of parenting that we have heard about recently is so-called “free-range parenting” – the view that kids should be allowed some amount of freedom to do things, like playing outside alone. The state of Utah has gone as far as to enact a free-range parenting law that makes it explicit that kids can play outside, walk and wait in a car without an adult supervising. It may seem extreme to make this a law, but we have seen a number of cases of authorities being called after a child is spotted playing outside alone. Parents have become afraid to let their kids play unsupervised, and the law is meant to protect parents from being charged with neglect if their actions are reasonable.
The question of free-range parenting can be a difficult one because often it is the maturity level of the child that will determine whether it is okay for them to play outside alone. Someone walking down the street may not know that your eight-year-old is very mature for their age, and we want to make sure that anyone who thinks a child is in danger is calling for appropriate help. On the other hand, we don’t want kids to have to be tied to their parents until they are teenagers. The right answer is to use your judgment if you encounter a child playing outside alone or walking by themselves. Don’t hesitate to call someone if you think a child is in danger, but think about what you are seeing.
Building resilience through adversity
Parenting is difficult on so many levels. With our increased focus on success, it can be easy to go a little too far in trying to “help” our children. Many parenting experts say that a little bit of adversity or disappointment can actually make our kids more resilient in the long run, rather than having everything come easily to them. Either way, remember to take a step back and think before you accidentally “drop” something on a competitor’s science fair project to make your own kid win.