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Stop hovering! How to avoid being a helicopter parent

Aug. 5, 2013 at 11:31 AM ET

Video: If you feel like you’re hovering over your children and are looking for a way to land the chopper, Lenore Skenazy of the Free-Range Kids movement and Jennifer Breheny Wallace of Real Simple Family share their tips.

Are you the parent who tracks your daughter’s every movement on the playground, the one who runs onto the baseball field when your son gets hit with a pitch, or perhaps that sort of mom or dad who worries about their children 25 hours a day?

If not, you probably know the type, as parents these days are investing so much time and energy on their children’s success, safety and happiness.

But where exactly is the line between showing concern for the well-being of your children and becoming a full-fledged overprotective, hovering parent? Matt Lauer asked his guests on TODAY Monday.

“For me, the line is going back to remembering what my parents let me do,” said Lenore Skenazy, who made national news several years ago when she let her 9-year-old son find his way home alone by subway and bus in New York City.

Parents’ worries today are not the same as they used to be, she told Lauer.

“Parents have always worried,” said Skenazy, who founded a movement called Free-Range Kids after her son’s independent adventure caused such a stir. “This worry is different. The idea that they’re in constant danger. My parents didn’t think that about me.”

Lauer agreed with Skenazy when she suggested that his parents allowed him to do things like walk to school and play outside alone.

“That’s what I’m just trying to get us back to,” she said. “We’ve gotten over-worried about every little thing.”

One of those over-worriers, Jennifer Breheny Wallace, enlisted Skenazy’s help, and wrote about her experience in an article titled “Help for Overprotective Parents” in Real Simple magazine.

“I was pretty guilty,” she told Lauer, of her hovering tendencies. “I’d like to think I was a good mom, a loving mom, but I was an overprotective mom.”

Last summer, her 6-year-old son would ask to go across the street to visit a friend. “And I would say ‘No,’” Wallace said of the very same thing she did as a kid.

“‘Mom, I’m going to go outside in the backyard,’” he would tell her, to which she responded: “‘OK honey, don’t go into the woods, though, because of the ticks.’”

“‘Mom, can I play in the front yard?’” he asked. “‘No honey, not without mommy watching.’”

“It was severe,” Wallace said of her hovering.

The first thing she recalled Skenazy telling her was: “You have to come to terms with the fact that while you can limit some risk in your child’s life, the really risky stuff, you can’t eliminate all risk,” Wallace told Lauer. “That’s the reality.”

This summer, Wallace’s son is playing outside by himself and crossing the street alone after telling her first.

“That’s all I want,” Skenazy said. “I just want them to have a childhood.”

One of the first steps is to open the door and let kids find their own fun.

“Nature intended for kids to be playing with each other and not always handed an activity,” Skenazy said. “When we let them do that, they rise. They become the people we want them to be.”

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