Emergency anaesthetist Richard ‘Harry’ Harris, one of the hero Thai cave rescuers from last year’s Tham Luang Cave disaster in Thailand, has criticised modern parenting and expressed his concerns for children growing up in modern society.
Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Harris, a father of three adult children, said kids these days were missing out on adventures because of their “helicopter parents”.
Helicopter parenting is the term given to parents who pay extremely close attention to a child’s experiences and problems, often doing everything in their power to protect their children from any harm. As Harris said he believes taking extreme measures to keep children safe from every possible accident doesn’t arm them with the skills they require as they grow up and could make things tougher when they reach adulthood.
“If you don’t challenge yourself physically and mentally by being out and about, exploring a bit yourself, when the time comes to have your first job interview – or miss out on your first job interview or 10 or 20 – I think they’re going to find it much tougher,” he told the publication.
The 54-year-old, who is one of this year’s Australian of the Year contenders and the current South Australian of the Year, recalled his own childhood and the adventures he had – something many Baby Boomers and over-60s would also fondly remember.
While some parents these days prefer to keep their kids safe with indoor activities, screen time and constant surveillance, Boomers would spend hours on end with other kids in the neighbourhood. Whether it was riding bikes around the block, playing on equipment at the park, trading marbles or even playing hopscotch on squares drawn with chalk, it was usually a mission for parents to get their children to come inside for dinner.
School holidays were even more relaxed and it was common for children to get out and about and entertain themselves all day – often without parent supervision.
Of course, the development of technology has changed not only the way kids are keeping occupied these days, but also the way parents are keeping tabs on their children. There are now numerous apps that parents can use to monitor their child’s behaviour and they can easily contact their kids on mobile phones or through text messages.
Recent data by Finder.com.au found 17 per cent of Australian children under the age of 12 own a mobile phone, with some kids as young as four owning their own device. In the survey, 20 per cent of parents said they gave their child a phone because they needed to contact their child during the day. In older days, parents would usually contact the school office if they needed to reach their child during school hours.
It seems that Harris’s views on the matter are also backed by science. A 2018 study published in the Developmental Psychology Journal by the American Psychological Association found children with over-controlling parents may actually struggle to adjust to life in school and social environments.
The research found helicopter parenting behaviour observed included everything from telling a child which toy to play with, how to clean up or being too strict or demanding. While children reacted differently to their parents’ behaviour, becoming defiant, apathetic and frustrated were common reactions observed.
“Our research showed that children with helicopter parents may be less able to deal with the challenging demands of growing up, especially with navigating the complex school environment,” lead author Nicole B. Perry said. “Children who cannot regulate their emotions and behaviour effectively are more likely to act out in the classroom, to have a harder time making friends and to struggle in school.”
Another study, conducted by researchers at Florida State University, said while parental involvement is important in a child’s development into adulthood, crossing the line between supportive and being too involved can lead to depression and anxiety in young adults.