Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Protect or equip?

I was once asked by a feature writer from the local press to comment on a concept she had recently heard about: 'helicopter parents': parents that hover in their children's lives well into their twenties - making all their decisions for them. She also told me that this had become relatively common (thus the arrival of the term) such that universities were no longer pitching to young people, but targeting their parents to boost their admissions!

This concept linked nicely to an activity I was using with parents/carers at the time.

Firstly, for the purposes of the activity, I defined
'PROTECT' as keeping any real or perceived danger away from your child and
'EQUIP' as helping your child to learn to protect themselves from real dangers.

I then gave parents/carers a selection of cards with a variety of actions a parent might take with their child. For example:
* teaching your five year old child to cross the road safely,
* never letting your twelve year old out on their own,
* putting your two year old in a play-pen while you answer the phone,
* not letting your ten year old use the Internet etc.

I would then ask parents to sort the actions into 'protect' or 'equip', using my definitions. As the activity was underway, people would always debate whether the actions on the card seemed appropriate or not.

What usually became apparent through the discussions was that very young children do need protecting because they cannot yet learn to protect themselves. However, as children grow up and become young people, as we cannot follow them around every day and forever, equipping them to look after themselves becomes more appropriate. Some parents find this hard and continue protecting when equipping might be more appropriate. It's a transformation in parenting approach that needs to happen as children grow up.

I would then talk about sex and relationships education and how many parents often perceive that information about sex or body parts is something children need to be protected from, when in actual fact considering most young people are likely to have sex at some point, it's better to equip them with information that will keep them safe (at least) or better still clarify what a positive and negative sexual encounter might be and why.....but that's another discussion.

And as my quote that appeared in the local press said, 'It is natural for our children to draw away from us during adolescence - they have outgrown us to some extent - and while we can be supportive, they want to start listening to other people at this point in their lives. That's why we should trust that we have laid 'sound' foundations in childhood and then 'release' them knowing that we have done our best and that it's time to trust them!


  1. Protection is to ensure that the children reach adulthood, equipping them is to ensure they make good use of it.

  2. This is on a slightly different topic but I like the thing that some african tribes do of sending their children at adolescence (well boys anyway) to another family (e.g. uncle - anyone who is a good male role model)for a year or so, so that the natural 'rebelling' against the parents (becoming independent) is kind of made positive - the adolescent accepts the guidance and 'equipping' much better from people other than their parents. That's why I'm sending Fred to Norwich for three years starting January. Good luck! xxx

  3. We look forward to receiving him. We will start with chainsaw sculpting, then using only clean needles for drugs and the highway code for car-jacking. That will equip him suitably for adulthood I should think.

  4. He's already done those I'm afraid. Could you do Armed Robbery for Youths (beginners) and Clean Getaways (intermediate). That should keep him motivated xxx

  5. In being a parent I modelled my actions on the lecturers that I met whilst attending Art School, rather than on my own P's. It worked well - at least I have had no complaints.
    What's more my eccentricities are casually accepted by the now adult offspring.


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