Are you a helicopter or a free-ranger?

When I read about the 4-year-old boy falling into the primate area at the Cincinnati Zoo, I didn’t understand why zookeepers shot the gorilla, especially since those of us with 4-year-old boys know it’s the gorilla who should have feared for his life.

For example, the 4-year-old could have given the gorilla a heart attack by jumping on his back unsuspectingly as he was taking a nap. Or the gorilla could have died of boredom after the boy recited the entire episode of a Spiderman cartoon. If he were a male gorilla, he could have been hit in a very sensitive area with a lightsaber. I don’t want to tell you how I know this.

My point is, many people are troubled by the incident.

“How could you let a 4-year-old boy get into a gorilla exhibit?” is a question asked by a lot of people who have never met a 4-year-old boy.

It’s also a question that has intensified the debate between two different styles of parenting: the “helicopter” parents (who obsessively hover over all aspects of their children’s lives) and the “free-range” parents (who at any given time may not know basic things about their kids, like, for example, their grades, or their favorite book, or whether or not they are currently playing in a cage with a large primate).

I consider myself more of a relaxed, helicopter parent. Maybe a “hot-air balloon” dad.

If we’re at a park, for example, I’ll survey the scene, just to make sure some guy with an ankle monitor in a “Metallica” wife-beater isn’t trying to show my kids his Astro van, but I’ll also let them play in the “Lord of the Flies” type of environment that is a public playground. I don’t jump in if some kid makes fun of them or calls them names. Being belittled and humiliated is great preparation for marriage.

My wife’s more of a real helicopter. They’re easy to spot, with their necks constantly swiveling while monitoring kids. You can’t even talk to them, because their eyes are always darting back and forth, like a nervous owl. A true helicopter mom hasn’t made long, steady eye contact with another human being since the birth of her first born.

Contrast this with the free-range parent. They don’t pay attention to their kid at the park. They may not even BE at the park with their kids. If they are, they are buried in their phone, checking Facebook, as their 3-year-old in the ketchup-stained “Princess” shirt plays tug-of-war with the tail of a stray pit bull.

Unfortunately, it’s the lackadaisical parenting of the free-rangers that causes all the problems with kids running wild. Have you been to a Ross store lately? I can’t tell if it’s a discount retailer or a day care.

Not that us helicopter parents are perfect. I admit, I may be a little overprotective, but my attentiveness at least means I have a very close, special bond with all of my children, including the 4-year-old, whose name escapes me at the moment.

And to be fair, kids of free-rangers can still turn out okay. Just because they have inattentive parents doesn’t mean they won’t do well during their parole hearings.

We just have different styles of parenting. Take, for example, a typical Saturday shopping at Walmart:

HELICOPTER MOM: Don’t touch that! Hold my hand and stay close to mommy.

FREE-RANGE MOM: Why don’t you kids go and play in the firearms department?

Yet ultimately, regardless of parental style, all of us want the same thing for our children: health, happiness and to never have them show up at our door announcing they’re moving in with an aspiring rapper with a face tattoo.

So I think we should all unite, helicopters and free-rangers alike, and work together to keep a close eye on our kids. Especially our 4-year-olds.

Because those gorillas are really starting to get scared.

Reach Steve Beauregard at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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