15 November 2007

Hot Potato Parents

The term "helicopter parent" appears to be pretty mainstream these days. In case you haven't seen this term before, it refers to the kind of parent who likes to hover over their offspring---well into adolescence and young adulthood. This is a parent who becomes overinvolved, monitoring every moment of the precious snowflake's life, often to the misery of the snowflake's teachers.

I'd like to throw another log on the fire and put forward the concept of a "hot potato parent." This is a parent that no one in the school wants to deal with anymore---a parent the school is forewarned about by the previous school. "Just wait until you meet Mrs. Such-and-So!" It isn't long before the secretaries are tired of the parent calling. Admins don't want to return the phone calls anymore. Teachers hate the sight of a light indicating there's a voicemail waiting (let alone the thought of the 20 minutes it will take for the hot tater to bluster over the phone). Counselors may be stuck with trying to negotiate among all of the parties---but even then, the parent may try a different ear.

And what of the young spuds? Ah, this is what separates the helicopter from the hot potato. The offspring of a helicopter parent are your straight-A, student council, star child type. The hot potato kids are suffering from their own lack of attention from the parents. In order to get some, they tell stories or misrepresent what happens in school because then mom/dad will give them some time.

The kids have learned this game pretty well from their parents---who also have a need from attention---but also for empowerment. There are all kinds of reasons and situations that generate this reaction. It makes these people bitter and angry and there's little they like more than unleashing that upon school staff. These are parents for whom no answer from no person will ever suffice. Every single person involved with the educational system is wrong about their child. They never seem to ask themselves if it's possible that there might be another explanation for things.

I admit that I am not a parent---I don't know the ferocity with which I would protect my child. I would hope that I would also recognize that a parent's role is to guide and support. All of us make mistakes along the way, but isn't the goal to learn from those and become able to make good choices independently? Why would a parent think that by yelling at and alienating other adults that they're setting a good example for their children? Isn't better to model responsibility than excuse-making?

4 comments:

ms-teacher said...

I dealt with a hot potato grandparent last year. Any time a teacher called she claimed we were picking on her granddaughter. All of us had nothing better to do than to call her, obviously! The granddaughter is and continues to be a major pain in the ass. Of course, that's not this poor child's fault at all . . .

The Science Goddess said...

Somehow, these people need to have their energies redirected toward something more positive.

Mrs. Bluebird said...

I attended a workshop on poverty a few years ago and one thing that stuck in my mind was how parents from poverty - who often have no control over their lives- will "prove" their love by coming to school and yelling at everyone over some perceived slight or problem. Apparently this is seen a lot in single mothers who shack up with an abusing boyfriend for no better reason than it's a place to park her and the kids; the boyfriend abuses the kids so mom comes to school to prove her love for her child by screaming at everyone in sight.

bbop said...

Parental harassment can come from any direction; it isn't limited to any particular socio-economic strata. Our district has a policy to deal with parents like this but it's up to administration to enforce it; failure to address such a situation can only be disasterous for the teacher. All incidents that could be considered harassment should be documented in clear, non-judgemental language for future reference.