When I started my career, there was an animal known as the "stage mother." It was not a new discovery. The species had been cataloged long before I picked up a piece of chalk and cranked a mimeograph, but it represented only a small subpopulation of parents (both male and female). I rarely observed this type of parent in my science classroom; however, it was not uncommon to make field observations in performing arts classes and at athletics events. These were the parents who advocated for their children beyond what might be considered normal...almost to the point of embarrassing both themselves and their children. Teachers, coaches, and administrators received many a pitying glance after coming in contact with the stage mother in his/her native habitat.
And then, sometime in the 90's, a curious thing happened: The stage mother evolved. There was radiation akin to the Cambrian Explosion. Stage mothers were now "Helicopter Parents," and they had developed into a variety of subspecies, adapting to every niche within a school. An invasive species, they even began to occupy college and university habitats.
We've more or less been at this eyerolling state of things ever since.
Schools, however, need to face a cold hard truth in this scenario. After all, the population of Stage Mothers were more or less at equilibrium for decades. What was it about the environment which changed to allow them to become so pervasive? What happened in school settings that allowed them to use their opportunistic behaviors in new ways? You may have your own answer, but I think it has everything to do with the self-esteem movement. This is not to say that I approve of crushing students---ragging on them within an inch of their young lives. But we have started to tell kids that appearance is more important than substance. Your test scores are more important than what you learn. The number of events you can list on your college application is more important than who you are as a person. Being told you're smart is better than actually being smart.
To be sure, we cannot weed out helicopter parents. Stage Mothers will never become extinct, but perhaps we can discourage their growth and abundance. We can prune. We can encourage alternatives. Po Bronson thinks that native parenting types may be making a comeback---A Return of Tough Love. (You can listen to an NPR interview with Bronson and read the first chapter of his book here.) I don't think this will be a simple or quick reclamation project. It means caring about our kids enough to allow them to make mistakes. It means that while parents should continue to want the best for their children, they have to realize that advocacy does not mean your child gets each and every thing you want. It means that while high expectations and positive thinking are wonderful things, it is more important that the child have an internal representation of those...not just external ones. If we try, we can bring back a balance to the ecosystems that are our classrooms.