Zooming, buzzing around, surveying the surroundings, meddling in and disrupting, obsessively intruding into everything and distorting privacy. This is what helicopter parents do, holding to tightly in a game of fake freedom.

Kids are a little people that don’t yet know a lot of the things we know (or are convinced we know) and who carry some potentially dangerous traits, not yet scared and punished out of their young personalities, such as insane bravery (due to the inability to comprehend consequence), unencumbered playfulness and searching for fun stuff in every situation (even if disruptive to your serious and to-do list bound world and chores) or innate curiosity (we know what it does to cats, but hey, they have nine lives).

One of the constants of parenthood, especially if you’re new to it, is the constant looming fear that something is going to happen, seeing danger in things you’ve never had to think about before and took for granted. The world becomes a booby trap. It may be something you learn to live with, without it taking the joy out of your own or your kid’s life, or it can slide into pathologies such as becoming over permissive, authoritarian, or indeed a surveillance junky helicopter parent. The too permissive parents are so afraid that their child is not going to like them that they allow all sorts of misbehaviour to slide. Wanting to be a friend more than a parent may not be the greatest strategy if you don’t want to raise an entitled antisocial brat. Some rules and structures are necessary, not as a mechanism of control but as preparation to be able to function within society as a decent human being that takes others into consideration. The scales can just as easily tip into a dictatorship, where there is no freedom to be and explore. Here the interactions are mostly governed only by infinite rules and punishments for breaking them. This approach leads to a complacent puppet you can control or to a rebellion, depending on our child’s character. These two parenting styles are at least pretty straight forward, but the helicopter parenting is a bit more insidious and twisted in its own way. Always there, always hoovering, controlling and watching every aspect of your child’s life, imagining worst case scenarios and jumping in as soon as it encounters something new they’re not yet equipped to handle, as a buffer stopping the world from entering your “paradise”. So you may find yourself as this peeping Tom, a wet blanket or a cloud on a parade stopping all the fun exploration (which is almost by definition new and perhaps a bit dangerous due to its novelty), taking over when you should let things unfold and make it a learning opportunity.

No matter how strong the urge we can’t always jump in, unless we want to raise a helpless person that always needs to be saved and only feels comfortable in being watched and supervised, someone so ill equipped for life that they need to constantly run back and clutch your hand. You fell down, you scraped your knees and fell out of trees and rails you tried to walk on, you burnt your fingers and socialized with people who may have not been the best choice of companions, you messed up and learned how to clean up your own mess, you broke things and put them back together (if it was possible). You made mistakes and were not thoroughly disinfected each time you touched some sand or rolled around on the ground with a dog. Some of those might have objectively been called failures or might have been dangerous, but they were experiments in their core. Trial and error is how we learn about the world. If the method was good enough for evolution to pick it, there is no reason for arrogance denying another being to learn by those experiments as well. If the situation is not dangerous (realistically) let them do it, let them make their mistakes. They may be small and not know a lot of things but they’re far tougher than we give them credit for and bounce back far sooner than you or I would, dragging all our baggage around. This is what happens when you live in the eternal now as kids do – you don’t take failure personally, but as it should be – a part of the learning curve, and failure is just as important as success.

Don’t hover, linger, stare at them with a magnifying glass, don’t do things for tem they can do themselves (even if they’re doing it baldy at first), don’t probe into everything and spy, don’t be so afraid to let go that you instil a fear of life and things that are not to be feared into them. Keep them safe, but make them strong and independent. It’s beautiful to be so deeply needed, but if they are not an infant they don’t need you for everything any more. Descend from your panoptic flying machine and sometimes just let them be. Protect, support, encourage, nurture, comfort and teach without creating too much distortion in who they came here as. That’s a parent’s job – exposing them to stuff so they’ll be able to deal with life once you’re not there to hover and jump in all the time.