Why Helicopter Moms Are Not What's 'Wrong' With Boys Today

boys running

A recent article in the New York Times is stirring up a bit of parenting controversy. Melanie Thernstrom's piece "The Anti-Helicopter Parent's Plea: Let Kids Play" focuses on a Silicon Valley dad named Mike Lanza and his free-range quest to save his sons from being emasculated. While there is a lot of benefit and merit in free-range parenting, this man still has a lot to learn when it comes to boys.


Lanza has transformed his California house -- both inside and out -- into an amazing, frankly dreamy playscape, where kids can climb up footholds on the outside of a two-story playhouse and jump down onto an inground trampoline. Truly, his home sounds like a haven for adventurous kids with lots of energy and spirit.

However, according to the article, one of Lanza's main reasons for creating the incredible space is that "boys today are being deprived of masculine experiences by overprotective moms, who are allowed to dominate passive dads."

Oh, Mike. You *almost* had me. I was here for you, ready to champion your wacky backyard that your neighbors grumble and complain about. I love the idea of providing more opportunities for independence and exploration to kids nowadays. I, too, yearn for the childhood of my youth where playing a pickup game of street hockey (only moving when someone shouted "Car!") was a daily occurrence. I would even happily have dropped my 10-year-old off at your house with nary a second look as he beelined for whatever was the most scary or dangerous-looking activity.

But then you had to go and piss on boys, moms, and dads, all in one breath? Oh, brother.

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There has long been a siren call throughout the ultra-conservative portion of our nation that claims boys today are no longer on the path to becoming men. That they are being emasculated by domineering women and that by demolishing the tired stereotype of traditional gender roles, we are somehow hurting boys and men in the process. Frequent Fox News guest Dr. Keith Ablow is probably one of the most recognized names when it comes to talking about the "destructive breakdown" of gender norms. 

It is this concept that Mike Lanza holds up as a main reason for his backyard paradise. Only, it's total bologna.

The problem is not with "boys today," no. The problem is with some people having these idealized and romanticized notions of what "real men" should be. But, let's be honest. Our country has been ruled for a long time (both within and outside of the government) by old, white men, and we are still cleaning up their mess. Boys can still be boys even if they wear pink, play with dolls, enjoy having tea parties, choose My Little Pony over GI Joe, or prefer not to jump off a roof onto a trampoline.

Also, I am A-OK if we -- as a country -- are headed in a direction away from a toxic masculinity that only serves to propagate things like rape culture and the blasé attitude toward sexual assault.

Along with fretting over the manliness of his young boys (author Melanie Thernstrom notes that "beneath the pleasantries, it was clear that Mike thought I was putting my son at risk of turning into what used to be called a sissy -- a concept whose demise he regrets"), Mike Lanza also manages to insult moms and dads. All in one fell swoop.

Are some parents super helicopter parents? Yes. Do I think there are limitations to raising your kids within an overly micromanaged environment? YES! But, to place the blame on pushy moms and weak dads is just another tired trope that needs to be destroyed.

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There are definitely annoying parents out there (Mike Lanza, you are quickly creeping to the top of my own list), but to say that boys are missing out on "masculine experiences" (WHAT IS THAT EVEN? GETTING THE GANG TOGETHER FOR CIGARS AND SCOTCH IN THE CLUBHOUSE?!) because of overprotective moms and passive dads is such a gross overexaggeration of parenting today. 

Let's review: Boys are not being emasculated. Boys getting in touch with their feelings and emotions and digging things traditionally assigned as female is not actually a problem and no amount of jumping off a roof is going to "fix" it.

Trust me, my son -- who will always find the tallest tree to climb, the rustiest ledge to jump off, and the most dangerous obstacle to tackle -- will be just fine ... as he also pursues his love of Broadway musicals, kittens, and the color pink.


Image via Zurijeta/Shutterstock

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