How Helicopter Parents Get That Way

By Lenore Skenazy

July 5, 2018 4 min read

When you pick up a copy of Parents magazine, you expect to read information that is useful, not just crazy-making. But recently, a piece appeared on the magazine's website promising to tell readers how to lower their children's risk of getting sick at the pool.

"The (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's) latest report came to some alarming conclusions about swimming-related disease outbreaks," it begins. "Here's what parents need to know going into pool season."

"Alarming conclusions"?


I realize it's my take vs. the CDC's and they are scientists and I'm just a gal trying to bring a little perspective back to parenting and indeed our entire culture, but as that is my mission, let's look at the facts.

The magazine reports that from 2000 to 2014, swimming-related outbreaks of disease have resulted in 27,219 illnesses and eight deaths.

Tap, tap, tap.

My calculations show that we are talking about not even one death a year. (And not necessarily a kid.) That puts one's chances of death from a pool disease at something like 1 in 600 million — lower than the chance of getting hit by a meteor.

True, no one wants to get sick, either. And there being 27,219 illnesses sounds bad. But as that is over the course of 14 years, we're talking about 2,000 illnesses a year. In a country of 325 million people, that comes down to one illness per 162,500 people.

If that's alarming, what isn't?

The CDC makes a couple of recommendations that aren't crazy but are also pretty dang obvious, starting with not having your kid with diarrhea swim in the pool. (We all thank you for that.)

And don't let your kids swallow the water. That is generally something they aren't trying to do anyway, so it's like telling parents, "Remind kids not to stub their toes."

And: Haul the kids out of the water for bathroom breaks. (Another thanks from the general public.)

All that is fine, if obvious. But then the magazine casually adds:

"Before getting in the water, use a test strip from your local retailer or pool supply store to check if the water's pH and bromine or free chlorine level are correct."

Hey, why not just drain the pool and fill it with Dasani?

Some people will say "better safe than sorry" about the water testing idea. But that is just what we're trying to roll around a bit here. How many precautions must an average parent take to avoid a bad thing that happens incredibly rarely?

In a Boston magazine essay a few years ago titled "Welcome to the Age of Overparenting," Katherine Ozment interviewed Richard Weissbourd, an author, psychologist and lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He told her about a time when his 11-year-old daughter and some of her younger friends were planning an overnight camp-out in his backyard. Beforehand, some parents began scouring his lawn for nails and shards of glass. "It just seemed like, Whoa, what is going on with this anxiety?" he said.

Parental anxiety — the much-maligned "helicoptering" — doesn't come from nowhere. It is not neurosis. It is not a personal failing. It is a panic planted in parents by a culture that insists they think long and hard about the potential for danger in every single activity of daily life and go to enormous efforts to avoid it.

It is a culture that turns a day at the pool into a picnic at the leper colony.

Want to really lower your kid's risk at the pool?

Make sure there's a lifeguard.

Lenore Skenazy is president of Let Grow, founder of Free-Range Kids and author of "Has the World Gone Skenazy?" To learn more about Lenore Skenazy ([email protected]) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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