“…Cleared for take-off… Adios amigos.” Well, I couldn’t have orchestrated a better example of blurred parenting boundaries if I tried! It was the Today Show lead, as a matter of fact; even an 8.8 earthquake took second billing to the travesty that occurred a few weeks ago in the JFK Airport control tower, when Controller Duffy decided it was cute for his children to instruct pilots on their take-off directives.
It’s not that the passengers were in danger, because we all realize that these “adorable children” were parroting their father’s commands; rather, it is the hubris and subsequent suspension of authority when it comes to their children, that sometimes envelopes parents who are smitten with the self-esteem bug – or should I say self-esteemia. An 8-year-old should not feel qualified or competent to direct air traffic. Period.
Lenore Skenazy, author of “Free-Range Kids” (both the book and the blog), cautions: “Free Range does not mean free-wheeling. Or God forbid – free-falling.”
Let’s use this abuse of power as a life lesson. Children are not miniature adults. They are kids. And they need to be playing and learning. They need to find out how to be productive, to feel connected, and to ultimately acquire the skills to navigate on their own. Those are the criteria of youth development, not the job qualifications of an air traffic controller! They sure don’t need to be navigating a plane with hundreds of passengers aboard, since they are developmentally incapable of navigating on their own at this age!
What’s most alarming, however, is not the lapse in judgment on the part of the air traffic controller-dad, but rather the nonchalant acceptance by the pilot dads and moms, as well as some passenger-parents! “Wish I could bring my kid to work,” quipped one. And if he were a surgeon?! Or a patient?!
Here’s the point: kids don’t want that much power! It is scary for them. They want their parents to be in charge and to guide them on the path toward adulthood. There is no good outcome when parents think they can catapult their children into the world of adults, not to mention down the runway. All they are doing is amusing – and indulging – themselves!
Let them be kids. Let them play. Play is the work of childhood, said Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood fame, a widely acknowledged truth. The work of childhood certainly isn’t directing aircraft on one of the busiest runways in the world.
This was a huge breach of “Bring Your Child to Work Day.” Let the fallout be a concrete reminder to us as parents that children have to travel the runway to adulthood. There are no cards of “Chance,” as in Monopoly, where you pass “Go” and collect $200!
These children could have gone to work with Dad on that designated February day and watched, with utmost respect and awe, as he commanded air traffic. They didn’t need to literally walk in his shoes in order to understand what the job entailed. They should learn responsibility and resourcefulness and resilience at summer camp, not in the control tower. And they could aspire to one day earn the capability to sit in his chair.
It wasn’t cute. It was a wake-up call to helicopter parents everywhere. Don’t let them “fly” or direct others to fly until they are grown up!