The Micro-managing Parents Trope

Hopefully the title should explain what this is about in a nutshell. In case it doesn’t; have you noticed that parents who micromanage their children’s time are painted in a negative light in movies and TV shows. I first saw it in the 80s movie parenthood although it’s probably been around longer. I started thinking about it after seeing the trailer for the little prince in which the mother has every hour of the next ten years planned for her child. Obviously this is an extreme example to give us a chuckle but is it really such a bad thing to have micro-managing parents to some degree? What is the issue hear?

As Mrs Lovejoy from the Simpsons would say;

“Won’t anyone please think of the children.”

At first glance this would be the heart of it. The idea that we should let kids be kids and not cheat them out of their childhood. That we should pity the child of a micro-manager because they don’t have a chance to play with bubbles or look at a rainbow. I wonder though, why we don’t see the opposite extreme as much. We make fun of the micromanaging parent but what about the zero management parent. The ones that let the kids do whatever they want with no restrictions. While it’s easy to make fun of the micro-manager, making fun of this other parent isn’t as easy because it’s not a pretty picture to look at. Go ahead and imagine them. What do you think the parent is like? How do you think the children are behaving? If you can’t get a picture than you’re probably a better person than me. Here’s a hint though. There’s a good chance that crazy kid you remember in school was a product of such a parenting method. That or the disengaged one. All the jokes you come up with end up being based around out of control children doing horrible stuff to everyone and anyone while an indifferent parent looks on and says something droll like ‘kids will be kids.’

The issue really comes down to the debate between right brained and left brained but there is a third option. One that is better than both. That’s being in the middle. Being both right brained and left brain. You should be balanced between the two. There’s no reason the micro-managing parent shouldn’t put arts and craft down in their schedule. Our school system certainly does. Or simply, self directed learning time. Where the child goes off and does something on their own. That’s called discovery and is one of the more important learning processes for young children. The truth of the matter is that we need both. We should do micro-management because it builds our logic. We should do creative stuff because it improves our ability to work, and we should let kids have fun because it teaches them how to be happy.

Now I suspect I know what you’re thinking. Why micromanage at all? Why not just let the kids run free for hours? I have several reasons which I’ll lay out for you. First is simply that children want order. You may be thinking that I must be crazy, kids want to be loud annoying small things that suck up time and space. Well don’t think that, seriously what’s wrong with you? That’s a horrible thing to think about kids. Seeking order is part of their makeup, their drive, their programming, their instincts or whatever you want to call it. A child is looking for how to be a human adult of their gender. If you watch children play, they are constantly redefining for themselves what it means to be an adult. It’s why you will eventually hear your child say that something is for babies, or for kids, or for girls or boys. It’s how they are shaping their reality. So give them order and structure. By giving them chaos all you are doing is stopping them from being able to better understand the universe around them and ultimately stopping them from being able to create. Yeah, that’s right, you’ll stop them from being creative. Creativity is often put in opposition to structure but creativity needs structure. Without it it becomes nothing. Which is my next point. Creative activities are easy to learn. Managing your time is much harder to learn. Time management isn’t just something a kid picks up unless that kids is naturally inclined or really smart. We get just enough management in class to get a feel for it but the ultimate authority on our concept of time is our parents. The chaos kids from the lack of management parents are probably never going to gain this skill unless they have some kind of epiphany, probably in their thirties or forties. Here is the real crux of it all. To be creative you need time. Time to practice, time to get better, time to take lessons and so on. That is what a micromanaging parent is trying to do when they schedule piano lessons at five. Dance class at six. Dinner and then study time at seven. They are teaching their children about time management as well as giving their children the chance to learn something they wouldn’t have learnt if they were left to do whatever they wanted.

Now that I’ve defending micro-managers, I’m going to go ahead and do a bit of criticism. It’s more of a critique on methodology. Make sure you are giving your children a wide range of different learning methods. Exploration is an important part of their learning. Study some pedagogical practices and learn about Bloom’s taxonomy as well as Maslow’s heirarchy. Teachers these days aren’t just sitting their kids down and reading a textbook, they’re aiming to make their lessons as universally accessible as possible. So make sure your time management lesson fits the bill too. I mentioned that you are teaching time management when you micro-manage but you are only introducing the concept unless you get the child to plan out their schedule. Telling a kid they have piano at five is one thing. Getting the kid to plan what they are going to do that week knowing they have piano on Tuesday, dance on Thursday, homework due every day and they want to watch their favourite show or play some computer games while they’re at it. Probably the best way to teach time management is by getting the students

Mock the micro-managing parent if you will but don’t assume their child isn’t having any fun, more importantly don’t just assume your child is having a great time because they ran around the house screaming and knocked over a vase. To you micro-managers out there, if you want to optimise your child’s future give them the reigns once you’ve taught them how to manage their time.

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