‘Bear Parenting’: a Welcome Break From the Helicopter Parenting of Today

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By Julie Gunlock | 2:43 pm, June 6, 2016
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Japan’s “bear” parents, who left their seven-year-old son in a bear-infested forest to teach him a lesson about not throwing rocks at cars, just won the title of World’s Worst Mom and Dad. Yet, as with the gorilla-gate parents — the previous title holders — they deserve a break and a great deal of compassion.

I mean, who hasn’t wanted to abandon their misbehaving brat in a bear-infested forest!

For those unaware of this latest parental flap, the incident involves two seemingly good (most days) parents who were justifiably angry with their seven-year-old son, Yamato Tanooka, for throwing rocks at cars during a hiking trip to the wooded area of Nanea, Japan — which happens to be the home of several scary wild bears.

So, to teach their son a lesson, tough love mom and dad pulled the car over, ordered Yamato out, and drove off.

No doubt they were chuckling on their way back (after leaving him to sweat it out for 10 minutes) to the drop-off location. Alas, he was gone, having wandered off. Little Yamato would spend the next six days holed up at an abandoned Japanese army facility with nothing to eat.

He’s lucky to be alive. And his parents clearly feel terrible. Predictably, the online hordes have vented their sanctimonious spleens about the incident, and Yamato’s dad made the inevitable public apology. Asked what he said to his son after searchers found him six days later, Yamato’s dad simply told his son he was sorry — an important first step to redemption and to gaining back his son’s trust.

There’s something to be learned here. Sure, little Yamato’s real life voyage to Where the Wild Things Are was terrifying and totally unnecessary (perhaps his parents should explore the successful tactic of sending a kid to his room). Yet, in a day in age where fewer kids are actually disciplined in any real way, at least these parents tried to send their kid a message, however misguided they may have been in their approach.

Discipline and boundary setting are increasingly things of the past (ever wondered why shows like Supernanny and Nanny 911 are so popular?). One survey, involving interviews with 2,000 parents, found moms and dads are reluctant to scold their kids for fear that they’ll be seen as unfair or too strict. And more than half of the respondents said they their parents delivered harsher penalties for misbehavior than they do as parents.

As discipline has diminished, parents are increasingly doing more for their kids — hovering like helicopters ready to swoop in the moment there seems to be any conflict or risk. In her book How To Raise an Adult, Julie Lythcotte-Haimes examined this trend and found parents’ well-meaning interference is leaving kids lacking in common sense and any sort of knowledge of how to get along in the world.

And it’s costing parents too. According to a survey conducted by T. Rowe Price, parents are increasingly willing to put themselves into financial hardship in order to pamper their children. In fact, 46% of respondents said they’ve gone into debt to pay for something their kids wanted and 57% reported feeling like they spend too much on items their kids don’t need.

There does seem to be a backlash against this type of permissive and pampering parenting style. Karen Alpert, a mommy blogger who runs the site Babysideburns.com, wrote a blog post that went viral. In it, she thanked the “stranger who disciplined my kiddo at the playground today.” Kiri Blakeley at the Stir wrote about her frustration with moms who don’t discipline their children. She recounts being gobsmacked as she witnessed a friend allow her child to flush the toilet 30 times… just because she wanted to.

Parents make mistakes. Some, like Yamato’s parents, discipline too harshly. Some don’t discipline enough. But most parents agree that it’s important we teach our children limits and what it takes to be a good citizen. That includes instilling in them a strong work ethic, and a strong sense of right and wrong — and even teaching them how to properly discipline their own children, when the time comes.

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