Can helicopter parents survive a crash in Consumerland?

Sally VanZandt’s car rental case was this week’s top post. She alleged that her grown son was ripped off by a smooth-talking saleswoman at the Budget counter and wanted our help with a refund.

I thought having a mother ask for help on behalf of her son was great, but that seemed to be the minority point of view. It happened to coincide with another debate about overbearing parents happening elsewhere online. I’ll get to that in a minute.

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First, though, a few details about the VanZandt case. She’d made the reservations for her 25-year-old son because he was “too busy” to do it himself. When he arrived at the car rental counter, her son was greeted by a persuasive Budget car rental employee.

“All she said, once she found out they were in town for a wedding, was that they should have a larger car and that she had a nice Impala for them,” says VanZandt. “The way she phrased it was like she was being kind and just giving them a larger car. She did not ask them if they wanted to pay extra for a larger car, nor did she quote the price for the larger car or additional services.”

But pay they did — an extra $303 after all fees and taxes. VanZandt’s son says he never agreed to the charges.

Commenters were incredulous. A majority brushed off my suggestion that VanZandt was being an attentive mother and focused on her son’s responsibility.

“Instead of making her son’s arrangements for him, she should have taught him how to be a better consumer and to refuse upsells, and then she should have shown him how to make his own arrangements,” said commenter Richard Perlman. “Since mom wasn’t teaching consumerism I’d say the $225 Budget charged for the lesson may have been money well spent.”

Indeed, 54 percent of the respondents said I should not advocate for the VanZandt family.

It turns out we weren’t the only ones talking about helicopter parenting. Across the blogosphere, there was a raucous debate about this sign posted in a neighborhood by the parents of a child suffering from peanut allergies. They demanded that residents provide peanut-, gluten- and dairy-free candies to kids on Halloween.

Read the comments at your own peril. Some are hilarious, but others are so mean-spirited, I can hardly believe anyone would think them, let alone write them.

If you want to know why we have a carefully moderated discussion on this site, you might want to scroll through that post.

Now imagine the parents of that child reading those comments. Parents who are just trying to protect their kid from harm, and maybe going about it in an inappropriate way. But still … do they deserve that?

Consumerland is a dangerous place for parents, and particularly helicopter parents. Sometimes, they crash and burn. But as Alan Shepard used to say, any landing you can walk away from is a good one.

14 thoughts on “Can helicopter parents survive a crash in Consumerland?

  1. The internet is a place with many varied people and varied opinions. The discussions are always started by the stories. In the pre-internet days, it was more difficult to hear about these sorts of things, but it causes us to be exposed to the actions of many more people.

    I did get “peanut free” treats to give out on hallowe’en. We also fill a bowl with the various small “treats” and allow each child to pick a few (usually 3) on their own. That way they are not taking something they don’t care for.

  2. When the article about the Budget rental mess led to the discussion about Helicopter Parenting being our Nation’s Great Menace, my thought was that this is a consumer assistance column with an emphasis on travel. The parenting column is over there.

  3. I think the problem with the “peanut-free” thing is that others tend to lump those with real, life threatening allergies into the sensitive diet complainers. The gluten and dairy free part. It’s a fad lately to be gluten free, and other variations on this type of diet. I’m not expressing an opinion about that in this forum, but there’s a HUGE difference between being sensitive to an ingredient in food and having the potential to go into anaphylactic shock. Unfortunately, because many of the people that are pushy about sensitivity to an ingredient are vocal and, frankly, obnoxious about it, those that have a legitimate, life or death dietary need are viewed in this light.

  4. While I totally understand the mother’s concern (I am assuming here), I think it does her child a disservice. A neighbor’s great kid has nut, milk, and egg allergies, and the family also keeps kosher. When the kid, who was always careful, went off to college, he chose to eat non-kosher food. No problem, right? Wrong, because he was so used to kosher food, he accidentally had chicken with cream and had a significant reaction. He was so conditioned that chicken was safe (because kosher people don’t mix milk and meat) that he accidentally ate something he couldn’t.

    I suggest that this mother should let her kid get all the candy, and then sort out the candy he can’t eat for donation to a food charity. That would teach safety and compassion. He can eat the rest (and if that isn’t enough), she can always buy her own candy for him.

  5. I think there is a sense of anonymity when posting, so posters tend to mouth off more than they would if they were face to face with the people they are criticizing.

    1. From your lips to God’s ear, Carchar. We get some of the most horrendous comments… then people get mad when we delete ’em! I learned something long ago that has served me well in this internet age, “Comment as if you were standing behind the person in a line at the bank.” Works for me. 🙂

      1. I think there’s something devious inside all of us that flips out when reading about things that we think are nuts, like grown men being catered to by their mothers … and being able to express our opinions without the OP knowing who we are … is rather dangerous. It’s often considered ‘fun’ to lay into someone, and afterwards, many of us are sorry we’re so nasty. Fortunately, Elliott has GOOD moderators!

  6. When I first opened my practice I hired my mother as an assistant. She probably made reservations for me at one point. I doubt she said she was my mother but rather my assistant. I did pay her the prevailing wage, and while she did it as a favor to me for a few months until I was able to select staff members I would have felt guilty making my mother work for free.

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