You’ve probably heard the term “helicopter parenting,” but what is it? And is it okay or is it something you should try to avoid? Today’s blog post will provide a helicopter parenting definition. It will also look at the negative effects of helicopter parents on children’s lives despite the good intentions behind this parenting style.
What Is A Helicopter Parent?
The term “helicopter parent” was first introduced by Dr. Haim Ginott in his 1969 book Between Parent & Teenager. In it, teens he interviewed said their parents would hover over them like a helicopter. It become such a popular term that in 2011 it was entered in the dictionary. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a parent who is overly involved in the life of his or her child.”
It can be hard to find the fine line between being an involved parent and smothering your child with too much attention. We just want to be good parents and protect our children. We want to help them find their path in life while keeping them safe and making them feel loved. But is there a point when parental involvement goes too far, not allowing our kids to learn things through difficult experiences?
When our kids are young children, they definitely need our help more frequently. It’s our job to keep them safe, protect them from harm, and even do things for them that they’re not yet able to do. But helicopter parenting goes a little further and usually refers to parents of older children; high school or college students. At this age, kids should be able to handle many situations on their own or should be learning how to do so. However, helicopter parents tend to take responsibility instead of allowing young people to make their own decisions.
Helicopter Parenting Examples
For instance, a student that gets a poor grade or needs to arrange for a special test schedule. A helicopter parent speaks to the teacher for them. An older student should be able to handle these situations with their teachers or professors on their own and should be encouraged to do so for the life experience. But a helicopter parent might take this opportunity to handle the phone call or email for their child. However, this keeps their child from gaining the experience of dealing with these types of situations.
Helicopter parents may handle the whole college process for the child. Instead of discussing a plan and guiding the child, helicopter moms might draw up a whole course of action for the child. They will then remain over involved at each step deciding when the child should study what and the extracurricular activities the child should participate in. Intrusive parents may go even further deciding where the child should apply to college and applying for them. While you can see how the impact of helicopter parenting can hinder healthy development of life skills for the child, negative outcomes can be even worse.
Overprotective parents may play the mama bear card too often “protecting their child” from even the smallest criticism. This can often have the reverse effect making the child even more sensitive to feedback as they are assured it is an attack on them that is unfair and that they need the parent to save them from. When children learn that they should not do things for themselves, they may develop an overwhelming fear of failure and lack of trust in their own ability.
What Motivates Helicopter Parents?
Helicopter parents usually have their reasons for this behavior, but they basically boil down to a few:
Fear – They’re afraid their child won’t handle the situation and it could cause long-term harm. Whether the child is dealing with a classroom situation, a sports team, or a job, parents are afraid if the situation isn’t handled well, it could have a negative impact on their child.
Anxiety or Worry – Worry in other areas of life can cause parents to overcompensate in other areas. If a parent is worried about a situation in their own life that they can’t control, they look for ways to control other situations. They feel that even if everything is falling apart in their own life, they can at least help their child.
Overcompensation – Parents who felt unloved as a child want their own child to feel loved. And providing constant attention and support, they think, will make their child feel loved.
Effects Of Helicopter Parents
Helicopter parenting often starts out as a parent who is concerned about their child and who pays them close attention. At a young age, this is needed. However, the helicopter parent misses the importance of encouraging independence as the child grows older. They miss the importance of allowing them to fail and learn from their mistakes.
This is when helicopter parenting can backfire. It can leave the child with low self-esteem, underdeveloped coping and social skills, increased anxiety, and a sense of entitlement. These effects of helicopter parenting are ironically all things that parents want to help their child avoid. However, helicopter parents don’t realize they’re causing these emotional problems.
According to the Child Mind Institute, a new study from the University of Buffalo, “speaks to the issue of whether too much hovering over a child can be bad for her. Researchers looked at people who had been through difficult things, and they found that, on the one hand, going through very traumatic experiences does not bode well for one’s long-term resilience, but, on the other, going through almost no difficult experiences also does not bode well for one’s resilience. Having obstacles to overcome is what helps children to build resilience, to develop coping skills to deal with things that are difficult.”
Recent research from Florida State University reveals how helicopter parenting leads to lower self-control among young adults. “Self-control allows us to regulate behavior in order to achieve our long-term goals,” said Professor Frank Fincham. When this happens, those students are more likely to experience school burnout. The research also points out that “Dealing with school burnout often spawns more mental health challenges, such as anxiety, depression or addiction, and leads to worse academic outcomes”.
How To Avoid Becoming A Helicopter Parent
It can be hard to avoid becoming a helicopter parent, especially when you only want the best for your child. However learning to take a step back is necessary to allow your child become independent. It can be difficult to watch your child make mistakes or struggle. However, they will have to face these things sooner or later. The earlier they are allowed to guide themselves through small issues and deal with the consequences of their actions, the more likely that those repercussions will be small. Learning these life lessons younger will help make things easier for them to cope with later on.
Take time to reflect on how involved you are in steering your child’s life. Try to look at it objectively. If you would be embarrassed to admit the things you are doing for your child or to protect your child, you may be overly involved parents with too much control. Look for opportunities to support and encourage your child’s independence. Yes, they will make mistakes and they will struggle, but then you can be there to help them (not do it for them!) work through the failure and pick themselves back up. Another important life skill they’ll need to learn.
How To Deal With Helicopter Parents
As a teacher, my husband deals with helicopter parents fairly often. The common problem is they assume their child is a perfect innocent little angel. They often think that as a good parent the best way to handle a bad grade is to go directly to the teacher and fix things. While it can be uncomfortable to feel attacked by a helicopter parent, the best thing to do is remain calm.
Remember, these perfectionist parents are just upset and trying to solve things. Try to involve the child in the conversation when appropriate so that the child gets a chance to speak for himself or herself. Use clear communication to establish the situation and what you think is a reasonable resolution. Create boundaries if needed and seek a third party to arbitrate if things start to escalate.
In recent years, research has confirmed that the children of helicopter parents have a harder time with self-control skills. They tend to experience more fear of disappointing others and suffer from more mental health issues. There is no question that the parent-child relationship is important. However, being overly involved in the lives of young adult children is detrimental even for well intentioned parents. Instead, allow your child be responsible for their own success (or failure). Stand back and offer them support when they ask for it but don’t guide their every move. I hope this helped answer, “What is helicopter parenting?” I also hope it inspires you encourage independence in your child and let them take the lead in their own lives.