Helicopter parenting is a style where a parent always seems to hover close by their kids; always watching, trying to perfect them, resolve their problems, and decide everything for them. The initiative and independence of the child is restricted.
Kids of a helicopter mom and dad are more likely to become anxious and depressed. Their decision-making skills tend to be poorer than their peers. They lack a sense of responsibility. Many resent the restrictions that they view as unnecessary and embarrassing and relationships with their parents suffer.
Here’s how to know if you’re a helicopter parent and what to do to prevent limiting your child’s independence too much without compromising their safety and success.
- What does it mean and where does it come from?
- Who is the typical helicopter parent?
- Recognizing your child’s basic needs
- Effects on your child’s wellbeing
- Consequences of helicopter parenting
- Tips to avoid being a helicopter parent
- Final words of advice
What does it mean and where does it come from?
The helicopter parenting definition was first used in a book published in 1990 about how to use love and logic to prepare children for healthy independence and success. Ten years later, the popular media started to use the buzzword too. Family counselors tell us that a helicopter parent is someone who monitors their child’s experiences extremely closely and has an uncontrollable impulse to become involved.
However, their involvement is based more on fear and anxiety than a wish to guide and interact. Helicoptering is characterized by a parent hyper-focused to protect, control, and perfect a child, sometimes to make the parent feel better about him- or herself.
Over-emphasizing the successes and failures of children is another hallmark of overparenting, which places stress on the child to perform to the parent’s often narrow definition of achievement. In the process, they restrict their child’s autonomy, which has consequences that we will come back to later.
Helicopter parents go well beyond measures associated with responsible parenting. An example is a need to know everything about a child’s life and allowing the child no initiative or decisions.
The general consensus is that helicopter parenting has increased in the past few decades.
See what the news media had to say about the trend here.
According to the ABC News channel, helicopter parenting can be ruining a whole generation of children.
In many cases, kids are not allowed to walk to school, play, or do anything by themselves. While times have definitely changed, parents are more stressed, and there seems to be more dangers lurking around, everyone reacts differently to the new competitive and fast-paced environment.
Many parents become over-protective, trying to over-perfect their children to cope and perform better in this crazy place. Their intentions may be good, but they don’t understand that the approach is not the best for their kids over the longer term to prepare them to stand on their own feet when the time comes.
Who is the typical helicopter parent?
So, who and what is a helicopter parent? See if you can recognize yourself in the following signs.
The line between a hovering helicopter parent and a parent who is supportive and positive can be pretty thin. Sometimes parents don’t even realize that they have crossed that blurred line and is now holding their kids back instead of preparing them to succeed.
If your child suddenly starts to avoid you in public, trying desperately to escape your attention at home, or stop doing things they used to enjoy because you are always floating around nearby, it is time to take stock of your behavior. While your intentions may be good, chances are that you are affecting your child’s wellbeing and potential negatively.
You are probably wondering what are the signs that you may be a helicopter parent? Here are eight signs that you may need to take a step back and allow your child more autonomy.
- You fear the world is a dangerous place and go to excessive lengths to ensure that your child is safe.
- You don’t allow them to play with anything that could remotely be hazardous.
- You are especially wary of outdoor activities, including walking to a friend’s house or riding a bike.
- You spend a great deal of time to follow your child, even inside the house.
- You get an anxiety attack thinking about your child going away on a school outing, field trip, holiday camp, or even a sleep-over.
- You are constantly tired from staying up late to finish and correct your child’s homework, fearing for their safety, worrying about times that you are not around, and getting anxiety attacks about their hobbies and friends.
- You don’t encourage or allow them to help around the house or yard because it is dangerous.
- You use a secret webcam to watch what your kids are doing when you are at work.
- You get involved in your child’s confrontations at school. You take his or her side without question. You immediately take it up with the other child’s parent and are not reasonable.
- When you have a meeting with a teacher in your kid’s presence, you speak for him or her, even when the teacher asks your kid a question.
- When your child doesn’t get picked for a team or accepted at a college, you call the coach, principal, or chairperson of the department to demand a different decision.
- You monitor your child’s Internet, social media use, and movements all the time without reasonable grounds to do so.
As a protective parent, you probably don’t realize that your good intentions and well-meaning measures meant to protect and perfect your kid likely have the opposite effect.
Instead of building their confidence to take initiative and make independent decisions, they are limited and become overly dependent on your support. Learning to let go a little is the best way to strengthen your relationship, while helping your child to become more resilient, resourceful, and responsible.
Now that you know what is helicopter parenting and what are helicopter parents, we turn our attention to the basic needs of children that you, as a mother, father, or other caregiver have to provide.
Recognizing your child’s basic needs
Children have basic needs that changes slightly in order of importance as they get older but some of the innate needs are always significant.
- The first condition is that a child has to have autonomy to develop skills and confidence. As the child matures the need for independence becomes more prominent to prepare him or her for adulthood. This of allowing a kid autonomy progressively as they prove they can safely and responsibly handle the freedom as training wheels on a bicycle.
- The second basic need is related and involves growing confidence in one’s abilities and pride of accomplishments. From a parent’s perspective it is key to allow a kid to develop these feelings at his or her own pace.This means that a parent must remain realistic but supportive. Facilitate and enable success rather than expect and demand it. Allow your child to make his or her own choices which interests to pursue. Don’t be overbearing and force them to participate in activities that make you feel good and popular.
- The need for confidence is supported by the basic need to feel loved, cared for, and approved of. Rather than to always question, prescribe to, or dismiss a child’s choices and preferences, recognize their strengths and need to feel safe and secure.
Provide guidance and an environment where they can thrive in a controlled space. This means that it is best to set the boundaries and support your child to acquire the skills needed to pursue their goals and interests.
As you can see from these three basic needs, allowing your child the freedom to make hid or her own decisions, while taking a back seat to support and facilitate their success, and demonstrating that you approve of and trust them, is a balancing act.
As you monitor and gage their need for independence and their ability to manage such a responsibility for the good of the whole family, their autonomy, rules, and boundaries are adjusted accordingly.
Effects on your child’s wellbeing
A 2010-study by a research psychologist at the Keene State College in New Hampshire found that 10 percent of the college students who participated had a helicopter mother and/or a helicopter dad. These helicopter parenting statistics are concerning when one considers the potential negative influence on the child.
Research also showed that a parent who is too involved or excessively strict, watchful, and prescriptive undermines the basic needs of a child instead of providing for and protecting these qualities. As a result, kids with helicopter parents are more likely to be depressed or anxious. They are generally less satisfied with life.
Also sometimes referred to as the snowflake generation, or snowflakes, some children of «parental helicopters» can have an overinflated sense that they are special and unique, they feel entitled, easily become emotional and offended, and find it difficult to handle criticism.
They lack the confidence to try new things and pursue their interests on their own. Kids who are over-parented also find it more difficult to make decisions and solve problems. They tend to disengage from peers and activities at school.
Relationships between helicopter parents and their «special snowflake» are often strained. As a result, the family unit is under pressure. The additional stress can cause parent to behave badly too. They are more frustrated, prone to anxiety and depression, anger outbursts, and alcohol use. Struggling caregivers exert their insecurities and irritation onto their kids.
Children often react with similar behavior issues than their parents display. They crave independence and when they become teenagers often break free without regard for their safety.
As a child typically experiences over-parenting as a form of distrust and disapproval, their willingness to confide in their parents suffer. Younger children are less eager to play and engage with a helicopter parent, while older children don’t want to be seen with an interfering or overbearing adult and avoid shared activities.
Therefore, while you should always be there for your kids, allow them to take the initiative.
Consequences of helicopter parenting
As we have seen, helicopter parenting has negative effects on the whole family – moms, dads, and siblings. The natural development of the child is held back. They are prevented from getting practice in making independent decisions and accepting the consequences of their actions. They engage less with their parents and others. Their ability to judge priorities and trust people are also negatively affected.
Helicopter mothers and fathers suffer negative consequences too. In addition to a more strained relationship with their kids, they experience more stress and anxiety. Sharing and enjoying a kid’s journey to adulthood is a fantastic once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that they miss in part because they are hyper-focused on the details of dangers and failures.
Parents become very intense when they feel the security and opportunities of their kids are in jeopardy. They need their children to perform all the time and there is no time to relax.
However, kids of helicopter parents face the brunt of the negative consequences, especially as they enter the competitive world of college and the workplace. There is no one to fuss over them, fight their battles, make their decisions, and downplay the consequences when they fail.
Being a helicopter parent means that you do your child a disfavor for the rest of his or her life. They are at a disadvantage when they leave home. Because they have not learned to stand up for themselves, make independent decisions, resolve their own problems, and manage unpleasant consequences, they tend to struggle as young adults.
Alternatively, with the new and exciting taste of freedom when they move out of the home, they go overboard and indulge in excessive and risqué behavior. Some party, abuse alcohol and drugs, drive too fast, have promiscuous relationships, and try to fit in with or impress delinquent friends. They are simply not used to making responsible decisions and regulating their behavior.
Others are unable to work through unexpected failure and disappointment. They find it traumatizing and become depressed and think about harming themselves. Life outside the comfort and protection of the family home can be hard and unforgiving.
Their helicopter parents have not allowed them enough opportunity to test their coping skills and develop resilience before having to fend for themselves.
If you recognize yourself as a helicopter parent and you understand the potential obstruction to your kid’s healthy development, there are a few simple steps that you can take to minimize your involvement and the worry that drives it.
Tips to avoid being a helicopter parent
Here are 12 great ideas to help you step back and allow your kid to develop his or her sense of independence and dependability.
- Gage your kid’s maturity and level of responsibility. Regardless of age, the more stability and responsibility a child shows, the more freedom he or she can be permitted to choose their own priorities and make their own decisions.
- Deliberately stop hovering and show trust. I understand that you genuinely and wholeheartedly love your child and want the very best for him or her. As such, it can be very difficult and a little frightening to step away and allow them space. Accept that they will fail sometimes, make poor decisions at times, and not do what you believe best occasionally. It is an important part of their development process.
- Maintain a basic and consistent routine with downtime and family time. Avoid too much detail and rigid scheduling. Communicate often. Encourage your child to tell you what’s going on in their lives, what they are feeling, and thinking, and what their dreams are. Stick to a defined schedule but be flexible to allow for changes.
- Have a plan to develop autonomy. Continue to show interest and provide support. You are there to teach and guide your child, not to regulate his or her life and rule their interests and goals. Facilitate rather than prescribe. Think of yourself as the pit crew at a sports car race. Always check for safety and performance but prepare your kid to function independently.
- Allow your child to make decisions, solve his or her problems, and take risks. These are perhaps the most important abilities that any person can possess, together with social skills. It takes practice throughout the growth stages. Give your child the opportunity to learn depending on his or her level of maturity.
- Teach your child consequences of his or her choices and actions. Define your boundaries and limits. Don’t always change or handle the repercussions of poor behavior and decisions on behalf of your child. To face consequences is an important learning tool.
- Ease up on performance pressure. Challenge your and others’ narrow definitions of success. Life, growth, and achievement are not all about grades and medals. Don’t force your ideals and interests onto your child. As far as possible, let them lead the way and determine his or her own values and goals.
- Don’t let your impulses to take over and get the better of you. Take a step back when you feel the need to interfere. Self-regulate your feelings and behavior. Never react impulsively. Discuss concerns candidly with your child. Listen to their explanations and ideas.
- Regulate your emotions and fears. It can be very difficult but depression, anxiety, anger, and other negative emotions are contagious and quickly affect everyone around you. As much as possible, keep negativity away from your children, even if you’re going through a tough time. Rather be a generator of positive energy.
- By all means, monitor your child’s Internet, social media use, and movements but do so sparingly and with good reason. Assess your child’s level of responsibility and talk about potential dangers that can lurk online and in other places. Describe real or hypothetical situations. Emphasize strategies to avoid getting into a difficult spot. Encourage asking for help if needed.
- Practice being objective. Put yourself in your child’s shoes. Then, consider your view from an uninvolved perspective. Does he or she have a logical explanation for a decision or behavior? What are the risks? Are you overreacting? What is the best way to handle a problem or disappointment? What can you and your child learn from it?
- Lastly, always remember to enjoy your kids and have fun together. Love and accept them unconditionally. It is part of their growing process to make mistakes. Teach them to own up to it and move on. They are your biggest gift in life. Return the favor!
For more tips, listen to clinical psychologist and life coach, Dr. Paul.
As much as you can afford and feel comfortable with, try more free-range parenting. Encourage your children to function independently and with limited supervision. Always encourage them to approach you for help and advice but guide and teach rather than limit and prescribe. Balance freedom and a relaxation of rules depending on their level of responsibility and maturity. These are the ways to start turning around generations of overparenting.
You will notice improvements in your stress levels that will give you more opportunity to enjoy sharing experiences with your kids.
Final words of advice
Any parenting style – like helicopter parenting – that is excessive is detrimental to the wellbeing and healthy development of children. Being firm, having rules, enforcing discipline, and monitoring a child’s behavior are by no means bad. But if it is more than what is necessary to protect and nurture a kid, it will probably have unintended negative effects on your child’s emotional growth and relationships with others, including his or her parents.
The most important piece of advice is to balance your monitoring and restrictions with the level of responsibility and maturity that your child displays. Watch his or her behavior. If you notice any changes that may concern you, try to figure out underlying reasons for the change.
It may be that your child has new friends who have a negative impact. He or she may have had a disappointment. They may have trouble at school or be bullied. They may be targeted on social media. Whatever the possible situation, make time and talk to your kid about it without judging and getting emotional.
If you can justify it objectively, increase monitoring his or her online activities and movements to ensure their safety. If they have a smart phone, you can use a tracking app like «Find my Kids» to get the GPS location of your child whenever you are worried. Only use it sparingly and with good reason. This will build trust and show that you really care but accept them unconditionally.
It may be hard sometimes but don’t be a helicopter parent. Always hovering close by may have good intentions that your child is likely to resist and lack developing the initiative and independence that he or she will need when they get older.