Like helicopters… helicopter parents are constantly hovering over their children, and when there is any indication of a problem…. they rush in to rescue them from the situation. They over-control various aspects of a child’s life: who their child should be friends with, how they should play with one another, as well as who their coach or teacher should be. In this way, helicopter parents, over-parent, smother, and are a constant presence in the lives of their children.
These parents are hyper-focused on their child’s needs, successes, and failures. Another more intense breed of helicopter parents is known as the lawnmower parents. Lawnmower parents actually mow down obstacles for children before they arrive. For example, not scheduling a play date because parents think that their child may not get along with the other child; thus, avoiding the problem all together.
Unfortunately, this type of parenting backfires. Helicopter parents believe they are doing everything in their power to raise successful, confident, and self-reliant kids. However, the research shows that this style of parents leads to extremely detrimental outcomes for children.
This term was originally coined in a book about Parenting and Teenagers by Dr. Haim Ginott in 1969, but can really apply to a child at any age whose parents do not allow for them to take actions independently of them. However, helicopters parenting can show up at any age. For example, a parent of a preschooler who keeps a watchful eye on his or her child in order to monitor and provide feedback on how their child should interact and play during a playdate. During the school-age year, this same parent may become overly involved in school-related activities to maintain control. They may become a yard supervisor, classroom mom, or volunteer as much as possible in order to continue having influence over their child’s life, situation and circumstances. During adolescence, this may translate to providing excessive help with homework, and/or solving problems that a child is capable of solving themselves. In college, they may meet with college professors if they believe that their child was not graded fairly.
Now some of the activities above can also be part of what an involved parent does. The difference between involved parents and helicopter parents is that they forcibly insert themselves into their child’s lives, continue to provide unnecessary guidance when the child is capable of doing these activities independently, and they do not allow many opportunities for the child to have experiences on their own and to learn from his or her mistakes.
This parenting style backfires. These children do not grow up to be independent, responsible or to think for themselves. The research shows that these children will not learn to solve problems on their own. They will have lower levels of self-esteem and confidence from not being provided with enough opportunities to handle situations on their own- independently from their parents. They often lack basic life skills such as doing washing dishes or doing laundry.
These students also suffer from having higher levels of anxiety and depression in their lives because they are not given opportunities to regulate their emotions and are constantly being told what to do. They believe they are entitled to what the world has to offer and they know their parents will go to great lengths to help them achieve. Many children actually do not feel like adults when they grow up because they have become accustomed to having their parents do everything from them.
Helicopter parents should allow their children to make mistakes because this is how they will learn to become responsible on their own. They should give them space to explore their own strengths and weaknesses, form friendships on their own terms, and recover from setbacks. By thinking about the age of their child and what is developmentally appropriate, parents will be able to understand what is or is not considered hovering. Ultimately, parents need to remember that the end goal is create independent, self-reliant, responsible, and well-adjusted adults who are capable of thinking critically and solving problems on their own.