Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a helicopter parent!

By Dr. Raj Khillan
Image used for representational purposes only // Photo: Pixabay

This form of over-parenting involves parents using developmentally inappropriate tactics that far exceed the actual needs of their children

Every parent wants their children to be happy and do well for themselves. So, when given the opportunity, who would not jump at the chance to make their kid’s life easier?

This is instinctual behaviour, but some parents take “being supportive” to another level and hover over their children like a helicopter—hence the birth of the term.

The term “helicopter parenting” was first used by researchers Foster Cline and Jim Fay in 1990 in their book Parenting with Love and Logic, where parents hover over their children.

Over-parenting is often called “helicopter parenting”, as these parents hover over their children to make sure nothing goes wrong. Over-parenting involves parents using developmentally inappropriate tactics that far exceed the actual needs of their children. It involves excessive protection of children by their parents.

It is the opposite of “free range parenting” where children are encouraged to make their daily decisions. Helicopter parenting is very closely related to “lawnmower parenting” where a parent “mows down” any problem a child might face so they never feel hurt, pain, or disappointment

Over the last 30 years parental over-involvement has only gotten worse to the ‘jet-powered, turbo-attack mode’ of helicopter parenting to create a perfect world for their kids…one in which they never have to face struggle, inconvenience, discomfort, or disappointment.”

Helicopter parenting has various possible reasons which may help you understand why some parents get over-involved in their child’s life.

Why do some parents become ‘helicopter parents’?

Every parent desires to prevent future struggle of their children. Undoubtedly what a child does today has a huge impact on their future, and helicoptering is seen to prevent struggles later in their life. Some parents are emotionally very sensitive and become anxious when they see their child hurt or disappointed, so they do all possible attempts to prevent this happening in future. Some parents want to live their life through their children and identity gets wrapped up in their child’s accomplishments. They feel accomplished and better parents if their child is successful in life. Some parents feel peer pressure not only to match other academically doing great children but other helicopter parents too whose children are doing well. These parents feel pressure to mimic this style of parenting, for fear that others will think they are not as good of a parent if they do not. Some parents try to overcompensate what they did not get in their childhood and cross the boundaries of normal parenting subconsciously.

Economic pressure may be the reason some parents invest more in their child’s education, so they get a well-paying job. We know that the trend is changing due to economic and various other reasons and more university students are living at home with their parents and so they are more likely to be influenced by their parents. Some young adults have a more delayed growing up period, which is labelled by some researchers as “adultescence”.

Why helicopter parenting may not be a good thing

Helicopter parenting does have some short-lived benefits as these children may have less falls and injuries in the childhood. Children do need their parents as their primary attachment figures. They need their parents to be keeping a watchful eye, but they also need to know that the eye is from across the room and not over their shoulder. There is some research suggesting that parents who are heavily involved in the lives of their children enjoy greater happiness and meaning in their lives.

Helicopter parenting does have more disadvantages outweighing the benefits. As children become older, they start doubting their abilities because they never got the opportunity to figure out solutions to their problems on their own and they start to question whether they are equipped to manage their own life. These children are more prone to anxiety and depression due to their low self-confidence and low self-esteem. There is also the risk of a child developing entitlement issues where they believe they deserve certain privileges, usually because of always getting what they want. They grow up believing the world will bend over backward for them, which can result in a rude awakening later. Some children act out or become hostile when they feel their parents are trying to have too much control over their life. Others grow up with poor coping skills. Because they did not learn how to deal with failure or disappointment during elementary, high school, or college, they may lack conflict resolution skills as well.

University students whose parents are controlling also have low levels of self-efficacy (confidence over one’s own ability) which leads to poor university and real-life adjustment resulting in lower grades and difficulties in relating to others.

Other studies have found negative consequences of over-parenting on the child include less autonomy, decreased level of self-regulation, increased narcissism, attention seeking and wanting approval and direction from others

How to identify helicopter parenting?

Common characteristics of helicopter parents are incessant worry about safety, giving a child more restrictions than his or her peers, and feeling more anxious about the child’s matters—like an upcoming test—than the child does.

In preschool children if parents are trying to prevent every fall and not allowing children to play alone and age appropriate sports and activities

In school age children; completing child home work rather than helping them to understand and complete the homework, too much involvement in the child’s school life, helping them making and choosing friends at school, choosing friends for them-who to play a with and who to avoid, choosing what sports child should play without looking at their interest, asking too many question to the teacher about daily report and progress of the child.

At high school and university level getting overly involved in their academic and sports activities to shield them from failure, contacting teachers and professors regularly about their grades and getting involved with their age friends and daily choice making to sort out their friends daily disagreements and pity fights.

In 2012, a survey of 128 Australian psychologists and counsellors gave examples of what they considered to be over-parenting. they include:

  • cutting up a 10-year-old’s food. Bringing a separate plate of food for a 16-year-old to a party as he is a picky eater
  • a mother who will not let her 17-year-old son catch the train to school
  • constantly badgering the school to make sure their child is in a specific class the following year
  • parents rushing to school to deliver items such as forgotten lunches, assignments, or uniforms at the whim of their child
  • parents believing that, regardless of effort, their child must be rewarded
How to avoid helicopter parenting? Give your children a chance to bloom!

A better way is allowing your child to make mistakes and learn from them. To help them when they ask for your help but not to always jump in. Each child is different and so is every parent, so one-size parenting does not fit all. But we know loving and attentive parents have resilient children, so let them be “free range” sometimes, and enjoy being a parent.

First question as a parent we need to ask ourselves, do I want my child to always depend on me to sort his/her problem or should they develop the life skills themselves without us solving all of their problems for them. Give a child the chance to get confidence on small things such as doing household chores, sleeping alone, eating themselves-not being fed by parents. Let children fix their own friendship issues in school, only step in when needed, teaching them failure is the part of life and it teaches us the road to success. Teach them life skills such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, face-to-face interaction, public speaking and how to talk with their teachers. Give them the opportunity to increase social interaction and develop leadership skills. Going to camp and sleep over helps children get the confidence of managing their life alone. Let them make their decision on what subject to choose in high school and university.

With any parenting style, it is important to consider how it will affect the child now and in the future. Of course, every parent at some point has done a little extra to make their child’s life easier. The problem is when helicopter parenting becomes a regular thing and hinders healthy development.

If you are “helicopter parenting,” you may not be aware of it, and there’s no doubt you want what’s best for your child. So, think about the person or the adult you want them to become, and then base your parenting style around this outcome. You may find that stepping back eases a burden—on your shoulders, as well as on theirs.

The writer is Director, Western Specialist Centre

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