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Helicopter parenting is exactly what it sounds like: hovering. Helicopter parents are defined as parents who are over-involved and overbearing in the majority of aspects of their children’s lives, such as school, relationships, behaviors and so on.
Today’s society holds different opinions regarding how parents should raise their children. Many parents choose to control every decision, action and thought of their children in hopes of raising them correctly. Even though the parents’ intentions are good, this parenting style can have a negative effect on the children.
Why do parents hover?
Helicopter parenting can develop for a number of reasons. Here are four common triggers.
- Fear of dire consequences: A low grade, not making the team, or not getting a certain job can appear disastrous to a parent, especially if it seems it could be avoided with parental involvement. But, says Deborah Gilboa, M.D., founder of AskDoctorG.com, “many of the consequences [parents] are trying to prevent–unhappiness, struggle, not excelling, working hard, no guaranteed results–are great teachers for kids and not actually life-threatening. It just feels that way.”
- Feelings of anxiety: Worries about the economy, the job market, and the world in general can push parents toward taking more control over their child’s life in an attempt to protect them. “Worry,” Dr. Daitch says, “can drive parents to take control in the belief that they can keep their child from ever being hurt or disappointed.”
- Overcompensation: Adults who felt unloved, neglected, or ignored as children can overcompensate with their own children. Excessive attention and monitoring are attempts to remedy a deficiency the parents felt in their own upbringing.
- Peer pressure from other parents: When parents see other overinvolved parents, it can trigger a similar response. “Sometimes when we observe other parents overparenting or being helicopter parents, it will pressure us to do the same,” Dr. Daitch says. “We can easily feel that if we don’t immerse ourselves in our children’s lives, we are bad parents. Guilt is a large component in this dynamic.”
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Consequences of helicopter parenting
The impact of helicopter parenting on children and teens isn’t all bad. In fact, these parents often have close and caring relationships with their kids. Helicopter parenting is associated with warm and supportive parental behavior. For example, this behavior includes ongoing communication, emotional support, and openness between parents and children.
But the effects of helicopter parents aren’t all good either, they can lead to:
- Decreased confidence and self-esteem: “The main problem with helicopter parenting is that it backfires,” Dr. Dunnewold says. “The underlying message [the parent’s] overinvolvement sends to kids, however, is ‘my parent doesn’t trust me to do this on my own,’ [and this leads] to a lack of confidence.”
- Undeveloped coping skills: If the parent is always there to clean up a child’s mess–or prevent the problem in the first place–how does the child ever learn to cope with loss, disappointment, or failure? Studies have found that helicopter parenting can make children feel less competent in dealing with the stresses of life on their own.
- Increased anxiety: A study from the University of Mary Washington has shown that overparenting is associated with higher levels of child anxiety and depression.
- Sense of entitlement: Children who have always had their social, academic, and athletic lives adjusted by their parents to best fit their needs can become accustomed to always having their way and thus they develop a sense of entitlement.
- Undeveloped life skills: Parents who always tie shoes, clear plates, pack lunches, launder clothes, and monitor school progress, even after children are mentally and physically capable of doing the task, prevent their children from mastering these skill themselves.
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Signs of a Helicopter Parent
Helicopter parents don’t always realize that they are hovering over their kids. Hence, they don’t recognize that their children may be experiencing the negative effects of helicopter parenting. Here are a few signs that indicate a parent is being overprotective or over-involved with their teenager’s daily life:
- Not allowing teens to make age-appropriate choices
- Cleaning a teen’s room for them
- Stepping in to negotiate conflicts between a teen and their friends
- Overseeing a high school student’s homework
- Monitoring a teen’s diet and exercise
- Sending multiple texts each day to a child away at college
- Intervening in a teen’s life to prevent them from failing at a task or project.
There’s no doubt that teens need guidance and support as they grow into young adults. But parents need to respect the boundaries in order for teens to mature and thrive.
How can you avoid being a helicopter parent?
So how can a parent love and care for their children without inhibiting their ability to learn important life skills? Dr. Gilboa offers this advice: “As parents, we have a very difficult job. We need to keep one eye on our children now–their stressors, strengths, emotions–and one eye on the adults we are trying to raise. Getting them from here to there involves some suffering, for our kids as well as for us.”
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In practical terms, this means letting children struggle, allowing them to be disappointed, and when failure occurs, helping them to work through it. It means letting your children do tasks that they are physically and mentally capable of doing. Making your 3-year-old’s bed isn’t hovering. Making your 13-year-old’s bed is. As Dr. Gilboa says, “Remembering to look for opportunities to take one step back from solving our child’s problems will help us build the reliant, self-confident kids we need.”