What Is Helicopter Parenting?

mom hovering over child while she's working

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What Is Helicopter Parenting?

Helicopter parents are parents who pay extremely close attention to their kids' activities and schoolwork in an effort to not only protect them from pain and disappointment, but to help them succeed. Helicopter parents are known to hover over their children and become overly involved in their lives. Meanwhile, popular media uses the phrase "helicopter parent" to describe parents who are overprotective of their children.

The term helicopter parent was first coined in a 1969 book titled "Between Parent & Teenager." The teen featured in the book reported that his mother watched over him like a helicopter. Since then, many college administrators have used the term to refer to parents who continue to try and watch over their children from a distance after they have gone away to college, and the term has spread to encompass all overprotective parents.

Common Characteristics

Most people identify helicopter parents by their overprotective tendencies. But this definition can sometimes be too limiting. These parents are the ones who are always on top of things, but to an extreme.

From infancy to college, helicopter parents tend to be overly involved in their kids' lives to the point where their own activities and interests take a back seat. This means the family budget also revolves around what the kids need.

They may even put their personal goals and career aspirations on hold in favor of what they think their kids need.

Likewise, helicopter moms and dads have a tendency to over-schedule their kids in an effort to give them a competitive edge in everything from school to sports to music. They may even try to manage their child's friendships and social standing. The goal is to create every opportunity for their kids that they can.

Overall, helicopter parents are proud to be so involved in their kids' lives and often don't see anything wrong with their parenting. They see their actions as a way to ensure their child's safety while helping them be successful in the world.

Positive Aspects

While the term helicopter parent is often used in a derogatory manner, helicopter parenting isn't all bad. You can usually count on the children of helicopter parents to arrive on time, to have their homework done, and to be prepared for their activities.

Helicopter parents of younger children and teenagers also are likely to know where their kids are at all times, which is an important safety consideration.

Likewise, helicopter parents tend to be very aware of who their child is with and how their child is doing in school. And, if their child is struggling in school or has dropping grades, they will do what they can to support them. The same is true when it comes to illnesses, bullying issues, or even mental health concerns. Helicopter parents will work tirelessly to make sure these issues are addressed.

Additionally, helicopter parents tend to be involved parents who are the first to volunteer for school functions and may even join the PTA at school. For this reason, schools, teachers, and coaches can benefit from the amount of time, energy, and money they devote to making the school, the classroom, or the team the best it can be.

Drawbacks

Being too involved in kids' lives can be harmful, though. Kids can start to feel suffocated and apathetic. They also may struggle with autonomy and independence. Here are some of the potential drawbacks of helicopter parenting:

  • Prevents the development of problem-solving skills: Kids of all ages need problem-solving skills. Whether you have a 5-year-old who needs to learn how to sound out words or a 25-year-old who can’t find a job, kids need to know how to solve their own problems. Hovering parents, however, often intervene at the first sign of trouble, such that kids don’t learn valuable problem-solving skills.
  • Leads to dependence on parents: Helicopter parents do so much for their kids that it can make their kids dependent upon them. If a mother calls her 19-year-old to wake them up each morning to ensure they get to class on time, they won’t learn how to do this for themself. Parents should be helping kids learn how to survive without them.
  • Hinders kids from learning to advocate for themselves: Helicopter parents usually advocate for their children, rather than teaching their children to advocate for themselves. It’s important for kids to be able to ask questions, gain clarification, and speak up when they need something. In the workforce, these kids won’t have Mom or Dad available to help them deal with a mean boss or challenging policy at the office.
  • Shields kids from natural consequences: Kids need to face some natural consequences in life. After all, in situations where parents don’t intervene, kids are going to face consequences when they fail. Yet, most helicopter parents micromanage their children's activities in an attempt to prevent them from receiving any negative consequences.
  • Interferes with the parent-child relationship: The actions of a helicopter parent may interfere with the parent-child relationship as well. Constantly nagging your child to get their homework done, or checking up on their every move, isn’t likely to make your child want to talk to you more. Instead, it may push your child away.

How to Hover Less

If you tend to be a bit of a helicopter parent, it's important to back off a bit to ensure you're giving your child room to grow, learn new skills, and rebound from failure on their own. Giving up that control, however, may be anxiety provoking.

If you're having difficulty tolerating the anxiety you feel when you allow your child to engage in age-appropriate activities on their own, talk to a professional. Allowing your child to make mistakes, suffer natural consequences, and experience heartache are important aspects to growing and learning.

Keep in mind you don't have to back off completely all at once. It may be best for you and your child if you back off slowly.

Whether your child is going to walk to the store on their own or they want to work on their science fair project alone, give them a little bit of freedom one step at a time. Coach them from time to time and review with them how they did when they're finished. But try to avoid standing over them while they're working—or worse yet, doing the work for them.

Other Styles of Parenting

When considering helicopter parenting, it's helpful to understand the different types of parenting. The field of psychology often references four main types of parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and neglectful.

But popular media recognizes several subtypes of parents, which often reflect generational differences in parenting. In addition to helicopter parents, the media often talks about free-range parents, lawnmower parents, and tiger parents.

Free-range parents tend to be a bit permissive. They allow their kids the freedom to make mistakes, explore, and try new things without much guidance. They believe kids can learn problem-solving skills through trial and error, and they're convinced natural consequences are some of life's best teachers.

Lawnmower parents are on the other end of the spectrum. They're known for mowing down all the obstacles that threaten their child's chances of success. They may go to great lengths to prevent their kids from experiencing uncomfortable challenges.

Meanwhile, tiger parenting became a popular term after Amy Chua's book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," became a bestseller. Tiger parents push their kids to succeed with strict rules and a regimented lifestyle that emphasizes hard work over fun.

Here's an example of how parents in each parenting style might respond to a child's request to walk to the store alone.

  • Helicopter parent: "Sure, I'll walk behind you the whole way to make sure you stay safe."
  • Free-range parent: "Sure. Can you pick up some milk while you're there?"
  • Lawnmower parent: "Sure, I'll walk ahead of you and make sure it's safe. I'll tell you when it's safe to cross the road."
  • Tiger parent: "No, you need to practice your violin for another hour."

A Word From Verywell

Just like everything in life, there is no one right or best way to parent a child. Likewise, helicopter parenting isn't all bad—or all good. Additionally, different aspects of various parenting styles will work better than others for individual families and children. Essentially, parents should consider the impact and values behind multiple parenting strategies, and then use the ones that feel right to them.

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Article Sources
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